If you stand in long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, can’t reach someone about your unemployment or are unable to access needed health-care services, you probably already sense that California ranks 49th among the 50 states in the number of state employees per population of 10,000. Thousands of civil-service positions have been eliminated in the past several years.
Yet, state workers continue to be scapegoats, portrayed as the cause of—and the solution to—the state’s budget problems. This year’s budget proposals by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for rescinding a scheduled 5-percent pay restoration, charging us 1 percent more for our pensions and forcing new state employees into an inferior two-tier pension system—a system that failed miserably during the Wilson administration. Schwarzenegger was trying to “tax” state employees, but not millionaires, to solve the budget crisis.
It is important to understand that the members of the California State Employees Association (CSEA) have acted responsibly to help the state through its budget problems. You would never know from reading the mainstream media that we have not received raises in five of the past eight years. Last year alone, we gave back 5 percent of our salaries and agreed to pay more for health insurance, saving the state more than $240 million. Many of us are underpaid. For instance, our state registered nurses in mental hospitals and prisons receive 26 percent less take-home pay than private-sector registered nurses, even though the state employees’ work is often much more dangerous.
Fortunately, thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support from our members, including more than 25,000 calls and countless visits to the governor and state legislators, we were able to move toward a more constructive plan that helps the state deal with its budget problems while inflicting the minimum amount of possible pain on state employees.
The budget agreement reached by Schwarzenegger and state legislative leaders with CSEA was the result of fair and constructive dialogue. We appreciated the positive attitude shown by Schwarzenegger and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature. And we believe they appreciated our cooperation.