OPEA Responds to Editorial

Oklahoman Editor,

State employees appreciate Labor Commissioner Mark Costello stating in a recent Oklahoman editorial that “relief is on the way.” For the people who make the state work for Oklahoma’s citizens, the last five years have been challenging indeed.

Costello claimed that state and local workers are paid more than their counterparts in the private sector. However, unlike other public workers, Oklahoma state employees do not have collective bargaining rights and do not receive a pay raise unless it is granted by the Legislature. The last time that happened was in 2006. According to a salary survey by the Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management, Oklahoma state employees are paid 16 percent less than workers performing similar job duties in the private sector and for other government jurisdictions.State employees do have decent benefits, but their value is eroding and workers are leaving state service in increasing numbers because the benefits don’t compensate for challenging jobs and low pay.

Since the recession started, 2,000 fewer state employees are on the job providing core services to the residents of Oklahoma.Fewer correctional and probation officers are on the job ensuring public safety. Our corrections system is operating at capacity but with only 70 percent of the staff necessary to get the job done. Oklahoma’s veterans and disabled have fewer nurses and aides caring for our most vulnerable citizens. The workers who clear the roads during snowstorms and monitor the safety of drinking water, nursing homes, restaurants and swimming pools are struggling to keep up with increasing workloads, often with obsolete and failing equipment.

State employees are unfamiliar with the “ever-increasing size of the pie” Costello claimed is benefiting public employees at the expense of taxpayers. The people of Oklahoma are getting great value from the state workforce, which in 2011 is roughly the same size it was in 1983. During the recent snowstorms, state employees were clearing roads in frigid temperatures and spending several days and nights away from their families to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe and warm. Last year, when a small town elementary school was struck by an outbreak of spinal meningitis, state employees were immediately on the scene to vaccinate members of the community.

State employees should be thanked and adequately compensated for their dedicated service to the people of Oklahoma. And, yes, they do need relief.

Sterling Zearley
Executive Director
Oklahoma Public Employees Association

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