Study Says State Should Begin Addressing Low Pay This Session

Oklahoma must take steps now to improve employee compensation, according to the author of an extensive study of state employee compensation. The study, released today, showed state employee salaries were generally 20 percent lower than the salaries paid to workers employed elsewhere.

The study recommends Oklahoma begin the process of improving employee compensation including salaries during the upcoming legislative session because employee salaries lag behind the market and many state workers have not had a pay increase in seven years.

“State workers already know that their salaries are low and this study confirms it,” said Jess Callahan president of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association. “Now it is time for Oklahoma’s lawmakers to start the work of improving pay. For the state to provide necessary services, this must be a legislative priority now and in the future.”

Neville Kenning of Kenning Consulting conducted the study at the request of the Governor’s office. It looked at the value of salaries and benefits of 141 state positions representing 10,082 employees across all job classes. Kenning said the study compared state employees’ salary and benefits value with those of similar jobs in other businesses and organizations, other states and other employers that compete with state agencies for employees.

The study reported the value of most state employee benefits are competitive with those received by workers employed elsewhere but the value of those benefits do not make up for low salaries paid to state workers. Overall the “state lags the market median on total compensation at almost all salary levels.”

“It would be a disservice to state employees and Oklahomans who depend on the services they provide to think that it is appropriate to have low salaries because benefits are at a certain level,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “The men and women who work at our state agencies have done a great job despite low salaries. Now is the time to improve those salaries if Oklahoma wants to keep good employees and also compete for quality workers in the future.”

Zearley also said that it would be a mistake to reduce benefits in order to improve salaries since the overall compensation value would still be below market.

The study recommended a “multi-year game plan” to improve employee compensation citing that the “current state was not achieved overnight”. However, Kenning believed that the state should take steps to improve salaries during the next legislative session since some employees have gone years without raises.

“Turnover cost taxpayers $87 million during state fiscal year 2012. Some of that is due to the low salaries paid to state workers. With competitive salaries, state agencies will be better equipped to keep good employees as well as recruit and retain quality staff,” Zearley said. “If we don’t improve state employees’ pay, good applicants will continue to go elsewhere for jobs.”


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