Some attorneys say North Carolina State Highway Patrol troopers are facing severe financial hardships because the state has broken a promise to give them pay raises.
"A lot of them are struggling very badly," Lawyer David Wijewickrama said. "They are having trouble paying heating oil. They are having trouble paying medical bills. They are having trouble making ends meet."
A breach of contract lawsuit was filed Monday in Cherokee County, with nearly 40 state troopers as plaintiffs. Attorneys say they hope to contact all 520 troopers affected by the breach of contract lawsuit within the next 90 days.
Attorney David Wijewickrama says troopers were promised graduated or step pay raises when they completed training at the academy. But he says that hasn't happened in years.
"The breach is an act of dishonesty to me," Wijewickrama said. "It comes down to integrity, accountability and responsibility."
He says that has created financial hardship for some troopers who are having trouble making ends meet. A beginning trooper makes about $35,000 a year. He says troopers were promised the step increase when they were recruited, when they signed up for training and when they were sworn in.
"The state government does not have the luxury of mismanaging money," the attorney said. "And breaking promises. They need to be held accountable in a courtroom. They need to be held accountable in the court of public opinion Enough is enough."
State Senator Joel Ford agrees with the troopers. He is concerned collectively troopers are owed about $10 million according to the lawyer.
"We need to make sure that we honor our financial commitment," Ford said. "That we made to the highway patrol and make sure they can continually to safely serve and protect the state of NC."
Ford says the state saying it didn't have enough money is no excuse.
"We have a $20 billion dollar budget in the state of NC," Ford said. "And we did not prioritize those men and women who help protect and serve us."
The defendants in the lawsuit are the Department of Treasury and the Department of Public Safety. The Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry issued this statement.
"It is inappropriate to comment on pending litigation. It is, however, important to know that I am keenly aware of the state's budget situation and the inability to provide raises to all state employees, which includes our public safety officers and, more specifically, our state troopers. That is why I have been working closely with the governor, the Office of State Human Resources and the General Assembly to ensure that eligible troopers get raises from the Salary Adjustment Fund. As a result, those eligible troopers received a four percent raise from that fund in their March paychecks, retroactive to Jan. 1."
Wijewickrama claims that four percent raise has nothing to do with the step increase promised to the troopers.
"These people are not asking for a lot," Wijewickrama said. "They are just asking what was promised to them."
The General Assembly meets again in May. The lawyer hopes by then politicians will decide to pay troopers what they say is owed to them.
Copyright 2014 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.
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