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February 15, 2024

State Senate increases salary and perks for staffers in bid to boost retainment

A look at the Massachusetts State House on a sunny day, it's golden dome gleaming in the sunlight. Courtesy | Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism The Massachusetts State House

The state Senate unveiled new employee salary ranges, an expanded career ladder, and additional employee perks Wednesday in an effort to better recruit and retain staff members.

Senate Democrats and Republicans reviewed the proposed plan in a closed-door joint caucus at the State House on Wednesday before emailing details of the new plan to chiefs of staff across the East Wing.

"We certainly think our staff is the backbone of the Senate, and wanted to make sure that they are compensated fairly, and we believe that this does that," Sen. Brendan Crighton, vice chair of the Personnel and Administration Committee, told the News Service.

The so-called 3C plan -- Comprehensive Classification and Compensation -- was first rolled out in 2022 amid a unionization push by some Senate staff. At the time, it featured at least a 10 percent pay bump for all aides in addition to standardizing the job classification structure among Senate offices.

This year's update to the plan factors in a market study of comparable pay rates conducted for the Senate by the National Conference of State Legislatures and delivered in January."We wanted to get a market survey done to see how we compared to similar-situated jobs. So this part needed to wait a little bit. There was a lot of unpredictability, obviously, with the economy and workforce for a while. But it was well worth the wait," Crighton said, adding that the revisions "make sure that we're paying at a competitive rate when compared to other industries, and making sure that certain positions that may not have been adjusted under a previous 3C plan are now being paid at a rate they deserve."

Senators do not need to vote on the matter, according to Senate President Karen Spilka's office, which said it is only subject to Spilka's approval and that she had already signed off on the plan.

Pay bumps will hit staff paychecks starting with the March 11 pay period, according to a presentation shared at the caucus, after senators "receive a memo with new staff salaries" the week of March 4.

Between the branch's 2022 pay model and leadership's proposed 2024 revisions, there are still roughly 60 different job titles in total, but the number of pay grades increases in the 2024 model, from seven designated salary categories up to 11 different grades.

Some roles have been harder to fill. Crighton said he has heard about "how challenging it has been" to hire new communications directors for Senate offices.

"So that's one good example as to an issue we're trying to resolve here, to make that more attractive to come do communications work in the Senate," he said.

Under the 2022 pay scale, a communications director working for a rank-and-file senator was in line to earn $50,138 to $79,464, according to a copy of the so-called "orange sheet" provided by Spilka's office.

The 2024 revisions released Wednesday increase that range to between $65,503 and $98,254.

"I've had conversations with the staff in my office, and other staff, about how hard it is to make it, to make a life, in Eastern Massachusetts," Sen. Julian Cyr told reporters after caucus. "And this is what we've got to do, this is what we should be doing and what we've got to do, to retain the best talent to conduct our business."

Part of the retention effort is an expanded "career ladder" with more steps for individual advancement, Crighton said.

"We had formalized, before, the staff makeup for a district-oriented staff. But obviously we want to add more policy-focused staff. So this adds a few new additional positions that would create that career ladder there, so that as staff are working and gaining more experience in that particular field, that they would be able to be promoted to other titles," he said.

The new plan adds two job titles to the six already listed for senators' offices.

"Research analyst," the new second rung on the ladder (between legislative aide and constituent services director), would pay between $57,308 and $85,962. And "senior policy analyst or counsel," the now second-highest rung (below chief of staff), would pay $85,576 to $128,364, according to documents provided by Spilka's office -- the same range as for chiefs of staff.

While the stepped-up pay rates "could" increase the Senate's operations line item going forward, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues told reporters that "adequate resources" are currently appropriated.

The human resources office wrote in a Wednesday afternoon email that salary adjustments were "already budgeted for and are part of the Senate's current appropriation."

Among the "new benefits" being promised to staff are reimbursements for annual licensure fees such as Massachusetts Bar membership for lawyers; salary increases tied to certain employee advancements in licensure or higher education degrees; and an additional pay stipend for proficiency in another language.

"[Spilka] and her team have been working for a while with NCSL," Rodrigues said, "to make sure we get it right so that it's fair, it's open, it's transparent, that staff are fully and fairly compensated, and that there's a clear articulation of opportunities for staff to progress in offices."

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