The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 28, 2008
Public employees and public relations

Working for the State of California has downsides. Sure, the pay and benefits can be pretty good if you stick with it long enough. Then again, the governor could suddenly push a plan to whack your pay. And then there's the aggravation of your livelihood being a punchline.

Comedian Dane Cook's riff in this 2-minute YouTube video suggests that going to a DMV office is slightly less painful than a punch in the face. Web sites like have sections dedicated to poking fun at government workers. You've heard the jokes. Maybe even told a few yourself.

You have to wonder if any of that was part of the political calculus behind Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's threat to cut state workers' pay to $6.55 per hour. The formula goes something like this: The outrage of 200,000 state workers is less than the support from millions of Californians who want a budget passed and who don't sympathize with California's bureaucratic corps.

In other words, why risk using a popular group or program for political leverage when state workers are handy? 

Michael Shires, a Pepperdine University associate professor of public policy who wrote "Why is Government So Expensive?" put it this way in a phone interview with The State Worker: "California's state employees have a big PR problem. People see more and more money going into government and not a lot more coming out."

Do you agree? What's behind all the jokes and stereotyping of state workers? Is it harmless fun, or does it indicate something deeper? Can state workers or their unions do anything to improve their public relations? 

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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