Despite an economic downturn resulting in less revenue, OPEA will have improving employee compensation at the top of its 2021 legislative agenda as the legislature convenes this week. Several pieces of legislation, if passed, would improve state employee pay and benefits.
Most of the bills we support are OPEA request bill developed through OPEA’s 2019 and 2020 platform plank approval process. For nearly 45 years, OPEA has been a grass-root, member-driven organization bringing state employees’ idea into law.
OPEA has requested legislation to implement and fund a market based compensation plan to start the process of bringing state employee compensation closer to the market. State agency jobs are still compensated approximately 20 percent below similar private sector and surrounding-state positions. The plan would bring Oklahoma closer to market beginning in 2021 and continue the following years.
“The neglect of state agency pay has gone on for more than a decade with occasional pay raises. Our plan begins to remedy years of no raises and gets our compensation closer to where it needs to be,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley.
One significant OPEA bill to improve compensation is Sen. Kim David’s SB 650 to “unfreeze” the state benefit allowance. The allowance has not kept up with the cost of health insurance premiums causing many employees’ paychecks to shrink in January when new health insurance premiums take effect. This issue is one that is important to many OPEA members.
Another is the “use it or lose it” bill, SB 2294 by Rep. Dustin Roberts, that would prevent the loss of earned annual leave due to employees reaching the annual leave limit. OPEA has heard from many employees who cannot take time from work due to staffing or workload. This results in loss of leave. Agencies need to pay employees for accrued annual leave that cannot be used rather than the employee losing the leave.
SB 981 by Sen. Darrell Weaver would increase longevity pay starting at $500 and increasing by $250 up to $2,750 instead of $2,000. Longevity has not been increased since 1988
Sen. Zack Taylor has a bill (Bill number TBD) that would improve pay for some of the state’s lowest paid state employees by tying the minimum salary for state employees to the federal poverty level of a family of four rather than the current level for a family of three.
HB 1787 requires “on call” pay for state employees who are required to be on call as part of their job. Currently in most agencies, the on call staff member is only reimbursed or granted comp time, if they are called out on duty. This bill would provide modest compensation for the employee to be on call and available
For court reporters who are state employees, HB2689 by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck would tie their compensation to the Judicial Compensation Review Board. This would help bring their salaries closer to market.
Rep. Cyndi Munson has filed HB 1943 to create a new form of state employee paid leave to be used for volunteering with non-profits or schools. This legislation would allow state employees limited time to give back to their communities through volunteering like many employees in the private sector. It would not replace or interfere with other types of leave. If passed, state employees could take up to eight hours to volunteer at a nonprofit or school. HB 1943 is proposed legislation that was suggested by OPEA members through our platform plank process.
Rep. Mike Dobrinski has filed HB 2190 to create a new form of paid administrative leave to be used for physical wellness. This legislation will allow state employees to take up to 3 hours a week to go to work out classes, take a walk, etc. This legislation is like policies in the private sector that have been around for years to encourage healthier living among employees. HB 2190 was suggested to OPEA through the platform plank process.
Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Montgomery updates Reduction in Force so an employee who is “RIF’ed” due to restructuring does not have to pay back the RIF benefit if that employee returns to work for the state within 12 months of their RIF.
House Bill 2486 by Rep. Avery Frix deals with the state’s defined contribution retirement system Pathfinder. OPEA’s intent is to have all state employees hired after a future date (TBD) to be placed into the OPERS defined benefit plan rather than Pathfinder. We are also studying how to bring current Pathfinder members into the defined benefit plan as allowed by state and federal regulations.