Governor Stitt today signed into law House Bill 1146 that enables the state to modernize its merit system for state agency employees. The system has been in place since the 1980s and has served state employees well but it was time to make improvements that will streamline processes to make it more efficient for employees and agencies alike. You can read OPEA’s press release here
OPEA has been in frequent discussion with state leaders for the past several years both ensure the principles of a strong merit system, especially due process for state employees, was included in any changes to our system. With the signing of the bill, we believe Oklahoma has laid the foundation for a system that will benefit all state employees.
There will be changes to how applicants are selected for state agency positions and how on-the-job issues are handled inside and outside the agency. Those types of details will be hashed out in the policy to implement the bill that will be written during the next year in a process which OPEA will be a part of. State employees will have a say in how the policy is developed.
Another big change is the elimination of the labels of “classified employee” and “unclassified employee”. Upon implementation, there will be just “state employees” except for five percent of positions at each agency designated as executive administrative positions, like upper management.
So, if you are currently a “classified” state employee, you will have the ability to appeal personnel actions that result in loss of pay, suspensions, demotions or punitive transfers. If you are currently an “unclassified” employee, you will have these due process rights that you currently do not have.
Part of OPEA’s mission is to advocate for state employees and our Board of Directors and staff would never agree to changes to a system that takes away due process for state employees.
For the past several years, several agencies were taking vacant “classified” positions and moving them to “unclassified” status. They were also enticing employees with pay raises to move from “classified” status to “unclassified” thus giving up their due-process rights. And, some state agencies’ entire staff was made up of “unclassified” positions.
This bill puts an end to that and provides due process to 95 percent of state employees. We believe it will also lead to improvements in compensation through development of a compensation system that will bring state employees’ pay closer to market and one that will financially reward state employees’ performance.
There’s no doubt Oklahomans, our visitors and businesses rely on state agency employees. We are vital to the success of our state and our agencies must have the resources and flexibility to hire and retain the best and brightest qualified employees available. Also, employees must have the freedom to do their jobs without fear of being terminated for no reason. OPEA firmly believes the signing of this bill is a great first step in making the State of Oklahoma a great career choice.
Over the next few days and weeks, we will provide more information about why these changes were necessary and how they will affect agencies and employees. And, we will keep our members informed as OPEA participates in developing policy during the next year. If you are an OPEA member and have questions or concerns, please reach out to our staff at (405) 524-6764 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org