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More than three years after the West Virginia Legislature enacted a law calling for the Division of Highways to revamp its job classifications and pay grades to improve recruitment and retention of employees, the state Personnel Board on Thursday gave final approval to the plan — but not without consternation.

“We’re taking one-fourth of all classified employees in the state and creating a new system out of whole cloth,” complained board member Rick Wallace.

Under the plan approved Thursday, Highways will move from a traditional job-content classification system to a points-method system. Under that system, each job is assigned points in a number of categories relating to the amount of skill, experience and education needed to perform the job, as well as the amount of responsibility and effort required, and the working conditions that the position entails.

From there, the point totals for each job classification are matched up with the appropriate pay grade.

State Personnel Director Sheryl Webb said the plan raises several concerns, including that it will require the Division of Personnel to administer two separate state employee job classification systems.

“It is difficult for me, being the director of Personnel, to recommend that a second classification system be added to the state,” she said.

Other concerns raised Thursday are that points-method systems can be more subjective, and that it could put employees in a position of facing pay cuts if they wish to transfer from Highways to an equivalent position in another government agency.

However, Julian Woods, Human Resources director for the Department of Transportation, noted the federal government has used the points method for years.

Woods said many Highways pay grades will not change with the recalculation of job classifications.

“Many of our classifications didn’t change pay grades,” he said, noting that the new system raises pay grades for those engineering and middle management positions that have been most subject to high turnover because of competition from the private sector.

“We were able to raise the classifications that we’ve had trouble with all along,” he said. “It placed those classifications in a better pay grade.”

In 2017, with the state poised to ramp up road construction under the Roads to Prosperity road bond amendment, the Legislature passed a law calling on Highways to revamp its job classification and pay grade system in hopes of cutting down on high turnover.

The legislation states: “The Division of Highways has long had difficulty filling positions which are essential to constructing and maintaining the state’s highways and bridges. The Legislature finds that the hiring and retention processes of the division must be streamlined to effectively and efficiently meet personnel needs while still affording applicants and employees the due process protections of classified service.”

In spring 2019, with Highways having made no apparent progress toward complying with the law, nearly 300 Highways employees filed a mass grievance with the state. That grievance, now signed onto by more than 400 employees, is still pending.

At several previous Personnel Board meetings, consideration of the Highways pay plan had been tabled because of questions or concerns. On Thursday, board member Jay Arceneaux again moved to table the measure, saying, “My thought is, we should table it and try to work through some of these issues.”

However, board member Forrest Roles said it was unlikely that further delay would convince Highways officials to make any substantial changes to the plan.

“The Legislature gave the Department of Transportation authority to establish its own classification system,” he said. “I don’t see any hope of getting a better system.”

Also Thursday, the board approved the elimination of three positions at the state Veterans Nursing Facility, in Clarksburg, through the outsourcing of the facility’s in-house pharmacy.

Board members were advised there would be considerable savings to the state by outsourcing the pharmaceutical services. While the order allows the reduction in force as early as Sept. 12, board members were told it would take longer to put the outside-vendor contract out to bid and to award the contract.

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