As a way to recognize state employees for the role they play in providing core services to Oklahomans, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) has requested state agency directors provide a one-time performance payment for their staff using existing agency funds. These payments were authorized in legislation approved by both the house and senate and was scheduled for conference committee but funding for them was not included in the recent legislative budget agreement. A letter with the association’s request was sent to agency heads on May 7, 2013.
“Recent reports have called into question state agencies’ practice of holding on to funds for future projects or expenses. While we can certainly understand the need for agencies to keep some money in reserve, there is no greater need right now among state agencies than the need to retain good employees,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “We are asking agency directors to see if they can find the money within their current agency budget to fund a performance payment for their staff.”
State agencies have difficulty keeping some critical positions filled. Employees who keep Oklahoma’s roads safe, who watch over violent offenders or take care of children and veterans have difficult jobs and agencies struggle to keep employees because of low pay. The 2014 budget agreement does not fund any salary increases or a performance payment for these and other positions. In the past, smaller agencies have had the ability to give raises while larger agencies have not due to the number of employees.
“The performance payment would not fix the staffing problem at any of our agencies. It would, however, serve as recognition that workers have done a great job providing core services despite low compensation. The payment would help offset the rising cost of their insurance and other household expenses,” Zearley said. We look forward to the upcoming pay study to finally create a plan where employees’ compensation is brought closer in line with other employers.”
A remuneration study is scheduled for this summer and may result in recommendations for how Oklahoma’s state agencies can compete with other employers for staff. Some employees have gone for six years without a pay increase. The study would address long-term compensation needs and a performance payment now would provide some immediate relief.
“Until Oklahoma develops a competitive pay philosophy, we will have to continue to find ways to retain workers and limit costly employee turnover,” he said. “Looking at state agencies’ accounts to see if there is some way to pay for the performance payment now would be a step we could take in the meantime.”