The State Worker

California state workers in L.A., San Francisco should be paid more, new report finds

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Fresno apartment rents rose by nearly six percent in 2018, but they're still much lower than those in other parts of the state.
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Fresno apartment rents rose by nearly six percent in 2018, but they're still much lower than those in other parts of the state.

California state employees working in expensive cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles could receive higher pay under new recommendations from a task force made up of state officials and union representatives.

State salaries haven’t kept pace with increasing housing costs in expensive areas, pushing state employees farther from their work and reducing their quality of life, said Miguel Cordova, a chairman of the task force representing SEIU Local 1000.

“You have to move farther and farther and farther away to find something that’s affordable for you, and then drive an hour and a half to get to the job you have,” Cordova said.

The average annual salary of an SEIU Local 1000 worker in San Francisco is $68,772, according to a recent report from the task force, while the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,570 per month, or $42,840 per year.

In Los Angeles, the average Local 1000 salary is $59,508, while the median one-bedroom rental price is $2,320 a month, or $27,840.

Those conditions can make it difficult to justify sticking with the state, especially for employees with families, Cordova said.

“For a lot of our workers, it’s a constant battle of whether this is the right place to be,” he said. “For many, it’s a constant battle throughout their career.”

SEIU Local 1000 is state government’s largest union. It represents about 95,000 employees in a wide range of jobs that includes custodians, nurses, tax collectors and information technology workers.

Its current contract called for the study, known as the GeoPay task force. The task force includes representatives from the state human resources department who represent the governor’s office. It has been meeting regularly since mid-2017. It released its report at the end of February.

“The task force produced a comprehensive report and the state will continue to work with SEIU to address the concerns in the report,” CalHR Chief Deputy Director Adria Jenkins-Jones said in an emailed statement.

The recommendations suggest adopting a strategy the federal government has used since 1994 to attract good workers and keep them from leaving for the private sector.

The federal government incorporates a “locality payment” into wages for its Bay Area workers that increases their salaries by about 39 percent from national baseline rates, according to the Office of Personnel Management. A federal employee with a base salary of $67,214 would make $93,616 in the Bay Area, according to federal tables.

A federal employee of the same classification would get a 30.6 percent locality payment in the L.A. area and a 24.86 percent increase in the Sacramento area, which includes El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

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The task force suggests using the federal program as a guide, along with other states that have geographic differentials for pay. The report also suggests an array of other perks that could help compensate for high living costs, including more opportunities to telecommute, state-owned housing rentals and relocation subsidies.

The state could also subsidize workers’ transportation costs, the report suggests. The state’s reimbursement cap for commuting by rail stands at $65 per month, a rate set in 1997. At that time, the reimbursement covered 35 percent of the maximum monthly fare on Bay Area Rapid Transit. The reimbursement now covers 10 percent of the monthly maximum, according to the report.

The state could also pay for drivers’ tolls or reduce commutes using alternate work schedules, such as four 10-hour shifts, the report suggests.

Other suggestions include helping workers pay for child care and health care.

Geographic pay will likely be a part of the next round of bargaining for SEIU Local 1000, which has a contract expiring in January, and it could be addressed outside contract negotiations, Cordova said.

Five other bargaining units with contracts expiring in July could also incorporate geographic pay into negotiations.

In January, the California Coastal Commission, the California State Coastal Conservancy and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom urging him to consider ways to increase pay in high-cost areas.

“Hiring competent and diverse high-potential individuals for entry level positions becomes more difficult every year,” the agencies wrote. “And, as for keeping them, local and regional government salaries are well above the state’s, which provides a huge incentive for state-trained talent to leave while retaining their enrollment in (the public employees’ retirement system).”

The report suggests some of the recommendations could help the state retain staff not only in high-cost urban areas but in rural areas with a different set of difficulties for retaining workers, such as limited options for child care and medical care.

The report calls for gathering more data on how many workers leave state service because of pay in high-cost areas. That effort would start with exit interviews.

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