TULSA - Fourteen staff members working for the Oklahoma House of Representatives got raises at the beginning of the year, some as high as thirty percent.
That doesn’t sit well with thousands of state employees in other agencies, who haven’t seen a raise in as long as twelve years.
Tom Dunning is Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.
He tells KRMG the perception among many members is that the House seems to be taking care of its own, while ignoring dire problems elsewhere in the state.
“For the past several years, there’s been no state pay raises,” Dunning said, “yet the House of Representatives seems to be able to make that happen for their own staff. For our members who are frustrated and angry about this, it just seems like there’s a double standard.”
He adds that going without raises for more than a decade has left Oklahoma’s public employees far behind.
“The average state employee’s compensation, that’s both salary and benefits, in 2017 was 24 percent below market,” Dunning told KRMG. “Now, that’s not OPEA’s numbers, those are numbers from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, who is responsible for the state’s personnel actions. So, we’re not just pulling those numbers out of the air.”
One of the more dire examples would be the Department of Corrections, which is experiencing extremely high turnover because of poor pay and extreme working conditions.
“The turnover rate among correctional officers is right around 50%,” Dunning said. “That means the state pays money to recruit and hire folks, and train them, and then they stay maybe six months then they go find something else to do.”
The last time the legislature actually voted to raise pay for state employees was in 2006.
The raises for House staff members came from the legislature’s operating budget, which Dunning admits can technically be done by other agencies.
But, he says, “it’s impossible, because state agencies have been cut, and cut, and cut over the last several years.”
State employees keep getting promises, he said, but lawmakers have failed to come through.
“They’ve heard ‘now wait until the money comes in, and we’ll take care of you.’ And for whatever reason, it never seems to happen.”
The fourteen House employee raises, according to OMES, range from just under $3,000 annually to as much as $20,000 a year in one case.