The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

November 12, 2008
'State worker' versus 'state employee'

081111 custodian.jpgWords matter.

Readers reminded us of that fact after reading our story on the governor's furlough and benefits cutbacks. A few gently rapped our knuckles for using two terms: "janitor" and "state worker."

"The correct word these days is 'custodian,'" said an unnamed caller responding to last week's story. "Just thought you'd want to know."

Another caller registered her reluctant acceptance of Schwarzenegger's plan to trim state payroll expenses and then threw in that she prefers "state employee" to "state worker."

It just sounds better, she told us.

Michael Fuller included the "e" word in one of his e-mails to the State Worker:

Unfortunately, we State employees (not State workers) are all painted by the same broad brush, so it's easy for the public to support cutbacks and reduced benefits, etc.

Self-defensiveness (and we writers -- ahem -- journalists are a defensive bunch) can make us prone to blowing off such concerns. Who cares? What's the big deal? Get a life.

But words do matter. They shape impressions and mold self-image.

CCPOA built itself into one of California's most powerful unions when a group formerly known as "prison guards" insisted that they were "correctional officers" and deserved to be treated better.

Now Schwarzenegger and labor interests are trying to shape the debate over the governor's cost-cutting proposals. You can see how the conflict is developing by the words used:

In a Monday interview with The Bee's editorial board, the governor said that he put forward the idea of eliminating two state holidays and requiring state workers to take a monthly unpaid day of leave "under the auspices of everyone gets a little haircut."

The SEIU California State Council called the plan, "an attack" on state employees, as we noted in this recent blog post.

So are the proposals a "haircut," and "attack" or something in between? How would you characterize them?

IMAGE: Sacramento Bee

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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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