The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 21, 2009
Blog back: Controversy, the contract and contrasting attitudes

Blog backs review your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.

We're off next week, but Andrew McIntosh and the rest of the crew at The Bee's Capitol Bureau will feed TSW until we return on Aug. 31.

Aug. 10 Read the controversial 'retail e-mail' from Department of Health

It's not this memo that's offensive; it's the situation.

Well said.

Mr. Ortiz,

As an intrepid reporter, could you please provide us with your definition of "controversial" since there does not appear to be anything close to that in this e-mail.

For our response and to read more blog backs, click the link below.

The memo became controversial when a Bay Area TV station interviewed DPH employees who were upset about it.

The KGO piece played the memo as the state suggesting that state workers work for Target, Kohl's or other stores to make up for pay lost to furlough. But when you read the entire e-mail, that's clearly not the case. We agree with this TSW user:

How can anyone be offended by this? As a State Employee that has a second, part-time job, I can see this for what it is, a clarification of the rules concerning conflicts of interest. When I started my other job, that was a concern of mine as the company I work part-time for does do business with the State. I don't think anyone should take this as the State suggesting State employees get part time jobs to make up for the loss in pay due to furloughs, just as a clarification for those of us who have decided to do that.

Aug. 11 UPDATED: State taking bids for $200,000 contract to study economics of recreation

This post sparked a back-and-forth that veered close to becoming personal but then concluded on a cordial note. We start with this take from "circa450."

Why not have some students from UCD or CSUS do the study for credit. I realize someone in government won't be giving a relative work, but at least it would be a lot cheaper and the result for a useless study would be the same.

"Workerbeee" weighs in:

The comments here demonstrate real ignorance - let's hope professionals with a little more insight are involved.

We spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on government and private sector enterprises that interact with this issue, and outdoor recreation is possibly a billion dollar area of our floundering economy. We are closing state parks and possibly damaging a lot of local economies in the process. That calls for careful research.

While "students" might be cheap they still won't be free, and worse, they may not be as good. At best, yiou might save a few thousand dollars and they can't work full time (they're students, remember?)

This is actually not a lot of money when you think about it. If 10 people spend six months on it, they'd each be working for essentially 20 grand before expenses. That's not a lot of money on an annual basis for educated experts in the field of economics.

"DESERTDOC" fires back with this comment:

Workerbee, I am looking for a fight and your my target, Thank you for the initial salvo of insults.

Here is why students would be better.

Give it to a Masters or Doctoral level candidate. They want to do well. Have extensive faculty oversight. Stand to loose A LOT if they plagerize, have a mentor or in some cases, have three advisors. They most likely are honest, excellent at research, and have no political axe to grind.

So, please, retort, by all means.

Rolls eyes and walks away.

But workerbeee ignores the personal shot, preferring to stay on topic with a reasoned analysis:

Students and faculty are probably free to bid on it...all you pointed out is why they might be good at it, NOT better at it.

That's the purpose of the bid process...throw it out there and see who offers to do it and what's their price.

But let's be clear - outdoor recreation is a huge topic...it can cover everything from organized soccer to hiking in the woods...camping, fishing, tennis, snowshoeing...etc. There are more than 35 million folks in this state, millions of additional visitors, and thousands of businesses involved in everything from services to manufacturing dedicated to this segment of the economy.

There might be a student (or organized group of them) ready to tackle something like this, but I doubt it. It's more likely best left to experts who have conducted this type of analysis before. It's your money, too...why deo you want to spend it on someone practicing? I prefer a more certain return on the investment.

And DESERTDOC, apparently realizing that workerbeee has taken the high road, decides to follow with this conciliatory post:

Workerbee, thank you for the non-insulting follow up, it was read with interest.

Aug. 13 Is SEIU bringing a knife to a gun fight?

Here's a comment that covers a lot of ground with relatively few words, two of the characteristics of a strong post:

Mr Stone brings up an excellent point but there may be another issue that needs to be looked at. SEIU 1000 sends millions of its members' dollars to SEIU International every year as part of its affiliation agreement. To this date, we have heard virtually nothing about the plight of CA state employees from Andy Stern or anyone else from the parent union. Has International supplied any of its, I'm sure, well paid legal muscle to assist in the court challenges to GAS's furlough policies? To my knowledge, it has not. The supreme irony is that the very parent union that our money goes to campaigned against Prop 1A, which might have saved the third furlough day. They used our own money to defeat a ballot measure that we needed. Talk about a rip-off.
Mr. Ortiz, maybe it with everyones permission a good idea to pass along all of these comments to SEIU 1000, so they know just how we all feel.

We know that leaders at Local 1000 and other unions, as well as the administration, look in on this blog and its comments.

Umm, and how does Mr. Stone know whether or not the in-house lawyers are good or bad? What is he basing his judgement on? I mean, unfortunately, court cases take time. Quite frankly, this e-mail makes us state workers look pretty reactionary, like those who are showing up at the town hall meetings on healthcare. Is this what our democracy is coming to? Thanks for publishing this e-mail Bee, now us state workers look like a bunch of screamers.
What a joke. Only SacBee would publish an email like that. SEIU Local 1000 has some of the best labor attorneys in the nation. The judge who initially ruled was appointed by the Governor. Our lawsuits will prevail.

This blog attempts to be fair. Part of that is presenting various opinions, including those that question union tactics and those that support union tactics.

SEIU's focus isn't there. They're too big an organization, and have too large a union bureaucracy to maintain. The local California bargaining units would be advised to join a union that keeps its mind on what is happening here, to the local members, and protecting their interests. When you're not spending money on other things, your dues go down.

Aug. 17 Governor pushing changes for new hire pensions, future retiree health benefits

My favorite line from Kasler's story was that people who had seen their 401ks disintegrate are upset at providing pensions to state workers. What they should be thinking about is that 401ks are not good retirement savings vehicles. We need only look at the unfortunate market timing for people who are (or were) soon to retire. A pension system by it's very nature smooths out the gyrations of the market, which isn't possible with 401ks of any kind. What we should be thinking about is how to provide a workable pension system for everyone, not how we should take them away from those who have them now.

Aug. 17 State workers: 'I am beyond scared' and 'We'll manage'

One of the regular criticisms leveled The Bee and at TSW is a failure to tell the story of how state workers are impacted by furloughs. This post allowed two state workers to tell their stories, but some users still found fault:

Face it, guys. The GAS could careless about your problems. All your problems have just become cannon fodder for Jon Ortiz to exploit and sensationalize.

And this user thought that putting the two comments together was deceptive:

It sure would be nice if we were comparing apples to apples. Again we have a BIG salary disparity. An office assistant with maybe $2500/month and an analyst with $6000+ a month. And you wonder why he thinks he'll manage. Come on Ortiz, at least set the stage a little more accurately. I can't believe you guys are trashing a lowly worker bee who makes very little money.

When posting these sorts of testimonials on the blog, we consider whether the writer has an interesting take, a compelling narrative or a provocative point. The writers come to us and we only share their writing with their permission.

On several occasions we've turned down folks who have offered to share their circumstances because we felt it would have been exploitative or damaged the person's reputation. (Example: One state worker parent wanted us to post a letter to the governor from her young daughter. )

Our motive is to give people a chance to tell their stories. They remain some of the best-read and most-commented-on TSW posts.

Aug. 17 EDD responds to report of secret furlough meetings

Here's a comment from long-time user rbatters, one of the most consistently amusing and provocative voices on this blog:

Dear Bee:

We have investigated ourselves thoroughly and have come to the conclusion that we have never done anything wrong. Our Director authorized no such meetings but we don't want to discuss whether any such meetings took place. Please take our word for it as we are completely unbiased and call 'em only like we see 'em. Thanks for asking.

Signed,
EDD

PS Don't say anything to Arnold, OK?

Aug. 17 BOE axing staff, taking leave volunteers and could issue SROA letters soon

The constitutionals furlough-free status is an ongoing issue for state workers being furloughed, three days each month. This user thoughtfully analyzed this latest twist:

BOE could have possibly avoided this if they had started to furlough their employees back in February like the majority of the State employees. Not that I didn't support their decision but by holding out they're now hurting because of the budget cuts. The way I see it, in all fairness to State workers, the constitutionals should have furloughed their employees along with the rest of us from the beginning, while still fighting through the courts.

Aug. 20 Comedy club offers FREE admission for public employees

This is very generous, but as a state worker I get all the entertainment I can handle: comedy, irony and farce all jam-packed into my work day!
More bread! Less circus.

A fair comment, but we're always looking for rays of sunshine in these dark times. It doesn't hurt to take an occasional trip to the circus.

Aug. 20 Schwarzenegger official responds to pension reform critic

Just more propaganda here, no reporting once again.

Blog posts are different than news reports. The idea is to allow for a nimble free-flowing exchange of ideas instead of a series of traditional spoon-fed news stories from a reporter to readers.

In that vein, we welcome comments from all sides and hope that commenters will weigh in with their own considered analysis. Here's an example:

Crane's implication that providing pensions for civil servants is what is forcing the closure of parks, domestic violence shelters, etc. is reprehensible. It is blatantly dishonest.

What is forcing cuts to all those programs is the governor's priorities. He continues to insist that we don't need new revenue, that we just have to make do -- all the while playing deceitful budgetary games like purporting to sell State Fund, shifting employees' June paychecks to the next fiscal year, and stealing from local government. Why is he doing these things? because even with all the disgraceful slashing of services, which damages quality of life, there still isn't' enough revenue.

Perhaps we need an honest discussion of what we value in this state, and what it would cost to actually provide that. But no -- all we get are dead-end no-tax, anti government, anti public servant, rhetoric.

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



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 jortiz@sacbee.com.

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