The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

January 6, 2011
Column Extra: DPA's new director talks about labor relations

With just 400 to 450 words for our Thursday State Worker column, much of what we learn in the ramp-up to writing it never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes and the observations that don't make the cut.

The State Worker column
in today's fiber and cyber Sacramento Bee looks at Gov. Jerry Brown's pick to head the Department of Personnel Administration, Ronald Yank.

We spoke with several sources in both labor and state government to get a sense of Yank's leadership style and history. We also spoke with him on the phone for about 15 minutes on Wednesday, shortly after the Brown administration officially announced Yank's appointment. The conversation was lively, engaging and frank. Here are some snippets of what he said:

On why he's taking the positon:
This may sound corny, but it's a bit of a calling. Things seem to have gotten to a horrible state between DPA and the unions ... It's been especially bad over the last three years. When I retired (from law firm Carroll, Burdick & McDonough LLP), about 270 people showed at my retirement gig. Thirty-five to 40 percent were on the management side. (Then-DPA Director) Dave Gilb gave a wonderful speech. He talked about win-win solutions and integrity.

That's the whole point of this. A deal's a deal. Integrity counts. Finding win-win solutions. That's not happening ... I've been in state government, albeit the loyal opposition, since before the Dills Act passed (in 1977). It's never been like this before. I'm going to do what I can to restore the win-win attitude.

On navigating relations with his friends in labor, particularly those at Carroll Burdick, which represents public employee unions:
Some of my closest friends are still at the firm, but I'm going to do my job to represent the state and the millions of people who live here ... (L)ook, I know there isn't any money. I and the men and women I work with will be saying, 'no, no and no' a lot. But you can say 'no' in a way that treats the unions and employees they represent with dignity and honor.

I can say no. Let me give you an example: I was on the (Carroll Burdick) management committee for 20 years. We had 200 employees. Three of my six closest friends in the world are still at that firm. But there were times I had to do things some of those friends didn't like.

I served on the compensation committee. I remember sitting with two other committee members across from my friends and sometimes what they were arguing ... was fiction. I would have to say no. It would piss them off, but it was my job. I was looking out for the good of the firm. If that meant saying no to my friends, slapping their wrists, I did it. All my partners believed in my integrity.

It's the same now.

On whether his son's employment as a lawyer at Carroll Burdick will influence him:
Well, first, I want to make it clear that my son first worked for another practice group. Jonathan started working there (in 2008) after I retired (in 2007) ... He's there, but I'm going to be telling him and my ex-partners "no" one helluva a lot ...

I'm proud that by the time I (retired) after over 33 years in labor relations, I must have cut a thousand deals and no one ever accused me of lying. They've never been burned by me

On his plans for DPA and his role as director:
We're trying to staff back up because people have been bailing to safe harbors. I personally plan on being involved at the bargaining table ... I'm going to try to get all six (unions still without contracts) done in time for the governor and the Legislature (to factor the costs into the 2011-12 budget) ... I live in Oakland, but I'll be taking an apartment here.

On rumors that he told labor leaders in a Tuesday conference call that he wants contracts for those six unions done within two or three months:
You can say we want it done within that time frame.

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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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