by Dale Denwalt
Scattered among thousands of teachers at the Oklahoma Capitol were state agency employees with similar goals in mind: more money for a pay raise, more money for state government.
Like teachers, the state workers were given a pay raise last week by the Legislature. House Bill 1024 passed in special session but has yet to be signed by Gov. Mary Fallin. If she does sign the bill, it would give employees making up to $40,000 annually a $2,000 raise with less of a raise for higher-paid workers.
State employees making more than $60,000 a year would see an additional $750 each year, or $62.50 per month. It would be the first appropriated, across-the-board pay raise in more than a decade.
Yet while the rally Monday was billed by local and national media as a teacher strike, state employees were there, too. They took off from work, spoke with lawmakers and held signs that expressed their frustration of years without a statewide salary increase. During part of a march around the Capitol building, some held a banner in front of them pleading “Save State Services!”
According to leave requests reported by state agencies, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association estimates that there were 600 to 800 state agency workers at the Capitol.
“We are trying to keep the conversation alive,” said Tom Dunning, spokesman for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, the organization that represents state workers. “Our employees had to go request leave, so they were at the discretion of their supervisor to take off or not.”
Before they marched at the Capitol on Monday, the employee association encouraged its membership to ask lawmakers for another $5,000 pay raise spread over the next two budget years. Doing so would cost $211 million during that time.
The employee association’s message also included a call to restore millions of dollars in funding that has been cut from state agency budgets in recent years.
State employees make an estimated 27 percent less than they would in comparable private-sector jobs, a statistic used by the employee association to highlight why some state agencies have such a high turnover rate. The turnover rate is, on average, 17 percent the employee association said.
Even with the pay raise adopted by lawmakers last week, that percentage won’t change much.
“For some employees, it won’t even cover their insurance costs that will go up in January,” Dunning said.