Advocates back proposed pay hike for state employees
by Dale Denwalt
When Carrie Croy first began working for the Department of Corrections 14 years ago, she never thought she’d have to take on a second job just to pay the bills.
After all, Croy said Thursday, she was a military veteran, had a bachelor’s degree and planned to advance her career with more education.
“I now hold two master’s degrees and still have two jobs,” said Croy, who works as a probation and parole officer for the state and also for her apartment complex. “Luckily my second job helps me pay for everything else, because everybody seems to forget the cost of living keeps going up. Health care keeps going up.”
For Oklahoma Public Employees Association Executive Director Sterling Zearley, Croy is one of Oklahoma’s “forgotten ones,” state employees who haven’t received a pay raise in more than a decade.
“It is time to stop the neglect of state agency funding. The ongoing mistreatment of our state employees by our state leaders is unprecedented,” Zearley said at a news conference Thursday, standing alongside Croy, who is board president for the OPEA.
To help mitigate a 19 percent turnover rate among all state employees, which includes a 40-percent turnover rate at the Department of Corrections, the OPEA has endorsed legislation that would enact an annualized salary increase of $2,500 per year over three years.
House Bill 2637 by state Rep. Dustin Roberts would ultimately cost the state an extra $246 million per year once fully implemented. It would affect about 33,000 full-time and part-time state employees and would be the first pay increase since 2006.
According to data from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, more than 8,000 state agency workers earn less than $30,000 per year. State employees’ total compensation, including salaries and benefits, average 24 percent below their private sector counterparts.
“If we are going to improve compensation, then we must do it this year and pass new revenue measures to provide the resources for our state agencies,” Zearley said.
Gov. Mary Fallin has called on lawmakers to adopt a state employee pay raise, but proposals have languished at the Capitol as negotiations remain stuck on whether, and how, to raise revenue.
A coalition of business leaders last week announced details of a revenue and spending plan they hope lawmakers implement, but the plan does not include raises for state employees. Step Up Oklahoma leadership said that with more revenue, state employee raises will follow.
“If Oklahoma is truly looking to move forward, we must improve state agency services now by increasing state employee pay and reducing employee turnover,” said Roberts, R-Durant. “A teacher pay raise is important but so is a state employee pay raise for Oklahomans providing services to our communities and families.”