OPEA Offers Apology: State Employees are Fairly Compensated

Of course it’s a joke! But what isn’t funny is the State of Oklahoma’s sad attempt to pacify state employees with what amounts to state-sanctioned propaganda.

OPEA is referring to the recent mailing entitled “2009 Total Compensation Statement” that was recently mailed to every state employee. The “Statement” seems to be aimed at a growing segment of state employees who are upset about their pay, and the legislature’s refusal to acknowledge their plight.

The total compensation statement was the first serious employer communication tool designed to try and get Oklahoma’s state employees to understand and appreciate the value of their “total compensation package.” But to OPEA, it is an insult.

“The sheet broke down salary, insurance, health and retirement benefits provided to employees,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “Essentially it was the state saying, ‘hey, be grateful we pay for all this’ which is really quite insulting considering that many of the benefits listed are federally mandated.”

OPEA has taken exception to the statement and believes it to be very misleading. “The state missed the boat on this statement by providing some very misleading information that is just too difficult for employees to swallow,” said Zearley. “For instance, the cost of benefits differs greatly from the value of the benefits. These and other employee-provided benefits are not cash income and do not contribute to the employees ability to pay the light bill. Second, the report never mentions or compares the benefits to the private sector nor does it mention the fact the employee’s cash compensation lags from 16 percent behind private sector employee’s performing the same job.”

Further, OPEA points to problems with the inclusion of mandated benefits and employee contribution towards their retirement. “Many companies recommend only including base monthly salary, employer contributions to employee health, dental and vision benefits,” said Zearley. “They also include the employer contribution to retirement, deferred compensation contributions and longevity pay. They recommend not including such misleading information as the employee’s contribution toward retirement, social security, unemployment insurance and workers compensation premiums. These just serve to confuse employees and are very misleading since they are federally mandated.”

According to OPEA, many companies like Fox Lawson and Associates (FLA), Compensation and Human Resources Specialists, recommend not utilizing areas that serve to confuse employees. FLA recommends the total compensation include base compensation, short-term incentives, health and welfare benefits, paid leave and in some cases, special pay practices like overtime, shift differentials and uniform or car allowances.

OPEA members have taken exception to the statement as well. “The only legitimate ‘total compensation’ value anyone cares about is your salary, health insurance and retirement options,” said one state employee’s email. Another employee said, “Do they really believe that by sending us a letter saying you make 35 percent more than is in your paycheck that we will stay without occasional raises?”

“Again, if the state’s compensation system is all that this statement reflects,” said Zearley, “there would not be the incredible $85 million dollars in turnover nor would there be any difficulty recruiting new employees. This simply is not the reality of state employment and state employees are not fooled by it.”

OPEA plans to meet with legislative leaders to discuss future of the Total Compensation Statement. “We plan to meet and discuss the components that need to be included in the total compensation mix,” said Zearley. “OPEA believes the statement needs to focus on the three core items, base pay, health premiums and retirement contributions. These are the ones state employees value and are what makes the difference in whether or not an employee decides to continue with the state.”

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