The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

March 30, 2011
Blog back: How numbers show (and don't show) pain

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

Any time The State Worker blog refers to statistics about public employees, some blog users discount the numbers. The criticisms usually fall into one of four categories: The numbers are (1) incomplete or inaccurate, (2) agenda-driven to demean state workers or discount their sacrifices, (3) agenda-driven to drum up sympathy for state workers, or (4) stir controversy and encourage "state worker haters" to flame civil servants. Often statistics posts will inspire all four criticisms at the same time.

Which brings us to Monday's item about state and local government employees' income.

We had intended to highlight the Bureau of Economic Analysis data last week when The Bee's in-house number cruncher, Phillip Reese, put up a post about state and local government employee income.

We forgot to do it until a faithful State Worker blog user -- who happens to be a California state employee -- saw the information on The Public Eye blog and suggested it would be something that other state workers would want to see. The gentle prod prompted us to write a quick summary of the data and then link to Phillip's post.

Here's a sampling of reaction:

Mar. 28 State and local government employee income down last year

2.6 percent? Last time I checked, my paycheck was still over 14 percent down, now under Brown just like it was under Schwarzenegger. Courtesy of these fine state unions, the cut will be still there at about 9 percent but of course Ortiz will claim employees are getting raises by getting less of a cut. What a bunch of B.S. And could it be that CHP, CDF and municipal salaries did not go down at all thus making this "average" jacked up? More great journalism from Ortiz.

We have characterized wage term in new contracts as as still being a pay cut when compared to what state employees earned prior to furloughs.

Hey Ortiz, does not seem like these people got cuts, did they? Must be nice to feel the pain this way...

What follows that comment by the not so subtlely named "JerryBrownblows," is a list of Assembly and state Senate employees. The implication: Here's a state worker class that hasn't endured furloughs three days per month for two years like employees under gubernatorial authority. (Senate employees took one furlough day for a while. The Assembly's employees have never taken a furlough day.)

We agree that there's a disparity in how the two groups have been treated. UC and CSU staff have also taken fewer furlough days than state employees under Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

But those people are the special chosen people. They are exempt from the cuts the rest of the state employees get.

Quick blog back side note: Hold that sarcastic observation about legislative staff and the sense of unfairness that underscores it. Now shift those feelings to public employee pensions and job security, and you begin to get a sense of the complaints we often hear from private-sector workers. That's the raw emotion and the sense of unfair treatment that "pension reform" advocates believe that they can seize.

John (sic), don't try to tell me that it only rained an average of 2 inches statewide when its (sic) flooding at my house! It would seem prudent that a respectable journalist might point out that most STATE workers pay was cut closer to 15% unless you just want to quote a source that mix apples and oranges to make the basket look full.

John Oritz (sic), crappy reporting and you flat out know better. You know that state employees took a far bigger hit than 2.6%. So, get it together and do not lie again. Yes an omission is a lie.

We never considered stating the obvious, which is that state workers' personal incomes have generally been hit harder because of furloughs. Perhaps we should have.

Part of that comes from the assumption that our blog community possesses a certain level of familiarity with the issues. It's certainly more passionate than the general audience that reads The Bee.

As to omission, we think it's unlikely that anyone has written more about the impact of furloughs on state workers and government performance. We'll let our body of work stand in for what this post didn't include.

The Bee does not need to report the fact, just enough information to cause controversy so they can gain more comments.

Our ability to forecast reader responses is terrible. In this case, since we simply summarized and linked to another post, we expected very little reaction. If anything, we thought a few readers would accuse us of a bias for state workers. (We did get about a dozen "you're-a-state-worker-loving-liberal" e-mails.) The online comments, as sampled for you here, went the other direction.

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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