“No One’s Job is Safe;” OPEA Works to Prevent Cuts

One hundred employees at the state’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services are the latest in a series of staffing cuts at agencies throughout Oklahoma.

In light of the state’s unprecedented budget shortfall, furloughs, RIFs and voluntary buyouts are becoming commonplace

Besides DHMSAS, employees at the Department of Corrections, Corporation Commission, DHS, Office of Juvenile Affairs, Pardon and Parole, Office of Disability Concerns and the Historical Society are facing mandatory cuts.

“At this point, we are wondering what agency will be next,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “It may be tempting to keep your head in the sand and think your job is safe, but recent actions show every state employee is at risk.”

Last month the Governor instituted mandatory five percent cuts to all state agencies for the rest of the fiscal year, and legislative leaders fear additional cuts may be necessary.

“Unless something is done soon, these cuts could be just the tip of the iceberg,” Zearley said. “OPEA began working behind the scenes a few months ago to bring legislators back to the Capitol during the interim for meetings of Appropriation Sub Committees. Once they began hearing from agency heads, they began to see the need for immediate action.”

Tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund is almost a certainty. The question is when. Republicans have asked the Governor to call a special session in December, but the Governor says he wants to wait until after the Board of Equalization meets on December 21.

State Representative David Dank issued a statement recently saying staffing cuts need to be targeted to specific areas.

“Oklahoma is badly mismanaging its ongoing state budget crisis by imposing dangerous across-the-board cuts and untargeted employee furloughs that reduce essential state services,” Dank said. “We are endangering the elderly and other vulnerable populations, making our state less safe and working an unacceptable hardship on our children. The simple truth is that some front line state employees are more valuable to the public than others, and we need to hold harmless from furloughs those who provide essential services. The first to be furloughed should be the senior managers and office and support personnel,” Dank said.

“What this says to me is that ‘hey, no one’s job is safe,” Zearley said. “You might think it could never happen to you, but we’re all in this together. If one agency or group of employees is at risk, we all are. Now more than ever is the time to come together in unity. For 35 years that’s what OPEA has been about, and every person who works for the state needs to be standing with us as a member. There’s no other more affordable way to protect your job today than by joining OPEA,” Zearley said.

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