The State Worker

State government gets an upgrade: IT plan brings changes for 10,000 workers

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration this week is unveiling a plan to bring its 10,000-strong state information technology workers into the 21st century.

Those employees surely are living in modern times, but the civil services rules governing their hiring and promotions date back to the 1980s. Brown’s administration believes those outdated policies may be a factor in the chronically high vacancy rate for state tech workers, which today sits at 19 percent.

It’s proposing to reduce the 36 different IT job titles on the books today to just nine, simplifying career tracks that had befuddled managers and rank-and-file workers alike.

“This is about streamlining. This is about making sense of what was a very messy structure,” said Richard Gillihan, director of Cal HR.

In that sense, it’s akin to upgrading one of those beige 1980s Macintosh desktops to, say, an iPhone 3.

The IT reorganization is significant in another way.

It’s the most complicated accomplishment yet for Brown’s 3-year-old effort to modernize the state workforce, known as his civil service improvement project.

So far, the civil service changes have focused on making it easier for job candidates to apply for a state job and on eliminating the hundreds of unused job titles that clutter up human resources manuals. Those changes were aimed at helping the state recruit younger workers to positions being vacated by retiring baby boomers.

The IT reclassification is trickier because it affects people who actually work for the state and will rely on the new guidelines to plot their careers going forward.

“It’s not just a title change,” Margarita Maldonado, vice present of the union that represents state IT workers, told The Sacramento Bee in August. “These are human beings. This will affect their upward mobility.”

Gillihan’s staff is presenting the proposal Thursday to the State Personnel Board, which will decide whether to adopt the program.

Service Employees International Union Local 1000, Maldonado’s union, has advocated for a modernization of IT job descriptions, but it has opposed aspects of the current proposal. Namely, it wants the state to clear up some supervision issues it sees in the proposal as well as better define its plan to adopt the new structure across state government.

It also wants the state to consider salary ranges for the new positions, arguing the state should address wages when it tinkers with job descriptions.

Negotiations between the union and the state became so testy that the state walked away from the bargaining table in May, leading the union to file an unfair labor practice charge. Since then, the union released an analysis that criticized the state’s spending on private contractors for IT work and asked its members to speak up on the proposal.

Gillihan said the human resources department wrote the job descriptions in such a way that they fit information technology salary ranges that were laid out in a 42-month contract that the union accepted a year ago. That contract won all SEIU-represented workers a cumulative 11.5 percent raise.

“We’re not proposing changes to salary ranges as a result of this process,” he said, adding that some workers could receive adjustments depending on how their positions translate to the new classifications.

He said the new IT positions are broad enough to remain relevant for decades. The new paths let workers gain promotions as either managers or a specialists. Previously, departments used job titles interchangeably, complicating career trajectories for employees who wanted to move up the ranks.

Gillihan said his department has a few other reorganizations in the works that could affect current employees, including rewriting job descriptions for attorneys and general office workers.

He laughed about the pace of modernizing government workplace rules. “We were 30 years behind. Now we’re 10 years behind,” he joked.

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