It’s another year without a Christmas bonus for most government employees in the area.
Most state employees got a $1,000 raise in August, but they won’t get a bonus this holiday season. Likewise, local government employees for cities and counties around the Triangle are also not slated for any yuletide bumps in their bank accounts.
Orange and Wake counties definitely don’t give Christmas bonuses, and it appears that Durham County employees don’t get one either, although county officials didn’t confirm that. The employees of the Triangle’s four largest cities – Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill – also don’t get anything extra for the holidays.
That’s keeping with a general decline all around the country in Christmas bonuses, which has been happening for years but was exacerbated by the Great Recession.
Christmas bonuses started in the 1800s as actual gifts from bosses to their workers, like watches and turkeys. Cash became the predominant type of bonus in the early 1900s, and by the 1950s Christmas bonuses were so common the National Labor Relations Board ruled that they weren’t actually gifts but rather an expected part of an employee’s wages.
While such bonuses might remain popular at large companies, by 2005 just over half of small businesses reported giving Christmas bonuses – a number that fell to 29 percent by 2014.
In Raleigh and Chapel Hill, some city employees like police and bus drivers might think they’re getting a Christmas bonus. But they’re not. It’s actually a longevity bonus that only goes to employees with more than five years of experience. Those bonus checks are typically given out in December.
In Chapel Hill, the longevity bonus ranges from $500 to $1,200. In Raleigh, it’s worth between 1 percent and 4.2 percent of the employee’s annual salary.
“The town does not have holiday bonus pay, and has not had this in the past,” said Chapel Hill Communications Director Sabrina Oliver. “Eligible employees receive longevity pay in December, thus some folks associating this with a holiday bonus.”
Likewise, state employees got what may have seemed like a Christmas bonus in 2015 – but only because the legislature took so long approving the budget that a bonus employees normally would’ve received in the summer didn’t actually come through until December, according to the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
That bonus was $750 for full-time employees, and pro-rated for people who worked less than 40 hours a week.
But other than that 2015 bonus, it’s a bit of a mystery when was the last time the tens of thousands of state employees got something extra for the holidays. A spokesman for SEANC, Jonathan Owens, said no one at the advocacy group could remember the last time state employees got a “true” Christmas bonus.
One state legislator attempted to change that for this year, but his proposal died in committee.
Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a Republican from Ashe County, sponsored a bill in December 2016 that would’ve given a $1,000 bonus last January to every state employee, including public school teachers.
That would’ve cost about $275 million – or approximately 1 percent of this year’s $23 billion state budget.
Owens said SEANC asked Jordan and other legislators to support the bonus because the state’s revenue was hundreds of millions of dollars higher than expected in 2016.
“We thought we’d try to get a much-needed $1,000 bonus for our members given the reported huge revenue surplus everyone was bragging about,” Owens said. “It didn’t work.”
No similar legislative efforts happened in 2017, when state leaders had a $580.5 million surplus to divvy out.
The legislature is now out of session, so there’s no hope of a last-minute change of heart in favor of a Christmas bonus this year. The legislature will return in January for a special session and will come back for regular business in the spring.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran