Archive for January, 2011

CSU staff salaries and benefits at 85 percent?

January 27, 2011

Speech given to the California State University Board of Trustees, 1/26/11

We are at the beginning of yet another heart-wrenching budget process in Sacramento, and, as you know, things aren’t looking so great for the CSU at the outset. Assistant Vice Chancellor Turnage was quoted in the media and it was repeated yesterday that 85 percent of the CSU budget is in salaries and benefits. I’m not an economist but it seems to be in the service industry there is nothing unusual about the majority of your budget being in the people providing the service. And, in the service industry, investing in its workforce is a key to providing quality service.

The problem with saying in public that 85 percent of our budget is in wages and benefits without explaining this connection to quality is that it feeds into the fallacious public perception that the state workforce is pampered, non-working, spoiled, entitled, and wasteful. I would use none of those words to describe the workers I represent.

Budgets aren’t just about the money, they are a reflection of your values. If by saying 85 percent of the CSU budget is in its people, that could signify a good thing—that we are wisely investing in the most valuable resource in the CSU. If by saying that is where the cuts are to be felt, that could signify a value change. In fact, I believe there is plenty of evidence that the shift [in values] has happened already, that the CSU is disinvesting in its workforce with the efforts to contract out bargaining unit work, especially in Unit 5—the laborers, groundsworkers, and custodians.

It comes down to this: what kind of employer does the CSU wish to be? We may be in the transition over to being a two-tier employer—one standard for the work at the top and another for the work at the bottom.

The new Cal Poly SLO president will earn $350, 000 from the CSU budget plus another $30,000 from the foundation. Consider that most of the BU 5 employees they want to contract out the work of don’t even earn $30,000 a year. I say this not to bemoan the president’s salary, just to provide some perspective. Where do you think our new values will apply more? The argument that we need to pay competitive salaries to attract and retain quality employees applies equally to both the top and the bottom of the workforce.

There is a price to pay for this value change—it will be felt in the quality of the entire operation and in the quality of our end product—the graduates. Please reconsider the path we are on.


Democracy Now special report on the attack on labor

January 6, 2011

Don’t miss Democracy Now’s report on the crackdown on labor in the public sector.

Conversations over death

January 5, 2011

As the Republican-lead House prepares to undo “Obama Care” I was thinking of one aspect of that care.

Death Panels—the pejorative term given the forward-looking provision in the federal health care law by the right-wing-nut pundocracy. It’s fitting that the leading sick elements of an unhealthy culture like ours would be offended by a provision to fund “end of life” conversations between terminal patients (no matter their age, but most would be with elderly patients) and their doctors about their impending end. Unfortunately, our medical system doesn’t provide the time needed between doctor and patient to have these discussions. Unfortunately, I have had such conversations. I am not a doctor, so please allow me to explain.

I lost two brothers and a sister to cancer. My older brother Jim died at 40, younger brother Terrence died at 41, and older sister Kathleen died at 55. (BTW, I am 54.) When my sister was lying in a hospice bed with, at most, only a few weeks to live, the doctors said we had a choice to make. So far to that point all the treatments to stop the disease had not worked. The medical professionals were at the point of going into what they termed “experimental” procedures as a last-ditched effort. They wanted to know the next day if they should continue trying or give up, from a medical stand point. They said the experiments would put her in a cloud and she would hardly be conscious but may give her some more time, if they worked. The question was one of quality of life. How did my sister wish to go out, under a cloud of experiments or live her last days with the pain kept under control but allowing for some human contact with her loved ones as she left this world? I spend the night with her discussing this. She chose to be a participant in her last days.

Dying a slow death from a disease like cancer in a way cheats death. Any one of us can die at any moment. Hit by a bus, gone. A slow death offers a chance to shape your end, to clear up unfinished business, to tell those you love how much they meant to you. Once you accept your end you can create the space to go in peace, to accept letting go. Many terminal patients never get to this point, sometimes it’s by choice but often the medical folks throw everything they got at the problem because that seems to fit the oath they take. Science doesn’t like to admit failure. Sadly, both my brothers didn’t really get to that point of having an open, honest conversation so they left unfinished business that the rest of us who loved them had to deal with after they were gone.

In the end, life is a death sentence. We are all terminal. The so-called Death Councils of the right are a deliberate distortion stemming from their own fears. The focus of such a conversation is about quality of life at the end, not forcing people to feel guilty of all the medical expense they are costing, etc. A culture that denies death lives in fear of it. A culture that lives in fear of death can’t really live. Like the line in the song I wrote for my sister Kathleen, “There’s only meaning to this life when you learn how to die.”

Check out today’s story on Democracy Now


Thoughts on getting a new boss

January 4, 2011

As a California state employee, I have a new boss today. Yea. What can I say about the outgoing one? His term was widely successful, depending on your perspective, of course. As a free-market fundamentalist, a follower of economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago School of Economics and a devotee of the objectivist philosophy promoted by author A. Rand in her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” Arnold set out to prove that government doesn’t work to lend credence to the argument that most of what government does should be in private hands. Only in this way, objectivists argue, can philosopher Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market solve all our problems.

Putting aside the fundamental mis-reading of Smith that this represents and the hypocrisy of saying you want to get government out of people’s lives while promoting big government when it interferes in rights like who you sleep with, etc., and saying government is too big except when massive public expenditures go into private hands (think Iraq and Afghanistan), the real target in all this is the part of the public sector that goes to social welfare (the “undeserving” sector). Like Alexander Hamilton before them, their greatest fear is that the poor majority will vote the rich (the “deserving” sector) out of existence. Hamilton and these people don’t really believe in small d democracy—the idea that to have a functioning democracy there needs to be a democratic economy along with a democratic politics.

As he leaves office today Arnold’s record will be mixed. After all, he did help defeat the corporate rollback of California’s progressive environmental laws (Proposition 23 on November’s ballot, primarily sponsored by a few Texas-based oil corporations) that were going into effect this year. But his legacy will live on in the pain felt by the working people of California for some time to come.

During his term, for all the complaining from the right about Arnold’s failings—for all the claims that he was really a RINO (Republican in Name Only)—deep down he was a true Republican believer in the Norquist goal of shrinking government (remember, the part of government that actually serves the demos, or people) down to a size where you can “drown it in the bathtub.” Of course he didn’t accomplish this to the extent he wanted, but you have to give him credit for trying. And, credit is also due for setting up the continual fall we are about to experience. Much like the Bush Administration legacy nationally, his damage cannot be undone anytime soon.

Congratulations on a job well done Arnold. Someday those girly-man Republicans will honor you properly for all you accomplished.

The cynical attack against the public sector

January 4, 2011