If state leaders intentionally set out to destroy what morale is left among state workers, then they couldn’t have done a better job.
After going seven years without an across-the-board raise, state workers have recently dealt with the following developments:
(1) Some Oklahoma agency heads have recently received astronomical raises. Those raises, according to media reports, include a $47,000 raise for OSBI Director Stan Florence, increasing his salary to $127,000, a $21,000 raise for Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Eric Pfeifer, increasing his salary to $256,000, a $40,000 raise for Tourism director Deby Snodgrass, increasing her salary to $126,000 and a $40,000 raise for Terri White, who heads the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, increasing her salary to $173,000.
(2) Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, pictured right, recently gave out more than $280,000 in annual raises to House staff, ranging in size from 2 percent to 30 percent. The largest raises went to House attorneys. Shannon indicated, through a spokesperson, that the raises were dictated by an internal study.
(3) A recent study, ordered by state leaders, showed that state workers’ salaries lagged behind their peers in comparable states by 6.4 percent. It also showed they lagged behind employees in similar private sector jobs here by 21.7 percent. But it also stated that state workers get more generous benefits than their peers and encouraged “more benefits cost sharing between the employer and employee,” or, in other words, cuts for workers. The study recommended 2 percent to 3 percent raises based on salary adjustments and performance. Meanwhile, Gov. Mary Fallin has warned agency heads that next fiscal year’s budget could be flat because of increased Medicaid costs. Where is the money for the relatively small raises, estimated at $41.1 million, even going to come from?
Let’s be clear: It is standard GOP operating procedure to reward people at the top as much as possible while disregarding rank-and-file workers. Shannon simply gave out patronage raises because, well, because he apparently could do so, and he didn’t care about how it might appear. State workers should be extremely worried that not only are they going to go without raises, they also might actually see cuts to their benefits.
Republicans dominate state government right now. They hold all the major state offices and have super majorities in both the House and Senate. As the adage goes, elections have consequences, and Republicans are more interested in cutting government spending and cutting taxes than approving across-the-board raises for workers.
Meanwhile, morale among state workers has plummeted because when considered alongside cost-of-living increases, workers have seen a sizable decrease in purchasing power. Some have openly expressed their frustration.
It’s impossible to have effective government services when its workers are treated with such callousness. It’s also dehumanizing. State workers, such as social workers and correction officers, among others, do some of the most difficult and important jobs in our culture.
I find it interesting that a study has found that state workers here enjoy better benefits than their peers in this region of the country.
That conclusion, however it was calculated, fits rather conveniently with an effort by Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller to change the state’s pension plans from defined-benefit systems with regular payments to 401(k)-styled systems while reducing state contributions for new hires.
The compensation study, conducted by Kenning Consulting and Hay Group for $200,000, also found that Oklahoma lags in pay for state workers by 6.4 percent when compared to other states and 21.7 percent when compared to the public sector.
But it was the “benefits” comparison that caught my eye. According to information about the study released by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), state workers here get 24.3 percent more in benefits than other state workers in nearby states and 18 percent more than the private sector.
These percentages, plus a recommendation by the study’s authors to “reinvest benefits resources in employee pay and encourage more benefits cost sharing between the employer and employee,” give Fallin and Miller more political ammunition to seek changes in the state’s pensions.
It also remains to be seen if state workers will receive a raise anytime soon since the study also recommends that the state “not legislatively mandate across-the-board pay increases for all employees.” It makes the overall claim that overall state workers compensation is “even with comparable state governments.” How do you squeeze a raise out of that finding?
Many state workers have gone without a raise for several years. Some state agency heads, however, received astronomical raises recently. It’s part of standard conservative methodology to reward those at the top while leaving rank-and-file employees behind, whether in the public or private sector.
Here’s the news release from OMES about the study. It didn’t detail how the percentages were calculated or what actually constitutes a benefit. Read between the lines, the study’s recommendations do, however, fit perfectly with conservative ideology, especially when it comes to supporting merit pay, ending longevity pay and cutting benefits.
The bottom line is that this study will probably be used in an attempt to cut retirement benefits, at least for future state employees, and to deny state workers decent across-the-board raises.
There’s a lot of snow on the ground today in central Oklahoma, but the earth is still moving and shaking beneath us.
There have been dozens of recorded earthquakes over the last few days here, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, including one that registered 3.1 magnitude on the Richter scale.
What seems incredible to me is that Oklahoma is now ranked second in the contiguous United States in the number of earthquakes 3.0 or above magnitude since 2009, according to an EnergyWire story by Mike Soraghan. California is ranked first, of course.
Tornadoes, ice storms, heat waves, blizzards, wildfires, floods and now earthquakes. It’s a bit much even for the most weather-tested Okie.
As I’ve written before, there remains the very real possibility that Oklahoma’s recent earthquake swarm is a manmade phenomenon. Injection disposal wells, used in oil and gas drilling procedures, have been linked to earthquakes here and elsewhere by scientists and researchers. A recent surge in oil and gas production here through hydraulic fracturing or fracking has created a need for more such wells.
But that’s difficult for some Oklahomans to accept, according to Soraghan, who writes:
Linking earthquakes to drilling, though, has been tough to accept for many Oklahomans. While they're not used to earthquakes here, they're quite accustomed to pump jacks and deep injection wells. Oklahoma is dotted with more than 4,500 such wells. Oil and gas is a pillar of the economy and provides a lot of solid paychecks in the state.
Oil and gas production is a major part of the Oklahoma economy, true, but that should never come before the basic welfare and safety of its residents. There has been tepid interest so far among the state’s highest leaders, such as Gov. Mary Fallin, to really launch a major, all-out study of the issue that might lead to new oil and gas drilling regulations.
Unfortunately, it will probably take a major, damaging earthquake to shake the state’s overwhelmingly conservative leaders into action.