RALEIGH, N.C. - State troopers suing North Carolina for millions of dollars in back pay say the state's broken promises have forced them into tough spots: working second jobs, moving in with parents, even going on food stamps.
About 800 troopers - equivalent to half the force - have joined a class-action lawsuit arguing that the state promised a schedule of regular pay increases when they were hired, but reneged because of budget problems. Many took pay cuts when they were recruited from other agencies, expecting to catch up quickly because of raises traditionally given about once a year.
"I don't think people understand the hard times we're going through," said Master Trooper Rick Quinones, who lives with his wife and two young daughters in a spare bedroom at his parents' house.
His wife and children are covered by Medicaid, he said, and they use WIC government food assistance.
"That's a hit on your pride, especially when you're supposed to be the best that the state has to offer," he said.
The group, which includes some former troopers, is appealing after a trial court judge ruled against them in the nearly two-year-old case.
"We took an oath to protect the public, and that's what we do. We are in harm's way every day," said Robbie Terry, a 47-year-old master trooper who's based in Columbus County. "It's all about what's right and wrong, and we have been wronged. We've not been paid the money that we were promised."
When Terry became a trooper about eight years ago, he took a pay cut of several thousand dollars from his job as an eight-year veteran of the Lumberton police. He figured the move would pay off because of the raises - 5 percent about once a year - described by recruiters and listed in a pamphlet. Then pay freezes started in 2009.
Traditionally, troopers received the raises for about six years until they became master troopers, commanding a salary around $60,000. But troopers who had yet to reach top pay before the freeze are way behind, said Fred Barbour, an attorney for the troopers.
For example, Terry and Quinones are each making around $45,000 despite both reaching master trooper rank.