Oklahoma Department of Corrections to seek employee pay raises
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Sunday, September 09, 2012
9/09/12 at 7:40 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones said employee pay raises will be his top priority next legislative session.
"It is out of necessity," he said.
When lawmakers return to the state Capitol in February, it will have been seven years since state employees had a pay raise, Jones pointed out.
Correctional officers start out at $11.83 per hour, but Jones wants that increased to $14. In addition, he is seeking a 5 percent, across-the-board pay increase for classified employees in the Department of Corrections.
The total cost would be $12.2 million.
The low pay for correctional officers results in a high turnover rate, Jones said. And several facilities are in areas with low unemployment due to the oil industry, which can pay higher wages, he said.
To be a correctional officer, a person must be 20 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, be drug-free and have no criminal history, Jones said.
"That is the same group that many other companies are recruiting from, especially in the field of energy," Jones said.
As of Aug. 31, the agency was authorized for 2,587 correctional officers but had 1,646 posts filled. In 2000, the agency had 2,114 correctional officers, Jones said.
"The state budget and revenue picture for the coming year remains uncertain at this time, and it would not be prudent to make budgetary commitments at any state agency until we have a better understanding of what our realistic fiscal situation will be," said Nathan Atkins, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
"However, Pro Tem Bingman recognizes that appropriately compensating our state corrections officers is essential to attract and retain talented, hardworking employees that are often called upon to perform challenging work."
In the fall, a legislative interim study will evaluate how state employee pay stacks up in the marketplace, said Trish Frazier, Oklahoma Public Employees Association policy director.
State employees are paid 19 percent below the market rate for private-sector workers in similar jobs, Frazier said.
According to the state's Fiscal Year 2011 Compensation Annual Report, the average state pay of classified employees was $35,440, compared to the market rate of $42,235.
The study will also evaluate the worth of state employee benefits, which are good, Frazier said.
The last pay raise for state employees was in 2006, when a 5 percent raise was given, Frazier said.
Shortly after that, the state went into a recession. Many agencies were forced to reduce their work forces.
"It is clear that the lack of regular general pay increases over the past several years has caused the state's market position to significantly deteriorate," the Fiscal Year 2011 Compensation Annual Report says.
Frazier said turnover among state employees costs the state tens of millions of dollars when replacements have to be brought on board.
Original Print Headline: Corrections Department to seek raises
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465