The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

May 24, 2013
Blog Back: UC system's union fight revives classic pay debate

130513-UC-Seal.jpgAh, memories.

Posts about the bitter labor fight between the University of California and AFSCME dredge up the kind of user comments we used to see during the pitched union battles that were common during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration.

A sampling of the "unions-good/unions-bad" debate with criticisms of this blog mixed in:

May 7 University of California employees vote to authorize strike

It's a shame that the SacBee can't/won't publish the basic salary/benefit data for each of the occupational specialities comprising this Union. It might be eye-opening to see how well paid these folks are.

Hospitals need to seriously work on automating more of the menial tasks, as well as outsourcing jobs like gardeners, custodians and cooks. These are jobs that could be provided by lower-cost private sector sources.

Unions just want too much, and are not willing to deliver increased productivity for increased costs.

While the data might be interesting, the legwork required to figure out all the jobs in play in the AFSCME contract and what each pays would be a Herculean undertaking. Experience suggests that those kinds of numbers don't resolve this kind of debate.

Wage data requires comparisons, and comparisons come with a lot of caveats. Private wage data collection often skews toward large companies. Non-wage benefit packages are diverse and difficult to calculate. Local government jobs may carry more or less responsibility than state work. Duties don't always correspond. And, of course, many public-sector jobs have no private-sector counterpart.

Even when it's possible to line up all the variables and a disparity is clear, the question remains: Is state government obligated to match private-sector or local-government compensation? Never? All the time? For some jobs and not others?

Having said all that, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that landscaping and grounds-keeping workers earn an average $25,870 per year, or about $2,156 per month. Half earned less than $23,570.

The monthly state pay range for a California state government groundskeeper is $2,687 to $3,204. That's $32,244 to $38,448 per year. State prison groundskeepers make about $3,600 per year more.

Perhaps if the story detailed out how much those administrators were raking in, you might sing a different non-union tune...

We could have at least included a link to the pay database. Then again, to what should those salaries be compared? Other state university systems? Administrative pay at other state hospitals? Which ones? Should private university administrative pay factor in? Or should the growth of administrative compensation, as AFSCME asserts, be compared with wage growth for the rank and file?

Having said all that, click here to see a spreadsheet we worked up with the 10 highest salaries at UC Davis.

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

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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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