Many decisions impacting state employees were made in the final hours of the 2009 legislative session, which came to an end May 26th.
“We managed to maintain our benefits and prevent legislation that would harm state employees from passing,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “We were also able to get some protections for state employees in the areas of privatization, bi-weekly payroll, and investigations. We were also successful in helping fashion a budget that protects state employee’s jobs from RIF’s or furloughs. Many states were not nearly as effective as we were.”
Zearley pointed to a provision of House Bill 2245 as a major victory for OPEA and state employees’ ability to grow their Association and power. “House Bill 2245 allows OPEA, for the first time in our 35 year history, to mail a membership offer directly to all active state employees each year. Letting all state employees know about the association and the strength we can have in unity is something we have struggled with for many years. We are excited about this opportunity, knowing this is a chance for OPEA to grow to record numbers.”
The budget outlook clearly impacted OPEA’s efforts in obtaining a pay raise.
“We struggled all sessions long with compensation issues,” said Zearley. “But in the end the budget collapse prevented any progress on pay or longevity.”
The budget did not help already financially-strapped agencies. However, the larger agencies will not be forced to furlough or lose employees through reductions-in-force (RIFs). Stimulus funds were used to mitigate the effect of a $900 million shortfall. Next year, the state will have additional stimulus funds which will be needed. The economy is not projected to return to 2008 levels until 2013, which may make 2012 a bad year.
The administrative and regulatory agencies, such as the Tax Commission, Department of Central Services, Corporation Commission, etc., were hit hardest with the legislature cutting those seven percent and no stimulus funds to fill in the gap. Over the next few weeks OPEA will be talking with agency administrators to determine their plan for the cuts and ensure the effect on employees will be minimized.
“State employees should be pleased with the efforts of OPEA this year,” said President Connie Stockton. “We certainly hoped for more for state employees. But with the budget nightmare, OPEA played a key role in presenting a flexible legislative program, responding to threats and protecting the interests of state employees. In the end, OPEA gained a great victory in allowing state employees to organize.”
Stockton added that she was disappointed OPEA was unable to make any gains for retirees. “Our retiree members are in need of a COLA as the economy impacts them as well. We fought for the COLA and want our retirees to know we will continue to fight for our retirees right to a decent standard of living.”
Below are some bills of interest, a short explanation and status as of this printing.
HB 1055: (Cox and Brown) This legislation establishes a working group of two House members, two Senate members and the Insurance Commissioner to make recommendations about maximizing the value of state employee insurance. According to our information from the Insurance Commissioner and OSEEGIB, the group will study the best way to get value from the insurance companies and investigate maximizing purchasing power in prescription drugs. OPEA has been told that lowering the benefit allowance is not in the scope of this study. Governor’s desk.
HB 1111: (Miller, Johnson Mike) OPEA supported this legislation. This legislation allows for employees to use annual and sick leave to cover the lapse period when, and if, the agency moves to the bi-weekly payroll. Governor’s desk.
HB 1734: (Peters, Crain) This legislation implements changes in the DHS child welfare system. The biggest problem was a section in the original bill that closed the DHS shelters. This has been changed to down-size with no deadline date. A section that would change the progressive discipline process for child welfare workers was removed. The bill states legislative intent to provide child welfare workers with a compensation program, but does not fund this section.
OPEA DHS workers in the metropolitan areas had succeeded in moving the implementation date to June 2010 for changing how a child is taken into custody. Unfortunately, the authors did not like DHS’s opposition to this section and moved the date to January 2010, which will be a challenge for workers. Governor’s desk.
HB 1963: (Benge, Aldridge) This legislation creates a Task Force to Privatize CompSource. This has been studied and rejected at least three times in the past ten years. OPEA has sent a letter to the governor urging him to veto the bill. If he signs the bill, we will be working with the agency to fight the privatization. Signed by the Governor.
HB 2078: (Wesselhoft and Stanislawski) OPEA supported this legislation. This legislation appropriates federal Reed Act funds for the Employment Security Commission saving 200 jobs in the agency. Signed by the Governor
HB 2108: (Ortega and Justice) OPEA helped amend this legislation to remove a provision that would have allowed the Employee Benefits Council to offer PPO health insurance plan. Another PPO would not offer a different kind of plan for state employees in rural areas and would have weakened the bargaining power HealthChoice has with providers. Bill was not heard.
HB 2245: (Terrill and Sykes) OPEA worked with Randy Terrill to add language to this bill which would allow state employee organizations to send one mailing a year to all active employees. Governor’s Desk..
SB 232: (Johnson, Mike and Miller) OPEA supported this legislation. This legislation allows employees to use leave as soon as they earn it, not wait until the next month. Governor’s Desk.
SB 670: (Aldridge and Wright, John) This legislation is the request bill of the Office of Personnel Management. It changes leave sharing to an hour for hour exchange, not the value of the leave. Signed by the Governor.
SB 798 (Sykes and McCullough) OPEA supported this legislation. This legislation establishes a penalty for state employees who had decision making authority on a contract for working for that contractor within one year of leaving state employment. It reinstates the penalty that was stripped from OPEA’s 2003 privatization legislation. DOC administrators have used this loophole to immediately go to work for private prison companies after writing contracts. The new penalty requires the contractor to lose the contract for one year if they violate the law by hiring a state employee who has had decision making authority over their contract. Signed by the Governor.
SB 1175: (Stanislawski and Watson) OPEA supported this legislation. This legislation implements changes in unemployment law to make Oklahoma Statutes comply with federal regulations required to obtain $70 million in Reed Act funds. This bill with HB 2078 saves 200 jobs in the Employment Security Commission. Governor’s desk.
SCR 30: (Crain and Peters) This legislation would create a task force to investigate and make recommendations for privatizing child welfare by using non-profit providers for services. Two non-profit providers would serve on the task force. OPEA DHS workers have been calling about this bill. Resolution failed to be heard.
SB 390 (Brogdon and Rousellot) This legislation would require the Department of Human Services to establish a drug testing program for applicants who are receiving assistance from the TANF program. OPEA members opposed this change as the agency currently conducts drug screening for applicants. Bill failed in conference committee.
SB 789 (Nichols and Terrill) OPEA supported this bill. This legislation makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to make a false statement in the course of an internal investigation. Signed by the Governor.
HB 1698 (Billy and Sykes) OPEA supported this bill which authorized the Department of Corrections to serve a free meal to employees. Signed by the Governor.
SB 1064 (Barrington and Shannon) OPEA supported this bill which makes it a felony to have a cell phone in prison. Governors Desk.