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$1,000 bonus sought for Oklahoma state employees

The bonus would help state workers, many of whom who have not had a pay raise since 2006, while legislators determine how to develop a market-based pay system. A key lawmaker calls across-the-board pay raises a relic from the past.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: January 28, 2013

Several requests

The $1,000 bonus this year would provide immediate relief for state employees in crucial public safety areas, he said. The Corrections Department is seeking $12 million for pay raises and the Oklahoma Patrol is asking for $7 million to boost trooper salaries for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1. It's estimated lawmakers will have an additional $170 million this year to craft the state's nearly $7 billion legislative appropriated budget.

The last across-the-board increase for state employees was a 5 percent increase in October 2006. Zearley said employees have been asked to do more since then, either because of layoffs the past couple of years as a result of an economic downturn in the state or because of agencies having trouble filling the budgeted posts they do have. About 3,800 state jobs have been cut since 2009; the 34,000 state employees are the same number of state workers as in 1983.

“Since we have had not a raise since '06, we're asking for this one-time, $1,000 pay performance payment,” he said.

Employee retention

Zearley, whose organization represents about one-third of the state's approximately 34,000 employees, said the state would be able to keep more qualified employees if it could bring salaries closer to what is being paid for similar jobs by private companies.

Competitive market compensation for state positions and pay for performance are essential for a trained and knowledgeable workforce, he said.

Increasing pay for state workers partially could be funded from savings by having lower turnover, he said. Oklahoma's 13 percent turnover rate costs the state about $90 million in training employees to replace workers who retired or quit.

State employee salaries are about 19 percent below those paid for similar jobs in the private sector, Zearley said.

The lack of a recent pay increase and higher pay offered by private companies are main reasons for the state's turnover rate, which is more than twice the 5 percent rate considered ideal, according to the state's personnel office.

Many state employees are leaving for the energy field, where accountants, engineers, truck drivers and oil rig workers are needed, Zearley said.

A correctional officer's starting salary is $11.83 an hour; oil-field workers can earn as much as $25 an hour, Zearley said.

Employees working in jobs that are in high demand could be given a pay differential on top of their base salaries, he said.

A new compensation plan should cover all state agencies so there is consistency in how pay raises are administered, Zearley said.

Agencies that don't receive money appropriated by legislators have had available funds and have given raises since the last across-the-board increase in 2006, he said. Some agencies have used available funds to grant an increase in pay to some of their employees since then as well.

“We're not being consistent across the state,” Zearley said. “We need a pay plan for the whole state.”