The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 13, 2012
A look back at Jerry Brown's furlough history
July 12, 2012
Column Extra Part 1: Inside the legal argument against California state worker furloughs

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 100602 yolo county gavel.jpgWith just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, much of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes and the observations that inform what's published each Thursday.

Our column in today's fiber/cyber Bee notes that for the first time since furloughs became a regular feature in state budgets three years ago, the government has imposed them on employees who are under contract.

Although Gov. Jerry Brown negotiated furloughs with 19 of the 21 bargaining units representing state workers, two haven't gone along: Professional Engineers in California Government (Unit 9) and International Union of Operating Engineers (Unit 13).

The governor has used authority bestowed on him by the Legislature to impose a one-day-per-month furlough on the holdouts. Now the questions are whether the either union will sue and what the basis of a lawsuit might be.

April 19, 2012
Column Extra: Union gives $500,000 to fight 'paycheck' ballot measure

With just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, most of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes and the observations that inform what's published.

Today's State Worker column mentions the latest donation tallies in the campaign arms race over the Stop Special Interest Money Act, dubbed "paycheck deception" by its opponents in labor.

The biggest donation to either side since we last reported the numbers: a $500,000 contribution from the California Council of Service Employees Issues Committee, which like other labor groups, opposed the measure. The council is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.


December 23, 2011
What does Social Security tax extension mean for new retirees?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 100831 calculator.JPGAlthough Congress has extended the reduced Social Security payroll tax for at least two months, state workers' wages will be withheld at a higher rate on their Jan. 1 checks for reasons that we explained in Thursday's State Worker column.

Those employees will receive a refund on their Feb. 1 checks, said Jacob Roper, spokesman for State Controller John Chiang.

But what about state workers who are going to retire at the end of this month and won't be around to receive a February paycheck? Several thousand employees will fall into that category, since nearly a quarter of state workers who retire each year do so at the end of December.

State workers who enter retirement in January will receive a payroll tax refund check from the state, Roper said.


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.

October 26, 2009
FTB shutting doors one hour earlier starting in November

The Franchise Tax Board says it's going to close six field offices -- in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Ana -- one hour earlier starting early next month.

The reason? You guessed it, the ever-present, always-feared "budget constraints," according to this press release.

The new quitting time -- 4 p.m. -- starts Monday, Nov. 2.

Board spokeswoman Brenda Voet said the offices will continue to work after 4 p.m. with visitors already inside the offices. Locking the doors an hour earlier will cut down on office activity after 5 p.m.

October 23, 2008
Column extra: Weekly feature now linked to State Worker blog

Nothing's perfect, especially when you're talking about overhauling the Sacramento area's most-viewed and most complex news Web site.

The redesign launch last week had a few snags. One of them, as several of you quickly pointed out, was that the new site had links to this blog but none to the State Worker columns we write each Thursday for both the Bee's print and online editions. You used to find the column through either the Business tab or the Politics tab on the old site.

We mentioned it to online Assistant Managing Editor Ken Chavez and literally within an hour the problem was fixed.

If you look to the right of this post, you'll see a new "Now on the State Worker column" feature. Below that, Ken's staff added links to the most recent weekly ramblings, including today's column about how much state workers matter to the local economy.

If you click on the "More headlines" button below the the list of the three most recent columns and you'll go into State Worker column archives.

And while we're plugging, make sure you read today's report, written with Bee business ace Dale Kasler, about how CalPERS losses could force employers to ante up more in payroll fees to cover the fund's retirement obligations. We broke that news in this Monday blog post. You can go there to link to the CalPERS analysis of its assets and the range of possible payroll fee hikes it may demand from employers depending on what its assets are worth next summer.

October 2, 2008
Column extra: The state 'total compensation' survey

Our State Worker column is limited by space, but visitors to this blog get extra info, Web links, notes and quotes that don't see print but still inform what we write.

This week's column looks at what state workers can expect from the ongoing contract talks between union negotiators and the Department of Personnel Administration.

If you want to dive more deeply into the numbers we reference in the piece, click here to read the 2008 "total compensation" survey and other compensation studies from DPA.

September 17, 2008
State Worker column preview: Union leaders set image

Our State Worker column in tomorrow's Sacramento Bee touches on how union leaders set the public's perception of rank-and-file members. We think that there's a tendency to see the unions as filled with folks who march in lockstep with their leadership, endlessly clawing tor more money and benefits.

As the faces of their organizations, union bosses are heavily scrutinized, right down to their personal grooming. For an example, check out the first paragraph in this piece on CCPOA State President Mike Jimenez run by the left-leaning Mother Jones.

The more powerful the union, the more its leaders attract the attention of the media and the public. It's why CCPOA gets lots of press while the scientists' union gets relatively little.

Do you agree with the premise of the piece we're writing? How much do leaders calibrate public perception of their members? And how much room do union members have for dissent?

August 20, 2008
Preview: Notes and quotes behind The State Worker column

Thursday's column looks at whether CalPERS' compromise with the Professional Engineers in California Government over public-private partnership investments is in keeping with the fund's duty to act in the best interest of its members.

It's a vexing subject: Is CalPERS obligated to protect state worker jobs by avoiding investments that might shove some work, such as road engineering, from the public to the private sector? Or must it go after maximum returns that benefit all its members, even if some member jobs are affected?

On Monday the fund tried to cut the issue down the middle by passing an investment policy that allows PPP investments only if CalPERS members' jobs aren't affected.

The space that we get in the column is precious, and much of what we hear and learn gets left out. But as a visitor to the blog, you get a little something extra here: notes and quotes that column-only readers don't see. A few lines from our notebook:

Pat Macht, CalPERS spokeswoman
Telephone interview, 8/19/08

On how long CalPERS worked on the PPP policy: Staff worked on it for six months. We worked with the unions. We had many meetings with all the stakeholders to make sure that this investment class is congruent with the values of the fund. We met with PECG several times over that period.

On the fund's reaction to the PECG's intent to sue: When we learned of the threat of a lawsuit we met with them to see if we could add language to answer their questions and concerns. That meeting resulted in the policy that was passed on Monday.

On whether CalPERS has any other investments that with similar limitations: The only other outsourcing policy is in private equities. We don't allow investments that would take public jobs and privatize them. (Macht gave two hypothetical examples. The fund would not invest in a concession company, for example, that took over concessions at a public park operated by public workers if those jobs would be taken private. Another example: a transportation company that took over operating a school district bus service and privatized the drivers' jobs.)

On the Professional Engineers challenge to CalPERS' PPP investment policy: The whole model of CalPERS is to develop policies after providing anyone the chance to challenge them.

On what the impact of the public-private partnership investment policy could have: We believe that this could become a model for other pension funds.

On whether the compromise with the union sets a negative precedent: We don't believe that it does, not at this point. But we need some experience with this kind of investing. Hopefully this is a win-win for everybody.

Jason Dickerson, principal fiscal and policy analyst at California Legislative Analyst's Office
Telephone interview, 8/18/08

On CalPERS tension between preserving state engineers' jobs and making the best investments to benefit all members: I think it's an interesting issue. The state Constitution says that the CalPERS board has to put the interest of members above all else.

That sets up a tension: Is the best interest of members for CalPERS to make money on investments for retirement or is it to better their members' lives more generally? The purpose of this discussion, the question is should CalPERS preserve and increase employment of members? This is really a tension about CalPERS' constitutional duty.

Paul Meyer, executive director, American Council of Engineering Companies of California
Telephone interview, 8/19/08

On his reaction to the agreement between CalPERS and PECG: It was a little startling. One would think that with the dire infrastructure needs in this state that PECG and CalPERS would welcome more involvement, not curtail it.

How he believes the agreement will affect CalPERS investment opportunities: If you're putting restriction on how the projects are going to be delivered, that discourages investors. Typically you see multiple investors on these kinds of projects, a lot of competition. But these barriers could narrow the field. PECG has been very aggressive in hamstringing (public-private) projects. That scares investors. PECG will interpret (the CalPERS' new policy) in a way that will not be helpful.

On what he wishes CalPERS would have done: I would have hoped that they would have just explained to PECG, "We're going to invest in new projects, not anything on (any state) project lists. If it's a new project, how can it hurt you? You've already got plenty of work to do. There are a million other issues, go worry about something else."

Bruce Blanning, executive director, Professional Engineers in California Government
Interview at CalPERS headquarters, 8/18/08

On the union's concern over PPPs: We had a real concern that these investments would allow CalPERS to take employees' retirement contributions and use the money to take their jobs. The real issue was should you take employees' retirement money and use it to outsource their jobs?

On public-private partnerships: PPPs are a huge waste of taxpayers' money. It's always twice as much as keeping these things public. (He cited a statistic from a recent state study that found state engineers cost about $121,000 per year, while positions contracted out cost about $217,000.) PPPs have no meaningful oversight, which leads to greater waste.

On recent high-profile public-private partnerships involving C.C. Myers, the company at the center of the I-5 fix: People see the I-5 project, the McArthur Maze project, the Bay Bridge project and say, "Myers did it!" What the public doesn't understand is that CalTrans designed those projects. Every case where projects have been done quickly, public engineers have been involved.

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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