Oklahoma City – Legislation with a goal of bringing state employee pay to at least 90 percent of market passed out of the House of Representatives Tuesday by a vote of 90-0. This vote was the first step in creating the “State Employee Pay Program”. If signed into law, this legislation would set aside three percent of the previous fiscal year’s payroll costs for salary adjustments each year. The bill would also remove salary structures from statute and give authority to the Office of Management Enterprise Services to set pay structures and determine if targeted pay band adjustments are necessary.
“We are encouraged that the house overwhelmingly passed this bill which would improve pay for state employees,” said Sterling Zearley, OPEA executive director. “What is important about this legislation is that it provides the foundation for changes in how state employees are paid and puts us on track to bring state employee salaries closer to market.”
“Oklahoma needs a system that rewards employees for doing a good job and provides an opportunity for raises more frequently than every seven or eight years,” Zearley said. “Currently, we have no system in place that offers employees a structured opportunity for pay raises. While there is still work to be done on this legislation, we believe the house vote is a step in the right direction.”
The bill is consistent with an independent remuneration study conducted in 2013, at the request of Gov. Mary Fallin’s office, that showed that most state employees are paid approximately 20 percent less than what similar workers in the private market earn.
OPEA worked with the bill’s author Rep. Leslie Osborn to remove language that would have reduced the amount of sick leave they accrue annually and lowers the amount of shared leave that would be available to employees. The remuneration study did recommend those changes be made this year. However, since pension changes for future employees is also being considered OPEA felt there should be no changes made to current state employee benefits.
“The State of Oklahoma is losing skilled and educated employees to retirement and the private sector,” said Osborn. “Our state agencies need productive minds and ingenuity to fill those gaps, provide better services and address the problems of the future. Competitive wages will greatly enhance the state’s ability to choose from the top recruits.”
Speaker Jeff Hickman praised OPEA for its work in helping to develop proposals to improve state employee compensation.
“OPEA’s members and staff have worked with my office and other state leaders to develop responsible proposals to improve state employment,” Hickman said. “Together, with OPEA, we are able to discuss the day-to-day problems faced by the hard working men and women of the Department of Corrections, DHS, Veterans Affairs and other agencies and develop responsible solutions to issues like employee compensation and staffing levels. OPEA brings experience, knowledge and the willingness to conduct meaningful dialogue to the table.”
“In discussions with OPEA,” he said. “I have found that they work toward finding solutions to challenges rather than just pointing out what may be wrong and it is through this type of dialogue that we will be able to begin to take the steps necessary to make better state employment through improvements in compensation."
The House also voted to change the pension system for future state employees from the current defined benefit system to a defined contribution system.
“While we may not agree that changing the pension system will help recruit new employees, we do understand some lawmakers’ desire to look at employee benefits,” Zearley said. “We still believe that the state needs make real improvements state employee salaries before proposing any benefit changes.”
Wed, March 12, 2014
by Thomas Dunning