The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

January 14, 2013
Columnist, CalPERS lock horns over implementing pension law

Columnist, CalPERS lock horns over implementing pension law

Storified by Jon Ortiz· Mon, Jan 14 2013 08:42:39

Over the weekend, Bay Area News Group columnist Dan Borenstein went bonkers over a Dec. 27 CalPERS memo to employer members that delineates nearly 100 varieties of pay that the fund's staff concluded fall under the definition of "normal compensation" for purposes of calculating pensionable income. 

The definition matters because it's key to implementing the state and local pension reform measure that took effect on Jan. 1. Borenstein says including all those pay extras leaves the door open to pension spiking. 

CalPERS' three-day Board of Administration meeting in Monterey starts today and implementing the new law is on the three-day agenda.
Daniel Borenstein: CalPERS planning to gut a key cost-control provision of new pension lawBy administrative fiat, the California Public Employees' Retirement System has undermined a key anti-spiking provision of the new state p...
CalPERS response: It's a preliminary interpretation based on consultation with lawmakers who wrote and supported the legislation. CalPERS already has stiff anti-spiking rules in place and the new law's cap on pensionable income adds another layer.

Borenstein's "personal bias and crusade against public employee pensions once again got the best of him," the fund said in this letter to the editor and published on CalPERS' website.
Dan Borenstein's Crusade Against Public Pensions Gets the Best of Him and Misleads ReadersDan Borenstein is one of the few columnists that understands many of the complexities of public pensions but his personal bias and crusad...
Here's the list:
Here's the letter to employers:
Here's the board's agenda. The pension matter is set for discussion on Wednesday:

December 7, 2011
A.M. Reading: Jerry Brown's pension plan polls well; Chris Christie's mission; bye-bye Rod Blagojevich

Thumbnail image for newspaper_5.gifCalifornia voters give edge to Jerry Brown's public pension overhaul
A majority of California voters support Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to dial back public employee pensions and a plurality think that state and local government retirements are "too generous," according to a new Field Poll. (Sacramento Bee)

Many Workers in Public Sector Retiring Sooner
MADISON, Wis. -- As states and cities struggle to resolve paralyzing budget shortfalls by sending workers on unpaid furloughs, freezing salaries and extracting larger contributions for health benefits and pensions, a growing number of public-sector workers are finding fewer reasons to stay. (New York Times)

Top Sacramento city managers agree to pay share of their pensions
With the annual cost of employee pensions rising, top management officials at Sacramento City Hall have agreed to pay the entire employee share of their CalPERS retirement contributions. (Sacramento Bee)

November 10, 2011
Poll: Who will have the most pull in the public pension debate?

It seems like everybody is talking about public pensions.

Gov. Jerry Brown has a 12-point plan he wants to put before voters next year. Republicans applaud the governor for offering up the proposals and have challenged him to call a special session to address the issue. Democrats are wary of Brown's plan.

Meanwhile, California Pension Reform has filed two pension proposals with the attorney general for title and summary, aiming to put one of them on the November 2012 ballot. Labor insists that any pension downgrades should be negotiated, not just legislated.

So what do you think?

March 17, 2011
Column Extra / From the notebook: The Field Poll

notebook-thumb-216x184-9328.jpgColumn Extras give State Worker blog users notes, quotes and details that inform our weekly State Worker column. From the notebook items expand on news stories that we write. This week, we're combining both features into one post.

Our news story and The State Worker column both reference findings from a Field Poll on unions and public pensions released to the public this morning. We thought State Worker blog users would like to see the poll tabulations and the Field Research summary of the results.

Click here for the tabulations.
Click here for the Field Poll summary.

August 1, 2010
A.M. Reading: Babin on furloughs; state workers in D.C.; Bee prison investigation

100801 babin.jpg

Bee cartoonist Rex Babin's take on furloughs (above) is just one of several opinion and news items we want to call to your attention this morning. You'll find the rest under our "Recommended Links" on the right side of this page. (Be sure to click "More State Worker Links" at the bottom of that list to view all of this morning's stories.)

Schwarzenegger looks to Capitol Hill crew to bring home the bacon
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been too pleased with what the state of California gets from Washington: He figures taxpayers get back roughly 80 cents for every dollar they pay into the federal government's coffers. It's certainly not for lack of trying to get more. In an attempt to increase the state's haul, the governor has a staff of a half-dozen on Capitol Hill, one of the biggest lobbying corps of any state. Officially, they're not lobbyists. They're state employees.

The Public Eye: California prisoners' rights often trampled
Current and retired officers, prisoners and parolees allege that correctional officers and their superiors routinely file bogus or misleading reports, destroy or falsify documentation of abuses, and intimidate colleagues or inmates who push back. Sources with firsthand knowledge called the problem pervasive, offering dozens of examples. Even if the allegations are valid for a fraction of cases, thousands of prison terms could have been extended improperly at vast cost to taxpayers.

Dan Morain: Can low-rent Brown whip Whitman's wealth?
Attorney General Jerry Brown is defying the laws of political physics, at least for now. Despite unprecedented spending by his Republican foe Meg Whitman, Brown is clinging to a 37-34 percent lead in the race for governor, the latest survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows. ... An independent campaign operation established by Democrats and organized labor to help Brown has fallen short of its goal of raising $20 million from unions and $10 million from wealthy individuals.

May 25, 2010
Attorney defends judge who made key furlough decision

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Gavel.jpgHere's an e-mail The State Worker received from Mark Sollitt, an Elk Grove-based attorney who took exception to our May 6 column, "Furlough litigants shop for judges."

Sollitt gave us permission to post his unedited e-mail, which was sent on May 7. (Owing to the volume of e-mail The State Worker receives, we didn't see it until Monday).

May 24, 2010
Why the Supremes said 'no,' then 'yes' to furlough review

McGeorge School of Law professor and private-practice attorney Athena Roussos is one of several legal experts we consult when writing about pivotal moments in furlough litigation. Last week we quoted Roussos in this story about the state Supreme Court taking up CASE v. Schwarzenegger.

This morning Roussos e-mailed The State Worker with a few more thoughts about why the court took the case less than a month after it rejected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's request that it consolidate and consider seven others. With her permission we're posting the e-mail here, unedited:

April 23, 2010
State worker responds to call for union concessions

As is always the case when we highlight state worker e-mails, this post by Paul Warrick generated plenty of comments. Another state worker, Roger Wood, felt compelled to respond to Warrick's call for SEIU Local 1000 "to make highly publicized concessions to demonstrate a good faith effort to be part of the solution to California's deficit crisis."

With Wood's permission, we're posting his e-mail to The State Worker here, unedited. He speaks for himself, not his employer or this blog:

Mr. Ortiz,

As a manager who works in the Unemployment Insurance system, I find Mr. Warrick's comments ill-informed. All the furlough has done for our employees is to make their lives harder. We are still working 5-6 days a week as we have "self-directed" furloughs so our centers are still open the same hours as they were prior to the furloughs being implemented. Were we to be closed 3 days a month and also not allowed to work Saturdays, this could easily result in a 15% reduction in the benefits paid out to the public. We paid out $20.3 billion in benefits in 2009. A 15% reduction of over $3 billion would have helped no one and would have hurt families who depend on the monies to survive and local businesses who depend on people being able to buy goods and landlords who depend on people paying rent. In addition, our budget is almost exclusively federally funded which means our furloughs have saved the state almost nothing. In addition other state agencies which collect revenues have had to cut back on their work. When staff use their furlough days in addition to whatever time they have scheduled off, it simply means that less work can get done, meaning even less checks get sent out to the needy.

I may not have expressed myself perfectly, but I hope you understand what I am trying to say. If the staff ever gets tired and stops working overtime on Saturdays and holidays, the public is really going to be hurting. Cutting our salaries to balance the budget is not the answer. We already have enough of a problem hiring qualified people and keeping them from leaving for private employers or better paying other state jobs. A salary cut would only exacerbate the problem.

Roger WOOD

April 7, 2010
State worker responds to Bee editorial on furloughs

Franchise Tax Board employee, SEIU Local 1000 activist and prolific State Worker blog commenter Kevin Menager recently sent this e-mail our way. It's his reaction to a recent Bee editorial, "Furloughs have run their course."

We're posting Menager's e-mail with no edits. He's speaks for himself, not his employer or his union:

In its March 27 editorial, "Furloughs have run their course", The Sacramento Bee attempted to thread a very tiny needle with a piece of wet rope. The overall premise of the piece? Furloughing state workers was a difficult but necessary course to follow that saved the state money but is no longer worthwhile. This premise, along with nearly every supporting argument raised, is flawed on many points.

Click the following link to read the rest of Menager's e-mail.

January 22, 2010
PERB furlough ruling may open door to pay cuts, lawyer says

Labor attorney Tim Yeung says on his California PERB Blog the board's Office of the General Counsel's recent rejection of a union unfair practice charge over furloughs (read about it here) "could be ground-breaking" and may even set the stage for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to impose a pay cut in response to a fiscal "emergency."

This case could be ground-breaking. As it stands, both the Dills Act and the MMBA have language allowing an employer to act unilaterally in an "emergency." That's really nothing new as the NLRA has long recognized that an employer can act unilaterally in an emergency. The same doctrine has been recognized under the other acts administered by PERB, such as EERA. The problem for employers is how "emergency" has traditionally been defined. The unions have always argued that a true emergency does not exist unless the employer can show that it had no other choice but to take the action it did. Here, however, the OGC did not discuss at all whether the Governor had options other than furloughs (e.g. layoffs). Is that not a requirement of an "emergency"? If so, that's a very favorable clarification for public employers.

The counsel's decision says that an emergency declaration is assumed to be valid, Yeung notes, which places the burden of proof on the unions to prove there isn't one.

This decision also does not bode well for state employees in the coming fiscal year. The unions have been publicly complaining that furloughs are bad public policy because they reduce state services to the public ... hoping that the Governor would reduce or eliminate the furloughs. However, state employees should recognize that the Governor could just as well impose a straight salary cut. Under this decision, where there is a bona fide emergency, the Governor could just as well impose salary cuts as impose furloughs. Salary cuts have the benefit of not reducing state services. I'm not saying that salary cuts makes sense--especially in classifications where state employees are already paid less than employees in comparable jurisdictions--but it's certainly an option the Governor must examine given the dire fiscal situation.

Obviously, the unions maintain that pay terms must be bargained with them. SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said it again a few days ago on the union's Web site.

You can read Yeung's complete analysis of the PERB decision by clicking here. His opinions are shaped by years as an attorney with the state Department of Justice and with the Department of Personnel Administration and his current job as a labor attorney with Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai LLP.

January 6, 2010
State worker furlough debate hits public radio airwaves

Forum, the KQED public radio show hosted by Michael Krasny, today took an an hour long look at state worker furloughs and their impact on public services and state budget revenues.

The news peg was last week's rulings in three cases in which an Alameda Superior Court Judge ruled that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration had abused its discretion when it ordered mandatory three-day-a-month furloughs for all state workers in 2009.

More on the rulings and the fallout by clicking here and here. 

Appearing with Krasny to discuss furloughs, including private sector efforts too, were:

- Aaron McLear, press secretary for Schwarzenegger.
- David Levine, chair of the Haas Economic Analysis and Policy Group at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
- John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University.
- Nancy Vogel, principal consultant for the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, a new entity created by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

 The show will be available on KQED's Web site audio archive later today. Find it by clicking here.   Or catch the show when it replays on the radio again tonight at 10PM.

October 8, 2009
The State Worker to talk about Columbus Day on KXJZ

We'll be speaking with "Insight" host Jeffrey Callison about the Columbus Day controversy this morning on KXJZ. We're scheduled to talk shortly after 10 a.m. This link will take you to the program's Web site.

Speaking of Columbus Day, click here to read today's State Worker column, which looks at how Monday will be a test of SEIU Local 1000's organizational power. And you can read The Bee's editorial on the matter by clicking here.

September 16, 2009
In the news: Courts closed today; pension debate "twists" reality

California's trial courts are closed today, the first of 10 "Wageless Wednesdays" for court staff approved by the state's Judicial Council, which operates the system.

We have other state worker news and opinion pieces available under our "Recommended Links" section on the right side of this page.

One of them is an op-ed by the head of a Florida public pension trustees association that says the debate over defined benefit retirement plans has been incorrectly framed: "... "... we don't need fewer defined benefit plans, but more of them."

The piece includes this chart, which compares the public and private sector wages in about four dozen categories. All but four public jobs lagged their private sector counterparts, according to the survey. The average difference was nearly 26 percent.

August 18, 2009
Pension talk the topic of Bee editorial and cartoon

The Bee's editorial board weighs in on recent comments by a CalPERS Chief Actuary Ron Seeling, who said, "We are facing decades without significant turnarounds in assets, decades of - what I myself, my personal words, nobody else's - unsustainable pension costs."

Click here for the editorial, "Even CalPERS sees a pension problem."

Editorial cartoonist Rex Babin added his take, and our sister blog, Capitol Alert, has that. You can see it here.

August 14, 2009
Bee editorial board notes differences in state worker pay

As we mentioned the other day on News 10 Live_Online, part of the difficulty when talking about state workers' pay and benefits is that the bureaucracy is vast, diversified, and the compensation packages reflect that.

An editorial in today's Bee draws some distinctions. Click here to read "Unequal clout leads to pay gap."

August 3, 2009
State worker says administration wants to 'pretend that furloughs are not layoffs'

CalPERS employee J.J. Jelincic, past president of the California State Employees Association who is also running for a seat on the CalPERS Board of Administration, sent this e-mail to TSW. With his permission, we're posting it here, unedited. Jelincic is speaking for himself and not CalPERS:

GAS and DPA are showing just how much they are dealing in bad faith with both their workforce and the public.

They want to pretend that furloughs are not layoffs. They are short term layoffs for everyone. If they order "self-directed furloughs", they then try to pretend even the furloughs don't exist.

They want the UIAB and BOE to perform their "essential functions" while refusing to provide the resources to do so. They expect people to work without pay, work through their breaks and to work off the clock in order to get the work done. At EDD they are keeping extra hours while laying people off a day at a time. When they have prevented an office from closing they want the public to think it is business as usual, even if there has been a 15% reduction in staffing.

The truth of the matter is that they are asking civil servants to be enablers. They want us to permit them to provide inadequate resources. They want us to help them undermine public service. Then when service quality declines they will contract it out to their political friends at higher costs. It is the very essence of the Norquist "starve the beast" plan in action.

With the first 10% cuts the workforce really stepped up. They were willing to try to give 110%. They do care about their programs and the public we serve. Their "Thank You" was "Now take another 5% cut (and be forewarned another 5% may be coming)." It reached a tipping point. Significant parts of the workforce said I can do the improbable but not the impossible. Moral and effort both took big hits.

When special fund employees are laid off they don't help the general fund. When federally funded employees are not paid it does not help the general fund. It does take money out of the economy.

I guess Arnie's Department of Finance can't figure out that the multiplier effect works both ways. Reduced consumption leads to supplier layoffs, lower sales taxes and less tax revenue for the state. Our "action hero" needs to man up and acknowledge the harm he is doing. Harm that will last for years.

J.J. Jelincic

July 2, 2009
Car wash fundraisers to raise cash for suffering state workers?
State worker Pepper Lewis floated a trial balloon this week after the governor imposed a third furlough day each month on thousands of state workers.

With everybody hurting, especially couples where husband and wife are both employed by the state, she wondered what people might do to address their own personal budget gap.

How about a car wash run by state workers for state workers, held at gas stations where state workers buy a lot of gas statewide? Lewis suggested in an email to SEIU bosses.

Here are excerpts from Lewis' email:

We need money for our mortgages, cable bills, groceries, makeup, student loans, pet food, clothing, etc., and my husband and I both work for the State of California and we are both stewards.

I love physically active, hard work and would enjoy making $100-$200 on a furlough Friday, washing cars at a gas station sympathetic to my situation. Many state workers buy gas, we frequent these businesses, and I can find several business owners who would love to have responsible, mature, ethical, educated, team players washing cars and keeping the money for our expenses.

 I am tired of doing without my paycheck since February. We have lost a total of $500 per month, now the bleeding heart liberals and the conservative "no new taxes" folks cannot agree to compromise and sign our contract.

 Instead of us picketing, eating ice cream, crying, panicking, we need to do what President Obama said, we need to do what we did before the 'government' came along and gave us everything: we need to be entrepreneurs and make our own money providing a service people need. Dog walking, house cleaning, tutoring, baby sitting, lawn mowing, hair braiding, pan handling, performing street theatre, something.

Anyone want to join me? It'll be nice and hot. The cold water from the hoses will feel refreshing.

Let's hear your ideas on how to make up your own budget gap. Maybe you've already taken a part-time job and or cut spending. What's next for you?
June 21, 2009
Sunday reading: State worker writes op-ed; unions' 'public enemy No. 1'

The Bee has a couple of items you might want to check out in this morning's fiber / cyber edition. And we'll toss in a favorite flashback for TSW users who may have missed it.

Guest opinion writer Mark Drolette starts his piece with, "I'm Mark, and I'm a state worker." From there, he takes swipes at everything from Meg Whitman to Enron to stereotypes about state workers. Read "Run state like a business; kiss the good life goodbye" by clicking here.

Bee opinion writer Ginger Rutland writes about Marcia Fritz, public employee unions' "public enemy No. 1." Fritz is "the numbers cruncher behind the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, an advocacy group that seeks to reform California's runaway public pension system." Click this link to read, "Pension watchdog barked early and often."

The Drolette column reminded us of a well-done opinion piece written by another state worker, Stacy Garrett. If you missed it, rewind to her Mar. 8 take on furloughs, "State pay cut: That belt tightening pinches," by clicking here.

May 28, 2009
Another state worker weighs in on The Bee's coverage

The discussion continues.

Last week we posted an e-mail from Dwaine Barefield, a state worker who spoke for many of his colleagues when he criticized this blog, The Bee and other media outlets for lumping "state workers" into a pile when talking about pay and benefits.

"The end result is we get bashed," Barefield said. "Rightfully, or wrongly - we get bashed."

His suggestion: "Perhaps, if the Bee could tone down the negative rhetoric and be more specific about who's doing what instead of using the collective state worker as a label that doesn't distinguish a legislator from a file clerk, we could see some constructive improvement in the way the public perceives us."

That elicited this e-mail response from another state worker, which we are posting here, unedited:

Hi Jon,

This is regarding Friday's post ("A state employee talks about negative press"). I felt compelled to weigh in on this one.

Dwain Barefield seemed to miss the point of Andrew McIntosh's original post. Andrew wasn't talking about an actual increase in benefits to state workers; he was reporting on the rising cost of providing health and dental benefits to retired state workers and its financial repercussions for the state. There's a difference.

I disagree with Dwain's assertion that the legislature, the administration and state workers are all lumped together in the same group. For one thing, state workers are appointed, but as Dwain himself said, the governor and legislators are elected to govern. I think most people who read your blog are able to make that distinction.

I also disagree with his opinion that the Bee portrays state workers in a negative light and his suggestion that its reporting is sloppy. I think the Bee's coverage of all aspects of government is fair, objective, and accurate.

That "the first obligation of any journalist and the media should be to report the truth," is a given, isn't it? And it practically goes without saying that " the best example of the freedom of individuals and the importance of free thought in a democracy." Which I think renders the questions that prompted Dwain's reply rhetorical at best. That's not to say that I don't think those kinds of questions and answers are valid, though, especially when they're so eloquently expressed.

Daniela Gargaro

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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