CSU staff salaries and benefits at 85 percent?

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.

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