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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

After months of rancorous talks over pay and a threat to strike, California’s state building operators have ratified a contract with Gov. Jerry Brown.

Steve Crouch, who negotiates for about 850 state building operators and water-system engineers, said members approved the three-year deal but declined to characterize by what margin. Union members were the last state employees without a current contract. State attorneys and scientists signed off on deals in recent weeks after working under the terms of their expired contracts for more than a year.

The vote accepted conditions similar to those taken by other state unions, including a 4.5 percent pay raise phased in over two years. The state also agreed to pay members a $250 bonus once the deal was ratified.

Like the scientists and the attorneys, the operating engineers union sought significantly higher pay increases, citing a wide gap with counterparts in private industry and other governments.

Our most recent State Worker column focused on CalPERS board candidate David Miller’s campaign to represent state workers. Here are some clips of Miller, recorded during a lunch break interview at The Bee’s Capitol Bureau on Sept. 9, 2014.

On board member’s responsibilities to members and to employers.

Reaction to Gov. Jerry Brown’s comments during the gubernatorial debate with Neel Kashkari that work remains to deal with government pension and health care costs.

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Jose Luis Villegas/ The Sacramento Bee
Photo illustration

A San Francisco appellate court has upheld a trial judge’s decision that Gov. Jerry Brown wrongly furloughed thousands of state-government scientists and engineers three years ago.

The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeals opens the possibility that some 16,000 state workers will receive a total $9 million in back wages, according to their unions’ estimates, for time they were kept off work without pay for two days in May 2011. The figure does not include interest.

The governor could appeal to the California Supreme Court, which also could decide on its own to take up the case. Either would would delay payment to employees. Brown spokesman Jim Evans said the administration is reviewing the decision.

Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists sued Brown for imposing two more furlough days in on their members than he imposed on management.

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Jay Mather/ Sacramento Bee
CalPERS headquarters in Sacramento.

Health insurance open enrollment for CalPERS members begins today and ends on Oct. 10. During that period, members can sign up for insurance, add eligible family members and make changes to their existing plans for the 2015 calendar year.

The fund offers six health maintenance organization plans and three preferred provider organization plans, although availability is based on geography.

CalPERS’ open enrollment page has information and resources to help members find what plans are available where they live, assess the plans’ benefits and costs and select one.

About 1.4 million California state government, local government, public school employees and retirees and their eligible dependents receive health benefits via a CalPERS-administered medical plan. The fund is the second-largest health care purchaser behind only the federal government.

The director of California’s Department of Health Care Services will leave his post by year’s end, according to a letter to employees issued by Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley.

Toby Douglas, 42, was one of Gov. Jerry Brown’s first appointees to head the department that handles Medi Cal services for more than 11 million Californians.

During his four years at Health Care Services’ helm, the state added 3.5 million new to the federally-funded program. The department employs about 3,700 workers and manages $70 billion annually. Last year Douglas earned $166,158, according to state payroll records tracked by The Bee.

Before Brown tapped him to head the department, Douglas was its chief deputy for two years and had held other high-level positions there since 2005.

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Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
Department of Water Resources Senior Environmental Scientist Louise Conrad, right, weighs small salmon to be released into a flooded rice field near Woodland.

After rejecting Gov. Jerry Brown’s first contract offer, California’s state scientists have overwhelmingly approved a second deal with the administration, their union has announced.

The final tally of votes by members of California Association of Professional Scientists: 1,171 in favor (87 percent) and 177 opposed (13 percent). About one-half of the union’s members voted.

The vote tested the scientists’ solidarity and leadership, since the second contract offered less money – an immediate $1,000 bonus and a 3 percent raise next July – than the deal that two-thirds of voting members rejected just a few months ago.

The union has long sought much larger pay raises to close a considerable pay gap with state and local government workers who perform similar work. Union leaders promoted the just-ratified package to members with promises that taking the deal would restart talks with the Brown administration to decrease and reclassify the state scientists corps. That in turn, the union says, will open a pathway to higher pay.

Outmanned and outspent so far, an honest assessment of state scientist David Miller’s campaign for a CalPERS administrative board seat would say he’s a long shot.

The president of the tiny state scientists’ union has been in this position before, twice losing bids to sit on the 13-member panel that oversees California’s $300 billion public pension system.

So why will the third time be different?

“I’m the most qualified candidate,” said Miller, a biochemist and University of Pittsburgh MBA, “and the voters want to see a change that moves CalPERS forward.”

Our story in today’s Bee highlights State Controller John Chiang’s thumbs-down audit of CalPERS’ efforts to discover and to deter pension spiking. CalPERS strongly disagrees with the assessment.

Want to delve more deeply into the audit and CalPERS’ rebuttal? Here they are. The fund’s responses are found at the end of the audit, starting on page 25.

Check back later today for a poll gauging reader response to Chiang’s criticisms.

CalPERS Review Report 090914

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Anne Chadwick Williams/ Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
California’s largest public retirement system lacks a routine method for detecting pension spiking, according to a new report released by state Controller John Chiang, and the pace at which it does check employers’ payroll is glacially slow.

California’s largest public retirement system lacks a routine method for detecting pension spiking, according to a new report released by state Controller John Chiang, and the pace at which it does check employers’ payroll is glacially slow.

The report also blasted a pay tactic that auditors estimate will allow some public employees to legally boost their pay and increase their pension payouts by up to $800 million over the next 20 years.

Chiang’s report focused on 11 employers that contract with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System to administer their pension benefits. While auditors found no instances of spiking – a practice that inflates an employee’s salary through promotion or other means specifically to hike their retirement benefits – the review did reveal CalPERS’ auditing unit is understaffed and doesn’t use advanced technology to ferret out spiking.

In a statement accompanying the report, Chiang said CalPERS has a “generally passive approach to the problem” that invites abuse.

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Hector Amezcua/ The Sacramento Bee
State Controller John Chiang at The Bee’s Capitol Bureau.

A new website went live Monday that culls more than decade of California city and county financial information into a searchable database compiled by the State Controller’s Office.

ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov allows taxpayers to track revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets, fund balances and other information provided by more than 450 cities and the 58 counties statewide. The data runs from fiscal year 2002-03 through 2012-13.

Controller John Chiang, who is running for state treasurer, said in a statement that the website is moving government information “out of the analog dark ages into the digital era.”

The website allows users to download raw figures, convert them into charts and share the information freely. Chiang’s office said the data will be refreshed each year with updates sent in by local governments.

Amid CalPERS board candidate David Miller’s suggestions that “dirty tricks” are behind the theft of his campaign’s signs, his opponent, Theresa Taylor, said that the signs’ disappearance “is a non-story” and that her campaign’s signs have also been removed from parts of downtown Sacramento.

In an email to The State Worker, Taylor suggested that Miller’s signs may have been taken down by CalPERS for violating election rules. And she forwarded a cordial email exchange between her campaign consultant and Miller about vanishing signs on both sides:

“... Just a friendly heads up that there seem to be some campaign sign thieves operating in the downtown area,” Miller wrote in a Wednesday email that Taylor forwarded to The State Worker. “Quite a few of my campaign signs have disappeared over the last few days and my campaign workers confronted a couple of the sign thieves just today while working for me downtown. It doesn't appear that your signs have been targeted but I thought I would let you know so your folks can keep a lookout as well.”

Taylor consultant Scott Adams replied to Miller’s email: “... We too are experiencing our signs disappearing from posted locations. Unlike your guys, we have not spotted any sign thievery in progress. We just started noticing the removal of our signs so it appears to be a recent development. I can't imagine anyone wanting to collect these as souvenirs – but you never know. Thanks for the note. I will pass it on to Theresa.”

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Jon Ortiz/ The Sacramento Bee
Signs supporting the CalPERS baord candidacies of David Miller and Theresa Taylor are lashed to a post at the corner of 9th and P streets in Sacramento.

With ballots hitting mailboxes this week, a candidate for one of two seats on CalPERS Board of Administration says that approximately 200 of his campaign signs in Sacramento have been stolen.

David Miller has filed a police report, claiming that $1,600 worth of election signs were removed along the busy Q Street and P Street corridors sometime late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. In a telephone interview, Miller said he doesn’t know who took the signs, but called the thefts “typical campaign dirty tricks.”

Miller, who is president of the state scientists’ union, said his signs were taken down while Theresa Taylor’s signs were left untouched. Taylor, a long-time Franchise Tax Board employee, also is running for the same state-employee representative seat on the 13-member CalPERS board and has the support of SEIU Local 1000. Taylor’s campaign did not return a phone call and an email seeking comment about Miller’s claims.

Miller said that campaign volunteers alerted him Tuesday morning that his signs were gone. He had about 45 signs in reserve and personally put them up Tuesday.

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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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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