The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

December 15, 2009
Blog back: Salaries and surveys

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Dollars and cents.jpgBlog backs review your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.

Dec. 3 More about state employee pensions

This post about pensions prompted a string of comments about wages, including the common argument that state workers earn relatively less, which justifies their better-than-average retirement packages. One blog user moved beyond that analysis:

Each Union has its own interests and does not have any incentive to tell their members or the general public how well or poorly they are doing for their employees.

Those that do very poorly like SEIU, CASE, IUOE etc do not want to trumpet their failures at the bargaining table. In the case of SEIU it is due to utter incompetence.

Those that do very well like PECG, CAHP, CCPOA do not want to trumpet their success too loudly because they don't want the general public to be aware of up to 50% increases in the last 5 years (its true check

The Guv or the legislature needs to demand that DPA prepare a comprehensive report showing the total compensation of ALL state employees and how they compare with the private sector & other gov entities. Then we need a State policy on compensation that is fairly applied. SEIU employees get the shaft. The CHP and PECG get huge raises. Not fair!

The state has tried to make public-to-private sector total compensation comparisons. Ditto for government-to-government pay and benefits. Click here to see a list.

The problem is that the comps have significant flaws. For example, DPA's 2006 total compensation survey left out chunks of pertinent information. Click this link to open the surveys' methodology page and scroll to the bottom for important footnotes about the data collected -- and what wasn't collected.

From what we can tell (and this is by no means conclusive), pay for lower-skill state jobs tends to be higher than the private sector. As you move up the professional skill ladder, however, pay lags (attorneys, scientists, investment managers, information technology, etc.). And local governments tend to pay better than the state. (Prison medical staff are a different story, for reasons laid out by Bee colleague Charles Piller in his two-part investigation, which you can read here and here.)

But when you consider state salary history over the last 10 years, which groups got significant raises? Broadly speaking, those with political clout (correctional officers, until CCPOA got sideways with the governor), those whose pay is a matter of statute (CHP officers, whose pay is tied to that of five other California law enforcement bodies), or those who could make the case stick that the state was suffering serious harm because key talent dumped the state for higher-paying jobs elsewhere (engineers) or a profound shortage or legal intervention that gave folks in a job class leverage (prison nurses).

It also appears to help if your union is narrowly focused on just a few job classifications. For example, SEIU Local 1000's master contract has lagged the Consumer Price Index for many years, as we noted in this State Worker column. CAHP, CCPOA and PECG cover a narrow range of job classes and have enjoyed some success in the last decade. But this isn't and ironclad rule, as CASE and CAPS show.

Most of the time someone, somewhere is trying to sever from the more diverse unions. EPiCG members want out of SEIU for example. CSLEA has a faction, POC, that wants to break away.

The common complaint: The union's job class diversity hinders it from effectively bargaining for the group that wants to leave. And, of course, the unions dispute that.

In other words, survey and fact-find all you want. The numbers probably will be challenged either outside or inside your union. And even if the government agrees that some jobs aren't pay competitive, the state's present position -- as California's largest employer, as a "business" in perpetual fiscal crisis and as a spender of public money -- is that with a few exceptions if it can pay less for its help, it will.


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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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