Retention Bonus is a Bribe – “They Don’t Care About us!”

Mar 2, 2023

Last week the state announced a retention bonus for state employees in the UNC System and Department of Health and Human Services. This has only served to anger more workers. The state easily has the money to offer us a bonus with no strings attached (nevermind a real significant raise that we need). After working understaffed, in dangerous and exhausting conditions for over two years, the state could give us a clean ‘thank you’ bonus, but instead they want to use this money as a bribe to force us to stay on the job.

We call on the state to remove all the conditions and strings attached to this money. 

We should not have to pay it back. A real ‘thank you’ does not have strings attached.

This further risks our health and safety. What about those of us that are at risk of being injured? What about those of us being bullied by management?  Now we must stay to endure more.

“They don’t care about us,” stated Thomas Wilson, developmental technician at a state mental health facility, Murdoch Center, in Butner, NC. As the state talks about mental health in our communities, they clearly don’t care about the mental health of state employees. We learned the sad lesson during the COVID-19 pandemic that the bosses literally do not care if we die, as long as we come to work.

This retention bonus takes advantage of poor and struggling workers. 

They know we are living paycheck-to-paycheck, especially with the skyrocketing cost of food, rent and all our bills. They know we are going to spend this money as soon as we get it, leaving us in greater fear of losing our jobs. This is a brute measure of power and control over our labor.

“They can’t give us $20 per hour but they can afford a bonus,” stated Robin Lee, housekeeper at UNC. “This paper tells us if we get fired, we gotta pay the money back. If we transfer to another facility, we gotta pay the money back. If we get wrote up, we don’t get it. This is like back in the slavery days. ‘Yes, massa’. Why should we have to stay on the job to give us the $1500? Put in our paycheck. We don’t need a one time bonus. We already earned this money because of the extra work we are already doing.”

If, for some reason, we have to leave our jobs, then they could potentially take away our entire last paycheck to pay them back. This is heartless. This certainly does not meet DHHS core value to have “joy” at work.

We deserve a significant pay increase, to a minimum of $20 per hour. We deserve a 7-Year Step Plan, like the prison guards received in last year’s budget.

Unfortunately, this meager bonus will do little to actually retain staff. Employees who plan to retire are saying they still plan to do so anyway.  Employees who are looking for work elsewhere are planning to continue to look for other work.

Workers must continue to organize and build our union to challenge the State Legislature and our department heads to do the right thing. We are demanding that they visit our work sites and hear directly from the workers. We are demanding they invest in our Safe Staffing recommendations. We are demanding significant wage increases, now!