The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 6, 2009
Pay raises fall far short of inflation

This item ran in The Sacramento Bee's State Worker column on August 6, 2009

The e-mail from a Sacramento Bee colleague started like this: "Hey, I got this from my cousin, a stateworker. Is this accurate? Apparently it ran some place in the Bee ... "

Yes it did. Sort of.

My co-worker was asking about a comment on The State Worker blog, which runs as a daily companion to this weekly column.

The comment floated on more than one blog post before entering the e-mail rapids offered up "the facts for those very few interesting (sic) in the truth" about state worker pay raises since 1991.

After tracing wage increases from then until now, the post concluded that state worker pay has gone up just 11.5 percent in 19 years. Given that the Consumer Price Index had gone up nearly 57 percent during that same period, the commenter reasoned, pay in terms of buying power has fallen a bit more than 45 percent.

"If your real life job paid you 45 percent less than you were paid in 1991, you'd be screaming bloody murder," the anonymous commenter concluded.

It's impossible to lump raises for all state workers into an annual percentage.

The unionized government work force has roughly 200,000 or so employees represented by 12 labor organizations. It's a vast, diverse group ranging from custodians to doctors, clerks to engineers. And don't forget non-union managers.

All get different contract deals with varying terms. In a given year, one group might get, say, a 5 percent bump while another gets nothing.

So let's look at one big group, Service Employees Local 1000, which represents 95,000 state employees.

Last year it took $1.60 to buy what it cost a dollar to purchase in 1991, according to the CPI. Meanwhile, Local 1000 employees' cumulative salary increases over the same period added about 30 cents to that 1991 dollar.

To be fair, Local 1000 members who are in highly demanded professions, such as nursing, have gained more raises. But those exceptions aside, the union's cumulative raises last year trailed inflation by about 50 percent.

Then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered two furlough days for nearly all state workers. In July, he added a third, a roughly 14 percent pay reduction.

Now Local 1000 wages are back down to where they were five years ago, about 15 cents above that 1991 dollar.

Of course, inflation hasn't taken any furlough days, so the union's wages now trail the CPI by about 77 percent.

From one perspective, this is wonderful news that a bloated bureaucracy is getting serious about cutting back. Pensions next?

But if it's your check that's shrinking, it's a disaster.

Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916)321-1043. Read his blog, The State Worker, at
e Pay raises fall far short of inflation

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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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