Pay Raises, Retirement Issues Highlight State Workers' Agenda

Tuesday, October 30th 2007, 3:14 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- More than 30,000 state workers will be asking for $2,700 across-the-board pay raises as well as boosts in retirement and insurance benefits when the Legislature convenes in February, the state workers union said Tuesday.

After receiving no pay raise in 2007, the executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, Sterling Zearley, said boosting state worker salaries and benefits are top priorities in the group's 2008 legislative agenda.

"We feel this is going to be a strong year for our state employees and retirees," Zearley said. "Our plans are in place and our membership is committed to finally receive equitable treatment from the Legislature."

The proposed pay raise would cost about $90 million a year, Zearley said. He estimated the state loses $80 million in lost training and other employee costs due to the high rate in employee turnover caused by low salaries and benefits.

"The state of Oklahoma does not have a plan as to how we give raises to state employees," Zearley said. "This $2,700 will be just a start to make state salaries both comparable and competitive."

A spokesman for Governor Brad Henry, Paul Sund, said Henry supports better pay for state workers. "They do very difficult jobs and often are not compensated appropriately," he said.

But Sund said it is premature to predict what type of compensation program may be possible for state workers until the state Board of Equalization finalizes its revenue projections for the upcoming year in December.

Zearley said he looks forward to the findings of a market compensation study comparing state worker salaries with those earned by workers with similar jobs in private-sector companies.

He said OPEA wants a four-year compensation plan for state workers that will cover overtime pay, shift differential, hazardous duty pay, holiday pay and uniform allowances.

The organization is seeking a 4% cost of living adjustment for retirees, with an automatic 2% each year, Zearley said.

OPEA will continue to maintain the state commitment of paying the total cost of health, basic life and dental insurance for state employees and 75% of health insurance for family dependents, he said.

In addition, the organization will work for more funding for state agency operations including retirement and insurance benefits and fuel and equipment costs, Zearley said.

"We will also work to obtain additional funding for agencies with staffing shortages as well as high caseloads," he said.

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