The State Worker

Tech workers are fleeing state government. Would raises tempt them to stay?

Service Employees International Local 1000 is drawing attention to the cost of state technology contracts while it negotiates broad changes to job descriptions for state IT workers.
Service Employees International Local 1000 is drawing attention to the cost of state technology contracts while it negotiates broad changes to job descriptions for state IT workers. Sacramento Bee file photo, 2014

Information technology workers are leaving their state government positions faster than ever while their pay falls behind their private industry counterparts, their union argues in a new report.

Technology workers in California government tend to work for the state for an average of 8.4 years, down from 9.4 years in 2012, according to the study by Service Employees International Union Local 1000.

The report points to a gap in pay between state IT workers and average wages for similar work.

For instance, a mid-career state technology specialist earns about $95,500 a year. Someone with a similar job outside of state government tends to earn $122,000.

The pay is even better for private-sector contractors who work for the state. SEIU reported that the state pays them wages that would be equivalent to a $215,500 salary, although contractors do not receive state benefits or retirement plans.

High vacancy rates among IT workers have hindered some of state government’s largest projects. The $910 million effort to remake the state’s accounting system had a vacancy rate of more than 20 percent a year ago, according to a January report by the state auditor. The audit suggested that those vacancies contributed to project delays and cost overruns.

SEIU wrote in its study that about 19 percent of state IT jobs are open today, up from about 16 percent in 2008.

The union wants to the state to fill those positions and trim its spending on outsourced work.

Housing advocate Brian Hanlon is using financial backing from Silicon Valley tech executives to start a new political venture in Sacramento called California YIMBY – or “Yes in My Back Yard.”

It found that the state spent $2.5 billion on IT contracts last year. Bringing the work in house, the union says, could save taxpayers $700 million a year.

“By investing in the state IT workforce, the state has the opportunity to address their reliance on costly outsourcing,” SEIU Local 1000 Vice President Margarita Maldonado says in the report.

The union released its study while it’s negotiating broad changes to the job titles and job descriptions that apply to the 8,500 IT workers it represents. Those descriptions are important for workers because they set performance standards. Departments use them to request staffing and to set their budgets.

The state wants to slash the number of IT job classifications, reducing its 30-some IT job descriptions to just four. Each job classification requires a distinct hiring exam, and many IT classifications were created decades go.

The proposal is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s civil service improvement project, which aims to help the state recruit and retain workers by modernizing its outdated hiring policies. So far, the state has culled some 900 mostly unused job classifications through that program.

The union says it shares the state’s goal of modernizing job classifications, but it wants the state to consider raising pay for IT workers and ensure that state department leaders have plans in place to implement the changes.

“It’s not just a title change,” SEIU 1000 Vice President Margarita Maldonado said. “These are human beings. This will affect their upward mobility.”

State government’s human resources department did not contest the figures that SEIU described in its study. Joe DeAnda, the department’s spokesman, said negotiations would continue.

“While we all wish this process were completed more quickly, it requires a thorough examination of existing classifications, a balance of stakeholder interests, and an adherence to the state’s civil service rules and regulations,” DeAnda said. “Improvements to the state’s hiring system are decades overdue; taking our time to get it right is in the best interest of current and future state employees and will make California a more competitive employer.”

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at