Veto delays action on overtime: Measure would have applied to workers making $31K or less
For many parole officers, case managers, maintenance workers and janitors working for the state of Oklahoma, working more than 40 hours a week comes without overtime pay.
Instead, many employees are required to use compensatory time, meaning they must offset each hour of overtime with an hour off within the next six months.
House Bill 2465 aimed to fix this issue by requiring state agencies to pay all employees making $31,000 a year or less for all overtime hours they work.
The bill passed through the Legislature with bipartisan support.
This week, Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the bill.
“We felt really great about it only to find out that, without real conversation with the authors, this is vetoed,” said Rep. Jason Dunnington, an Oklahoma City Democrat who coauthored the bill with Republican Sen. Paul Rosino.
“We felt like hardworking Oklahomans should be compensated for their time. If we can’t get them a raise, which they need, then this is the least we could do.”
Stitt said he vetoed the bill because it would take away a state agency’s choice in how to pay employees.
“House Bill 2465 would, in part, require agencies to pay employees for overtime worked, even if said work was unapproved by the agency, and mandate certain employees be paid overtime instead of compensatory time, regardless of the desire of the agency or the employee,” Stitt said in a statement.
At least 161 state employees in 11 different state agencies make $31,000 a year or less and are not eligible for overtime pay, according to Shelley Zumwalt, public affairs director for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Stitt thinks there needs to be more conversation over how to deal with the status of state employee pay and benefits before moving forward, though what those conversations would include was not specified beyond general human resources policies.
Dunnington said delaying the issue would have a negative impact on state workers struggling to make ends meet.
“More or less, (the veto) means that (Stitt) still is getting up to speed on the position he is in now, and I completely understand and respect that,” Dunnington said. “But those of us who have been working on these issues for years have seen the need and have put forward thoughtful policy in order to deal with it.
“But we don’t have time to wait another year to do something for Oklahomans who are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. We are crippling our own citizens from being as successful as they could be.”
Sterling Zearley, director of the Oklahoma Public Employee Association, the largest advocacy group for state employees, said not paying employees for overtime was especially troubling because many of their salaries are already so low.
“If we’re going to try and retain and recruit the brightest in state government, then they need to compensate them properly,” Zearley said, noting that while this bill might have failed, there are other opportunities to enhance state employee pay during this legislative session.
Zearley said the employee association recently sent a letter to Stitt asking him to consider advocating for a $2,500 pay raise, but hadn’t heard back.
However, Zearley said Stitt’s statement following his veto gave him some hope.
“State employee pay and benefits, including overtime pay and compensation time, is critical to ensuring Oklahoma retains the best and brightest in state government,” Stitt said in his statement. “Unfortunately, there are not across the board policies for all state agencies and employees, currently in statute. Although House Bill 2465 attempts to standardize a fraction of these issues, I believe a broader conversation needs to occur whereby we develop uniform across-the-board policies for state agencies and employees and I am committed to working with the authors of the bill to develop such policies and any necessary legislation.”
The bill also touched on areas outside of overtime pay, such as no longer allowing state agencies to require employees use comp time instead of sick leave when they have an illness. Dunnington said this was taking advantage of state employees so state agencies would be able to stay in the limits of their budgets.
Dunnington pointed to similar rules proposed by the Trump administration, which recently released modifications to federal standards on overtime pay. It would raise the cap that qualifies federal workers for overtime pay from $23,660 to $35,308. A comparable rule was proposed by the Obama administration, but it was held up in the courts.
Two options are available moving forward: Republican leadership could override Stitt’s veto since the bill originally passed with enough votes to do so. But this option would have to happen within the next few days. Or legislators will have to push the bill again next year, which Dunnington said his office will do if nothing can be done this session.
“We won’t give up,” Dunnington said. “There is no lack of fight in this office. Wages are one of the most important things we can do for the citizens of Oklahoma. If we want people to be able to take care of themselves, then we have to create pathways for them to do so.”