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AGO 1966 No. 74 - March 01, 1966
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


CIVIL SERVICE ‑- STATE ‑- PERSONNEL BOARD ‑- CLASSIFIED POSITIONS ‑- SALARY SCHEDULE ‑- COMPARABLE POSITIONS IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY AND OTHER GOVERNMENTAL UNITS.

The state personnel board is required to make a biennial survey of classified positions for the purpose of determining the prevailing rates of pay in (1) Washington state private industries, and (2) other governmental units (within the state of Washington, other states and the federal government) for positions of a similar nature.  The board's survey is not limited to any one particular form of private industry or any one particular governmental unit.

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                                                                   March 1, 1966

Honorable Thomas L. Copeland
State Representative, 11th District
Route 3
Walla Walla, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 74

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office concerning the statutory basis upon which the Washington state personnel board is required to establish a salary schedule covering all positions within the classified service.

            We paraphrase your inquiry as follows:

            (1) What is the meaning of the two phrases "prevailing rates in . . . other governmental units for positions of a similar nature" and "prevailing rates in other public employment" set forth in RCW 41.06.150 and 41.06.160 respectively?

            (2) Is it mandatory for the Washington state personnel board to investigate any one form of comparable governmental unit in arriving at the salary schedule for state employees covered by chapter 41.06 RCW?

            We answer your first question in the analysis and your second question in the negative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            At the 1960 general election, the people of the state of Washington adopted a comprehensive civil service act, Initiative 207, chapter 1, Laws of 1961, chapter 41.06 RCW.

            The general purpose of that act as now codified in RCW 41.06.010 was to establish a system of personnel administration based upon merit principles and scientific methods governing all aspects of personnel administration including adoption and revision of a state salary schedule for all those positions in the state service falling within the classified service.

            The statutes about which you inquire provide in pertinent part as follows:

            RCW 41.06.150:

            "The board shall adopt and promulgate rules and regulations, consistent with the purposes and provisions of this chapter and with the best standards of personnel administration, regarding the basis for, and procedures to be followed for, . . . adoption and revision of a state salary schedule to reflect not less than theprevailing rates in Washington state private industries and other governmental units for positions of a similar nature, such adoption and revision subject to approval by the state budget director in accordance with provisions of chapter 328, Laws of 1959 . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            RCW 41.06.160:

            "In adopting or revising classification and salary schedules as set forth in RCW 41.06.150 the board shall give full consideration to prevailing rates in other public employment and in private employment in this state and for this purpose shall have made periodic wage surveys with one such survey to be conducted each year prior to the convening of each regular session of the state legislature, the results of such wage survey to be forwarded with a recommended state salary schedule  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] to the governor and state budget director for their use in preparing budgets to be submitted to the succeeding legislature."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is readily apparent that the purpose of the above quoted statutes is to insure the existence of one salary schedule covering all employees within the classified service and having application to all agencies placed under the jurisdiction of the state personnel board by the civil service act.  The old practice of separate salary schedules for each agency resulting in different pay for similar types of work was effectively terminated by those statutes.  See:  Legislative Budget Committee Report to the Legislature No. 1 (1961-63), State Salary Administration.

            The two statutes, RCW 41.06.150 and 41.06.160, set forth two principles which must be used by the state personnel board as a basis for adopting a state salary schedule.  The two principles are:  (1) Prevailing rates in Washington state private industries; and (2) Other governmental units for positions of a similar nature.  RCW 41.06.150.  RCW 41.06.160 repeats those two principles in slightly different language as follows: (1) Prevailing rates in other public employment; and (2) In private employment in this state.  Besides the obvious benefit enjoyed by state employees from the statute setting a minimum salary schedule, it should be kept in mind that the overall purpose of the civil service act is to attract and retain in the service persons most competent to perform any particular state job.  The statute setting forth the minimum salary basis permits the state of Washington to compete with private industry and with all governmental units for employees with the best qualifications.

            Competition in the labor market by the state for the best qualified employees and a fair and reasonable salary for state employees result from the application of those legislatively required tests in arriving at a state salary schedule.  The wide scope of services and functions performed by state government for its citizenry necessitates comparison, within the salary survey, of types of employment, sometimes performed in private industry in this  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] state;1/ sometimes performed for other governmental units in this state such as counties, cities or towns;2/ and sometimes performed only for other state governments or for the federal government.3/

             The obvious purpose of the required biennial survey is the establishment of an objective standard upon which all positions in state government can be compared, for the benefit of the employees and the state service.  The use of unlimited discretion with respect to the amount of state employee salaries is thereby ended.  The statute, RCW 41.06.150, requires that state salaries must, as a minimum level, be at least equal to those prevailing (1) in private industry in this state, and (2) in other governmental units for positions of a similar nature.

            This is not to say that every position in the classified service must be surveyed every two years.  This would obviously be an impossible burden because of the sheer volume and expense of such a task.4/   The state personnel board is however required to conduct biennial surveys sufficient in depth and scope with respect to types of employment to assure that legislatively defined minimum salaries are provided for state employees.  RCW 41.06.160.

            The preceding interpretation of RCW 41.06.150 and 41.06.160 has been here set forth with the rules of statutory construction continually at hand.  The primary rule in construing a  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature whenever possible.  Public Hosp. Dist. v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn.2d 623, 269 P.2d 594 (1954); Lynch v. Dept. Labor & Industries, 19 Wn.2d 802, 145 P.2d 265 (1944); AGO 63-64 No. 9.  Our construction of the statute is also in accord with the rule often followed by our court that statutes should receive a sensible construction, such as will give effect to the legislative intention, and, if possible, so as to avoid anunjust or absurd conclusion.  State v. Asotin County, 79 Wash. 634, 140 Pac. 914 (1914); In re Horse Heaven Irrigation District, 11 Wn.2d 218, 118 P.2d 972 (1941);State v. Lake City Bowlers' Club, Inc., 26 Wn.2d 292, 173 P.2d 783 (1946);State ex rel. Thorp v. Devin, 26 Wn.2d 333, 173 P.2d 994 (1946); AGO 59-60 No. 120 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Kitsap County on May 31, 1960]]; AGO 63-64 No. 9 [[to Avery Garrett, State Representative on January 31, 1963]].

            If we were to conclude that "other governmental units for positions of a similar nature" had reference only to governmental units within the state of Washington, we would reach the absurd result that the legislature established an objective standard to guide the personnel board in setting salaries but made that standard applicable only to some but not all positions in the state service.  In addition, we would have reached the unjust result that some state employees would have their minimum salary based upon an objective standard, but that some state employees' salaries would be set without the use of standards of any kind.  It is submitted that such results were not intended by the people when they adopted Initiative 207.  Chapter 1, Laws of 1961.

            We therefore conclude that RCW 41.06.150 and 41.06.160 require the state personnel board to make a biennial survey for the purpose of determining the prevailing rates in (1) Washington state private industries and (2) other governmental units for positions of a similar nature.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            The board is thereby required to survey Washington state private industries, other governmental units within the state of Washington, and other governmental units in other states, including the federal government.  The board's survey is not limited to any one particular form of private industry or any one particular governmental unit.  The biennial survey conducted by the board must be sufficient in depth and scope with respect to types of employment to assure that the legislatively defined minimum salaries, i.e., prevailing rates in Washington state private industry and other governmental units, are provided for state employees.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

DEAN A. FLOYD
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Examples of state employment which can be compared to similar employment found in private industry are janitorial, secretarial and and pharmacist services.

2/Examples of state employment which can be compared with functions performed for other governmental units within the state of Washington are teaching, law enforcement and police and parole and probation.

3/Examples of state employment which can only be compared to functions performed for other states or the federal government are tax auditor, correctional officer, drivers' license examiner and bank examiner.

4/The 1964 biennial survey involved inquiry by the department of personnel to:  303 private business firms, 64 public agencies within Washington state, 16 other state governments and all agencies of the federal government.  This survey involved comparison of 67 bench-mark classes within the state, 88 bench-mark classes with other states and the federal government, and 6 special salary studies of entire classes of employment where special problems existed.

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