Moral(e) Deflation

Image of T.W. Shannon

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.