State employees rally for better pay, benefits

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Hundreds of state workers rallied for better pay and benefits outside Gov. Frank Keating's office Wednesday, but lawmakers stopped short of promising a pay raise for Oklahoma's 36,000 employees.

Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, told rallying workers that the Legislature will have to balance demands for massive tax cuts with the need to pay for state government, including employee salaries.

"I'm going to be very, very cautious on anything that would take away our revenue sources," Adair said.

"You cannot be for big tax cuts and for state employees. The money doesn't work," Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said.

Workers, many wearing stickers that read "State Employees -- The Heart of Oklahoma," cheered as officials of the state workers union, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, outlined demands for an 8 percent pay raise for state workers.

"We're here for a pay raise," said Gary Jones, executive director of the OPEA.

"We will not be ignored," said OPEA president Dixie Jackson.

As she spoke, a state employee raised a sign stating: "The Ultimate Valentine: Competitive Salaries."

The organization is also demanding an increase in the dependent insurance subsidy from 50 percent to 75 percent and a 5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for retirees.

Although the rally was held outside Keating's second-floor office at the State Capitol, Keating did not address the crowd.

Jones said the OPEA invited the Republican governor but that he declined.

Keating, who supports privatization of some state worker functions, was booed and jeered last year when thousands of state workers rallied at the State Capitol to press their demands for a $2,000 across-the-board raise. Keating eventually signed the bill.

Keating has proposed $3,000 annual pay raises for state correctional officers as well as pay increases for juvenile and veterans affairs workers.

Jackson said state workers play a vital role in state government.

"Who did this state turn to when the recent ice storms hit?"

she said. Jackson said state transportation employees worked around the clock to make sure roads and highways were safe.

"Everybody who bashes state employees ought to be ashamed,"

Taylor said. Taylor has authored a measure to require the Administrator of the Office of Personnel Management to conduct a study on state employee pay.

"We hope that in this legislative session we can find help for you," Senate Minority Leader Jim Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, said.

In past years, state workers have prefaced their demands for better pay with claims that they were the lowest paid in the nation.

Revised employment data released by the Office of State Finance last week indicates that state workers are actually 37th in the nation in pay. But Jones said state workers "still rank low."

"Over 50 percent of you make less than $29,000," Jones said.