Staff and Wire Reports
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Hundreds of state employees traveled by car and bus Monday to rally at the Oklahoma Capitol. They're urging lawmakers to retain their pension benefits and implement a total compensation package that would include better salaries.
"I had to be here today so the legislature can put a face with what is going on in the state of Oklahoma," said Mike Rogers, Department of Corrections employee.
Although Monday, President's Day, is a state holiday, the state House of Representatives and the Oklahoma Senate was in session.
Legislative leaders said reforming state pension systems is a top priority this year because of their collective $16.5 billion unfunded liability. But state workers want their pension benefits to remain as they are, according to officials at the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, which represents about 10,000 of the state's 36,000 workers.
State workers also want better salaries. The OPEA said state workers' salaries are on average 16 percent below salaries in the private sector.
Jess Callahan, an Oklahoma Department of Human Services employee, drove from Hugo to meet face-to-face with lawmakers.
Callahan said the biggest problems facing DHS workers is low pay and the fear of losing their benefits because the state needs to fill a $500 million dollar shortfall.
"DHS offers assistance to Oklahomans in need and our cases grow everyday. It's ironic, though. I sit next to co-workers who are on food stamps and their kids on Soonercare," Callahan said.