The Oklahoma Public Employees Association continued its fight to preserve the state employee benefit allowance Wednesday.
“OPEA has given Representative Peterson language to amend HB 3108 to include not only a $2,700 pay raise, but also to place a trigger in state law for automatic pay raises,” announced OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.
The language proposed by OPEA would provide a $2,700 pay raise for state employees effective July 1, 2008, as well as automatic pay raises if the state revenue certification in February increased more than three percent over the previous year.
“If state revenues climb by three percent, state employees would automatically receive a five percent pay raise,” said Zearley.
“Over the past 28 years, if this language had been law, state employees would have received 20 automatic pay raises,” Zearley continued. (This analysis is based on the amount appropriated, which should be close to the February certification.)
“While we do not agree with the current language of HB 3108, we wanted to put compensation on the table for discussion,” he said. “If the benefit allowance is up for consideration, then compensation reform is equally as important and should be placed in this bill. We are going to stand firm on this.”
Representative Peterson has indicated publicly that he believes that both benefits and compensation should be discussed together and agreed to place the requested language into a floor substitute for HB 3108.
“I want to assure all of our members and state employees in general that OPEA has never advocated nor would we ever advocate doing away with the benefit allowance,” said Zearley. “Our members are dependent upon the benefit allowance. If changing the benefit allowance is up for consideration, then reforming state employee compensation must be part of the same discussion.”
OPEA believes that this amendment will either provide the platform to advance the legitimate total compensation reform discussion or serve as a poison pill for the legislation.
A report by the Pew Foundation report released last month indicated “the low pay scale ” for state employees is a major problem for Oklahoma, calling salaries for state employees unrealistically low. However, Pew pointed out that benefits was an area in which the state can compete with the private sector.
“OPEA has provided the opportunity for all the parties, agencies, state employees and the legislature, to come to terms with whether the state is really interested in total compensation.”