The State Worker

The State Worker: Caltrans worker misses out on $140-per-month raise due to pay snafu

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

‘Bureaucracy.” “Misfortune.” “Manipulation.” Caltrans employee Rodolfo dela Cruz has used all those words to describe how he lost out last year on a $140-per-month raise.

His story starts with a contract that his union, SEIU Local 1000, bargained in 2010. The deal included a 3 percent raise with caveats:

1. Only employees earning the maximum wage for their job class for at least a year qualify. In essence, this added a “top step” for senior employees, many of whom hadn’t received a pay raise for years.

2. The new step increase wouldn’t take effect until July 2013.

Dela Cruz figured he’d be among the first to get the raise. After immigrating from the Philippines, he hired on with the state in 2004 and became a senior delineator four years later. It’s detail-oriented work that includes drawing plans for Caltrans projects. After a series of automatic raises over several years, he topped out at $4,543.54 per month in May 2012.

So by July 2013 he would be at max pay for 14 months. Qualifications met, he thought.

But his Aug. 1 paycheck arrived without the extra $140 he expected. Same for September. Emails with Caltrans personnel officers revealed why: The maximum monthly pay for senior delineators was $4,544. Dela Cruz’s monthly pay was 46 cents shy. Two pennies per workday.

Couldn’t you round up my salary? he asked Caltrans officials. By dela Cruz’s calculations, his previous step raises were similarly short.

“The Department of Transportation does not bump up an employee’s salary rate to move them to the Max salary rate if they are (slightly) below the max,” a Caltrans personnel specialist said in an Oct. 22 email.

During the email back-and-forth, dela Cruz found out that, well, he did receive a $1 bump. It was last May. He didn’t notice it at the time, but it brought his pay to the maximum “as determined by the State Controller’s Office,” Caltrans told him in an email.

It’s unclear who gave him the money. A spokesman for Controller John Chiang said his department didn’t “intervene.” He referred this column to the Department of Human Resources.

CalHR can adjust employee pay in odd cases like this, but since 2007 it has delegated that task to departments, said spokeswoman Pat McConahay. Had Caltrans increased dela Cruz’s pay a few cents back in 2012, he would have been getting the $140 monthly raise by now.

Dela Cruz said Wednesday that he doesn’t want to think the state held down his pay on purpose. As for the $1 bump, “It’s a slap in the face,” he said.

Then he thought it over. Without it, who knows how long he might have been stuck in Payroll Purgatory? Now, at least, he has a raise coming this spring, when he has earned the maximum for a year.

“I am looking forward it,” he said. He’ll just try not to think about the $1,200 or so in wages he will have lost by then.