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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

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Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
Scaffolding on the top level of the Board of Equalization’s parking protects employees from glass panels that might fall.

In case you missed it, crews went to work at the Board of Equalization headquarters on Friday to fix damage from water that spilled out of an air-conditioning cooling unit.

Just a few hours earlier, Gov. Jerry Brown announced he’d signed legislation that requires his Department of General Resources to come up with a management plan for the three dozen or so state-owned buildings in the Sacramento area and designate which three are in the worst shape. Those facilities would be prime candidates for replacement, although the Legislature still would have to authorize the hundreds of millions of dollars needed for new facilities.

The law’s author, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said he assumes the 24-story Equalization tower would make that list, given it’s long history of defects. But would that lead to a move for the 1,900 or so workers in the building? Take our poll, then come back later today to check on the results.

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Brian Nguyen/ The Sacramento Bee
The Board of Equalization building at 450 N St. in Sacramento.

With new repairs starting over the weekend at the troubled Board of Equalization building, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed a measure aimed at eventually moving state employees out of the downtown Sacramento high rise.

Assembly Bill 1656 allocates $2.5 million to assess state buildings in the Sacramento area and sets a July 2015 deadline to develop a long-range plan for managing them.

The review also will identify the three facilities in the worst condition as first in line for replacement. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said he was “delighted” that Brown signed the measure and predicted that Equalization’s 24-story tower will easily qualify as one of the state’s worst facilities.

“It’s the most catastrophic disaster” in the state’s building inventory, he said.

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The Sacramento Bee
Senate District 6
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The Sacramento Bee
Assenbly District 7

The Bee has launched a new tool that allows users to track political money in state races, including three Sacramento-area districts where Democrats are battling in closely-contested races: Assembly District 7 (Steve Cohn vs. Kevin McCarty), Assembly District 9 (Jim Cooper vs. Darrell Fong) and Senate District 6 (Roger Dickinson vs. Richard Pan). State workers and retirees form a major voting bloc in all three districts.

You can track the money in those races and others and learn more about the districts here. For even more detail, including daily updates on individual contributions and independent expenditures, subscribe to the Capitol Alert Insider app in your app store.

Come January, either Kevin McCarty or Steve Cohn will represent California’s 7th Assembly District, which includes the state’s defective Board of Equalization headquarters in downtown Sacramento.

Local lawmakers over the years have pushed bills to get the massive tax agency’s 2,200 workers into another facility, but they’ve failed for financial and political reasons. A measure by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s anticipated signature, but the measure merely commits the state to a building review, not moving out of the building.

The Sacramento City councilman who wins the termed-out Dickinson’s seat in November will also inherit the BOE headache. So it seemed natural to ask both Democrats during their recent visits to the Bee’s Capitol Bureau: What should be done with the 24-story tower?

McCarty on the BOE building

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Jon Ortiz/ The Sacramento Bee
Two of three signs on O and 9th streets in Sacramento highlight Theresa Taylor’s candidacy for a seat on CalPERS’ board. The second sign from the top was paid for by SEIU Local 1000’s independent expenditure committee.

This week’s State Worker column looks at Theresa Taylor’s campaign for CalPERS’ Board of Administration and what it means for her union, SEIU Local 1000. Here’s the local’s August independent expenditure committee report, detailing how it has spent funds to get Taylor elected.

SEIU Local 1000 Vote for Taylor IE PAC expenditures by Jon Ortiz

CalPERS board candidate Theresa Taylor has 20 years of financial experience at the Franchise Tax Board and a personal commitment to preserving pension benefits, she says, fortified by watching her husband lose most of his retirement savings.

She’s running in an election that will test SEIU Local 1000’s power to install one of its leaders on the 13-member pension-fund board. Five years ago it backed one of the local’s top officers for different open board seat to represent retirees and lost to a candidate with fewer resources. The member ballots turned in by Sept. 29 will decide who represents state employees on the board – and whether SEIU has regained its CalPERS mojo.

Taylor became deeply involved with the union 15 years ago, she said, after a superior at the tax board criticized her for marking on her time sheet that no one else was available to take care of her kids when they got sick.

“My manager said, ‘You need to make a choice,’ ” Taylor recalled. “That’s why I became a union steward, so no one else would be told that.”

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.

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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