Compensation, Benefits Top OPEA Agenda

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Oklahoma Public Employees Association members on Tuesday released the group's 1999 legislative agenda in an effort to convince policy- makers that "Quality State Employees Mean Quality State Government."

OPEA leaders said that Oklahoma's state employees are the lowest paid in the nation and suggested seven areas that must be addressed for the state to maintain a work force capable of providing Oklahoma citizens with the services they need.

"OPEA is concerned about the amount of turnover in state government jobs -- in some areas approaching 30 percent," said Steve Paris, the group's president. "The association believes that recruitment and retention of quality employees is critical to the delivery of services. A comprehensive program of compensation and benefits is needed to stem the tide of talented workers who are leaving the state work force." Highlights of the program include: * Compensation: The OPEA legislative agenda calls for an increase in state employee pay of $1,500, or 5 percent, per year for the next two years. According to figures provided by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, Oklahoma state employees are dead last in pay. "The discrepancy in pay between state employees and the private sector makes it difficult for the state to recruit and retain workers to do the critical jobs of state government -- protection of the public, maintenance of roads and bridges and caring for veterans, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled," Paris said. * Insurance: OPEA would like to improve insurance benefits for state employees by maintaining the program through which the state pays 50 percent of dependent insurance coverage, changing the plan year for state employees to a calendar year, establishing a mail order prescription program and establishing a preferred provider organization plan. * Retirement: OPEA would like to raise the state's contribution to retiree insurance from $75 to $150 per month. Insurance rates have more than doubled since the state began an insurance subsidy for state retirees in 1988, leaving a huge gap in retiree benefits, officials said. In addition to increasing the insurance stipend, OPEA is calling for a cost-of-living adjustment program based on inflation and the ability of the retirement system to fund regular increases. …