State employees protest for raises

Sarah Guevara

 

Click here to see Oklahoma state employee salary information for 2017 courtesy of Oklahoma Watch.

Oklahoma state employees have been spending their lunch breaks protesting for raises and increased funding across the state.

State workers were protesting Thursday at the Capitol. Members of Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) have protested in Shawnee, Tecumseh, Lawton, and will finish the week in Enid.

Some employees said their last raise was 34 cents 10 years ago. State employees in Norman protested for funds for mental health and the foster care system. Protests have also occurred at Tulsa and twice in McAlester – one general protest and one specifically staged for Gov. Mary Fallin.

JR Holaday-Herrington is a recovery and empowerment specialist at Griffin Memorial Hospital. His husband is a teacher who has been protesting at the state capitol. For Holady-Herrington, the teacher walkout is an opportunity to also highlight the lack of pay for other state employees. He claims his salary is 3/4 of that made by a teacher in Oklahoma. Over $52 million were cut from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse since 2012. They still have a budget hole greater-than $21 million for 2019.

Griffin is one of several government-funded institutions for mental health in Oklahoma. Between 700,000 and 900,000 Oklahomans have a mental health or substance abuse problem, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Of those with a mental illness or abuse problem, only about 1\3 are accessing appropriate services.

“Every year, we see our pay going down and down and down and down, and our responsibilities, duties, and cuts going up and up and up,” Holaday-Herrington said.

He feels that protesting for better pay for retirees and more funding at the mental health hospital is a social responsibility. Holaday-Herrington explained that Griffin used to be a crowning jewel in Oklahoma, and a leader in mental health, but now it’s leading nothing due to budget cuts. Griffin was one of the first mental health institutions in the country.

Teachers in Oklahoma make about $40,000 per year. Patient Care Assistants make about $27,000 per year.

“Our legislator have to do what’s right for the state of Oklahoma,” Holaday-Herrington said.

The OPEA has released a list of demands for the Oklahoma legislature, and members are calling for funding restoration from cuts over the past eight years, a $2,500 pay raise in 2019 and an additional $2,500 raise in 2020.

State employee compensation is 26.8 percent below market, but state workers make up less than one percent of the Oklahoma population. State agency turnover rate is nearly 17 percent. The Oklahoma government employs 11 percent fewer workers than seven years ago, even though the state population has grown about five percent. This has left state employees unhappy with a resolution from legislators.

“Get to work. Your state employees are working hard on behalf of you. It’s time you get to work, find some real revenue enhancements, and fund a raise for state employees,” said Tom Dunning, communications director with OPEA.