With More Work To Do, OPEA is Encouraged By Pay Legisation

Even though much work still needs to be done, Oklahoma has begun to make state employee compensation more competitive with the private sector. Lawmakers have announced a budget agreement that gives $37.5 million for targeted pay increases consistent with recommendations from the 2013 remuneration study providing much-needed pay increases for correctional officers, highway patrol troopers, child welfare workers and other employees.
In addition to this funding, 

The Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) has worked with lawmakers to set the stage for future pay raises. If passed, House Bill 1794 by Rep. Mike Christian and Sen. Ralph Shortey requires the legislature to not reduce or realign benefits until an additional $60 million or more is approved for pay raises. Earlier this session, lawmakers proposed reducing some employee benefits in an effort to rebalance state employees’ benefit mix.

A 2013 compensation study showed that state employee salaries were substantially below what other employers pay similar employees and suggested Oklahoma take steps this year to improve pay. It also found that the value of state employee benefits is above the median of the market for the majority of employees and the mix of salary and benefits is more weighted towards benefits than the market. The study recommended changing the benefit to salary mix but not until Oklahoma begin to improve low pay.

“This budget will improve the take-home pay of some of our hard working employees who have gone years without a raise. The money they earn will help them provide for their families,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “This is also good news for local economies because state employees spend their earnings in their communities.”

“By investing in our state employees, we will be capable of providing better quality services to the people of Oklahoma,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview. “This measure moves us to a more competitive structure that will help us retain quality experienced employees and protects the investment the state has made in training and continuing education for these employees.”

The funding is not is not an “across the board” pay increase for state employees but it does provide money to improve pay for positions with salaries significantly below market as well as hard-to-fill positions. Those workers, and others who had not had a pay raise in several years, were in the target group for raises this year. The targeted positions are consistent with the study’s recommendations.

“During the session, we met with legislators who understood the importance of improving low salaries this year without reducing their benefits, ”Zearley said. “We really appreciate our OPEA members who advocated for improved pay as well as our legislative friends who fought for this funding. There are many issues that lawmakers must address every year and we are glad that some legislators made state employees a top priority.”

As in previous years, state agencies may also fund additional pay raises out of their existing budget. Some state agencies have been able to grant some staff pay increases without additional appropriation.

“We hope that agency directors will be able to find money in their budgets to give raises to employees not in the target groups,” Zearley said. “We know that agency budgets continue to be tight but it is important to support the staff providing services.”

During the session, OPEA pushed for language that would have set aside funds for future employee raises in years when sales and use tax growth estimates exceeded three percent. However, that language was removed from legislation.

“There is more to do to keep improving employees’ salaries especially those whose salaries are still considerably below market. This year is a good start to providing state agencies with the tools to keep and retain quality employees but we need to continuously assess state employee compensation. We can’t let employees go another eight years without a raise,” he said.


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