The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

January 14, 2011
State workers talk about Jerry Brown's cell phone order, part 3

Our Thursday State Worker column in the fiber and cyber Bee looked at the range of state workers' reaction to Gov. Jerry Brown's order to cut the number of state cell phones by at least half.

This post is the third of three that publishes the state workers' e-mails and interviews behind the column. Click here for the first post and click here for part 2.

I do not have a State phone so I have no personal iron in this fire ...

This seems a terribly silly way to try to squeeze a couple of dollars out of the budget.

Taken to the extreme - we could eliminate all of those expensive computers that the State Employees use on the job ... go back to carbon paper and typewriters.

ALSO ... if one assumes that half of the eliminated cell phones are still under Contract .... Will that mean the State will have to pay Early Termination fees ???

24,000 phones times $175 = about $ 4.2 million.

I believe it is a silly and ill advised means of economizing ....

Sadly ... I think Jerry is showing his age on this one.

Just a couple of notes that I'm sure you'll see more than once. If anything we need to get rid of the desk phones and keep the cell phones. If you work in the field and you're not at your desk which tool is more useful. If they take a field workers phone then how is he/she going to be able to respond if and when they're notified that someone is trying to contact them. Seen any pay phones around lately. And, if they take your phone and do need to contact you you'll be issued a State contracted pager and a calling card. Finally, if the Governor doesn't need a cell phone then nobody needs a cell phone. Him turning it in is simply symbolic and a poor example of good management/judgment.

More often now when agencies issue state workers phones, they're Blackberries. The employee is being bombarded with email more than phone calls. The worker is expected to be able to respond immediately and be on call all but 24/7. I've seen this at two different agencies I've worked for over the last 5 years.

I was quite relieved my current employer did not issue me a blackberry. I do not see them as a perk and I'm skeptical that they always make workers more efficient.

It seems to me that the only state workers who might be more effective by using these tools are those that work more than 25 or 30% of the time away from their desks. I'd be very surprised to learn that 40% of state workers spend that much time out of the office.

My hunch is that many state offices could get by sharing a phone among a number of employees. They could just sign it out whenever they had to be out of the office for any significant amount of time.

Frankly, I'm surprised this has been such a big story and that the bee ran it on the front page. I had no idea state-issued phones were so important to any significant amount of state workers.

Hi Jon,

Where to start. The cell phone edict is just wrong in so many ways. Admittedly, it works as a political act. This kind of grandstanding convinces the public that this governor is "fiscally frugal, like my mother" to quote Brown from a long ago debate. Just look at the response (even from state workers.)

Even I liked the fact that Brown slept on the floor in a state apartment and used a 73 Plymouth. I worked in the Oakland state building next to City Hall while Jerry was mayor. I liked how he would be out on the sidewalk wearing a black mock turtleneck and would smile and say "hi." It scares me, but I respect and admit his ability to "think like the sheep, not like the sheepherder." Bottom line, I could never vote for Jerry, but I like him more than Meg and as much as any politician. (I haven't voted for anyone a second time since George Deukmejian.)

I retired from FTB Nov. 2009. While I don't have current knowledge, I have a 43 year history of this kind of thing. Jerry Brown has a good feel for human nature and how people act--and react. He understands the tradeoff and went for the public perception, which might help his tax initiative next June. He knows the following:

Already demoralized state workers just don't need this kind of public bashing from their boss. Some state workers have cell phone language in their contracts, so this is protected by labor law, and the governor would never pick on such folks as CHP anyway. At FTB, auditors produce revenue at around $1,000 an hour, or $17 a minute. A Blackberry with e-mail capability allows working on BART or anywhere. Just ask yourself, do you use a cell? Is it productive? Maybe you pay for your own, like I did. But if you are trying to do your best, isn't a Blackberry necessary? (I'm probably outdated.) My son's firm recommends I-Phones and pays $100 a month to reimburse each worker.)

The problem is: now workers might not use their own phones (some will, some won't) and they will make sure that the decrease in productivity is apparent. A popular saying in the months prior to my retirement (where I made $1,700 more a month than my furloughed pay) was "if the worse the governor treats us, the more we produce, what message does that send?) My history was I had a cell phone in the late 90's. It was taken away for a few years, then another was issued. I never used the new phone, assuming it could be yanked at any time. I did use the Blackberry for e-mail (the main way we communicated). I got at least an hour or two a day extra productivity especially during my one hour BART ride to San Francisco from Concord. As punishment I was sent to SF from Oakland for my last 5 years. But I never lost my interest in supporting the audit staff I managed.

I also remember the briefcase fiasco. The state was left with a warehouse full of briefcases, which Brown then decided to "sell" to state workers. Something like $6.25 for the plastic ones and $40 for the leather, attorney type, cases. In at least one case someone bought a case and just added enough mileage to her travel claim to offset the cost. This was an ethical person who normally would not cheat. Other workers bought their own cases or paid for the state issued ones from their own pocket. In many cases the disgust with the pettiness hurt morale. Brown was a terrible governor before and will be bad this time around for state workers.

For what my opinion may be worth, I find it hard to believe that 50% of state employees NEED state phones. Cutting that number by half might be excessive, might harm productivity, but it shows that the guy is at least trying SOMETHING that will probably be useful and will certainly save money. (I never had one. poor me. CDC didn't issue them to lowly Lieutenants)

It's not just the cell phone numbers, but it's a problem matching the phone plans with the usage. I have heard rumors that there exist phones being used have generated invoices that are several hundred dollars ($1000? one month with an office meltdown). It might be worth investigating what plans exist for the state and how they match them.

I have my own mobile phone with minutes I donate for work communications on a limited basis when I need to communicate and I am not able to use a land line.

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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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