State Employees Organization happy with proposed 6% increase, but eye more along with retirement gains

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s plenty of money in South Dakota’s latest budget and state employees are happy to be getting some of it. 

One major part of Republican Governor Kristi Noem’s $5.7 billion budget was a call for a 6% raise for state workers along with a 6% increase in state aid for education and healthcare providers. 

“This 6% increase is unprecedented, but also necessary,” Noem said on Tuesday in Pierre. “Many of these positions in these three areas are not keeping pace with their counterparts in the private sector or other states.” 

South Dakota State Employees Organization Executive Director Eric Ollila watched Noem’s speech on Tuesday and said since the budget was released, he’s heard positive feedback from state employees.  

“They’re happy. They have not seen a 6-percent across the board raise for themselves even in times of high inflation,” Ollila said. “They’re happy, but at the same time, they know that they’ve lost in the market over the years and what is out there to gain. They’d sure appreciate more spending power.” 

Ollila pointed out other state employees not directly under the control of the executive branch, like state workers for the judiciary or the legislature received an 8% pay raise. 

“We want to help Governor Noem bring that home,” Ollila said about the pay increases. “We also want to encourage the legislature and Governor Noem to consider increasing that.” 

Noem specifically proposed an additional $2.1 million in pay raises for correctional officers, parole officers and case managers within the Department of Corrections. 

Beyond the wage increases, Ollila said Noem’s budget address helped open a new door for future negotiations. 

“We’re happy to hear the governor complimenting state employees for their hard work during the pandemic,” Ollila said. “That’s not something that politicians have to do. It was nice to get that acknowledgement.” 

While praising frontline healthcare workers and teachers, Noem also highlighted state employees. She said, “our state employees have taken everything in stride, increased their workload dramatically and continued to provide our constituents with the best service possible.”   

Ollila has been with the SDSEO since 2011, when his previous position was eliminated by state budget cuts proposed by then Gov. Dennis Daugaard. He said a little respect goes a long way in helping encourage people to continue to work as a state employee or start working as a state employee. 

“The public sees that, people see that, jobseekers see that,” Ollila said. “It’s beneficial to the state, to citizens and to state infrastructure if we have a state government employee crew that is compensated, roaring to work every day and isn’t looking for new jobs constantly. Hopefully, this will be the impetus to future growth in recognition of employee needs.”

Currently, South Dakota has more than 28,000 job openings across the state. In Sioux Falls, the state of South Dakota is listing 515 job openings.  To help fill those jobs, Ollila said people need support and confidence from the state government. 

“They need to have some certainty that they’re going to have a future, that they’re going to have a career, they’re going to be taken care of and they’re going to be respected,” Ollila said. “That’s something that hasn’t always happened in the past in state government. We hope to restart that with the budget address.” 

Ollila said for any employees there’s a three-legged stool – compensation, benefits and retirement.  Despite the 6% pay increase, Ollila said many state employees enter the job knowing it won’t pay as much as the same position in the private sector. But, he stressed the benefits of state healthcare coverage and state retirement typically help cover the lower wages.  

He said there’s still concerns over the state employee health coverage plan where some of the lowest paid workers have to pay premiums to upgrade health coverage.  

Ollila also pointed to the state retirement system as a good place to look for increasing benefits for state employees. 

He’d like to see Class B retirement, which offers a state match of 8% for retirement and a lower age for retirement) be offered for employees at the Human Services Center in Yankton and the Developmental Center in Redfield. 

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