Budget Agreement Excludes State Workers

Oklahoma lawmakers have reached a 2014 budget agreement that ignores the needs of state employees by excluding pay raises or a performance payment approved earlier in legislation. Some state employees have not received a pay increase in six years resulting in higher turnover rates among employees and unfilled positions at state agencies.

“In developing a budget, legislative leadership and the Governor’s office determined where their priorities are,” said Sterling Zearley, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. “It would be easy for a state worker to think that the core services they provide are not among those priorities because there is no support for the workers who carry out those services.”

“While there is some indication that Oklahoma is slowly moving toward improving how it compensates its workers, lawmakers have completely ignored state employees who work in our correctional facilities, care for our veterans, protect our children and seniors, keep our streets safe and see that our state’s infrastructure is sound,” Zearley said.

State employee turnover costs taxpayers $88 million in 2012 through loss of productivity, training and other expenses. Much of this turnover can be attributed to low wages state workers earn compared to the private sector. For example, a truck driver who is trained by Oklahoma Department of Transportation can work in the oil field instead for much higher wages after the state trains them.

“Oklahoma’s 2012 preliminary compensation report says state workers’ salaries average 24 percent less than similar private sector jobs and employees have had recent increases in insurance and social security costs,” Zearley said. ”These factors coupled with no raises have placed a strain on families.”

Earlier in the session, legislators approved bills that would have given a $1,000 payment to employees who have good performance evaluations but funding was not included in the budget. A study was authorized to look at how state employee compensation compares to the private market and is scheduled to begin later this month.

“The performance payment would not have solved state workers’ pay issues. It would have provided some temporary relief for employees who have had their cost of living go up without any increase in pay, “ Zearley said. “Even though Oklahoma has a relatively-healthy economy, many state employees continue to lose money due to higher insurance, fuel and food costs. Their pay has not kept up with those expenses and many workers have taken second jobs just to make ends meet for their family.”

“As this legislative session winds down, we will continue to emphasize the need to adequately pay state workers for the quality work they do,” he said. Lawmakers tell us that they understand and agree that pay needs to be increased but this is little comfort to families whose costs keep rising but their income doesn’t.”

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