DHS Lobby Day-Our Side of the Story

Despite Capitol rumblings that a legislative agreement had been finalized flat lining agency budgets, a strong delegation of DHS employees met with legislators, media and Director Howard Hendrick to tell “their side of the story” with regard to employee turnover, caseloads and salaries.

“With caseloads increasing and eroding paychecks, more and more workers are leaving public service in order to care for their families,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “Those who are left behind are forced to carry the load and train new workers, until they leave through the revolving door and the process begins again.”

DHS Council Chair Jim Darst explained that the Lobby Day is an important opportunity for those who work in the state’s largest agency to have their voices heard.

“No matter the job classification, we all work for DHS,” he said. “We found by and large that the legislators with which we spoke understood the challenges we face in our agency.”

After gathering in a legislative conference room, the group took to the halls of the legislature, making their case to lawmakers.

First to address the group was Sen. Nancy Riley (D-Tulsa) Co-Chair of the Appropriations Sub Committee on Human Services.

“I am very concerned about the funding about DHS,” she said. “The final appropriations bill did not make up for losses in Federal funds and will only squeeze the agency’s budget tighter.”

Next for the group was Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) the other co-chair of the Appropriations Sub Committee on Human Services.

“Sen. Anderson had recently authored a bill that attempted to cut the caseloads of Child Welfare workers that was not heard,” Darst said. “Sen. Anderson is very knowledgeable about DHS and was very interested in what we all had to say.”

Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre (D-Tulsa), a former DHS employee, also spoke to the group.

“Sen. McIntyre told us to be very specific with what we needed,” Darst said. “As a former employee of DHS, she understands our daily battles.”

It was then on to the House side, where the DHS workers to their cases to members of the House DHS Human Services committee.

“We were able to talk to “Rep. Al McAffrey (D-Oklahoma City), and Rep Anastasia Pittman (D-Oklahoma City),” Darst said. “Both were concerned about workers at DHS and each said they would support a dip in the Rainy Day fund for a state employee pay raise.”
Rep. Lisa Billy (R-Purcell) was also contacted by the group.

After Lobby Day, the group held a media conference, describing their workplace concerns to the press.

First up was Craig Mahl, a DHS County Director from Beckham and Roger Mills Counties who told the group of the fierce competition for jobs in his area, as well as a high employee turnover.

“I’ve been director for two years and, in that time, have replaced nine of 11 child welfare workers and am still trying to feel the two final slots,” he said.

Mahl then held up a recent newspaper ad for DHS workers, that was placed next to a similar call for help at a nearby private prison.

“The child welfare position is one of the best paying in my office,” he said. “However the private prison almost $1,500.00 per year for a start and employees do not have to have a degree. School teachers start at almost $31,600, another draw away from DHS employment.”

Mahl said his office formerly had 17 family support workers, who oversaw food stamps and medical needs. Now he has 11.

“As staff continues to increase, the amount of work expected continues to increase,” he said.

Also speaking at the press conference were DHS employees Tom Dunning, Aging Services Division and Brandon Watkins, Family Support.

From the press conference, the group adjourned to the OPEA offices for a DHS Council meeting (the minutes of which will be posted on the Council Page) before one of the quarterly meetings with DHS Director Howard Hendrick.

Hendrick began the meeting by thanking the employees for the jobs they do.

“We don’t tell you enough how much we appreciate your work,” he said.

Hendrick began by telling the group that he had recently received his budget and that it was a “stand still” from last year’s figures.

“In actuality, with the rise in costs for fuel and other commodities, this represents a 7 percent cut to the agency,” he said.

Hendrick then discussed topics ranging from the building of a new shelter in Tulsa, to job classification pay raises to student loan repayments to future plans for the agency.

“The meeting lasted nearly two hours,” Darst said. “Director Hendrick was very candid with us about the status of the agency.”

DHS Council’s next meeting with Hendrick will be in July.

“We want to thank all who came to take part in this very important event,” Darst said. “We must continue to present a unified front to our state leaders to let them know first hand the challenges we face as employees of DHS.”

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