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


Calif. Governor’s election notes

September 27, 2010

September 2010

Myth: Brown is in labor’s pocket.

If only it were true. Brown has been countering this claim—heard countless times on Whitman ads—by saying when he was governor he vetoed pay raises for state employees. This is true and while it is disturbing that he would brag about it, he is just trying to establish that he is his own person and not under “union control,” whatever that means. The vetoes came before state employees had collective bargaining rights. The legislature, by a two-thirds vote, overruled his two vetoes of state employee pay increases. Brown has always been fiscally conservative so I guess this was his motivation. For more, see the previous post: “Is Brown labor’s champion?” The answer is no, he isn’t.

So, if he isn’t in our pockets, why do we endorse him anyway? We do for a number of reasons. The primary reason being that Whitman will be very bad for the CSU, which I will explain, but there are a few positive reasons to support Brown despite his not-so-great attitudes toward state employees.

Governing style—California is not an easy state to govern. Some say it’s entirely ungovernable. Brown claims he has the experience to navigate the treacherous political waters of Sacramento. This remains to be seen, of course, but a glimpse of his governing style may tell us something. When he was governor earlier in our history, Prop. 13 was on the ballot, I believe,  for its third try. Brown was against it but he was not putting up any real opposition to it either. After it passed into law he said the people have spoken, so he implemented it.

Arnold, on the other hand, is a bully. He has tried many different methods to get his way, even after his precious “my people” have spoken and turned him down. He attacked unions directly with proposed legislation and then ballot measures (costing the state many millions with his special election nonsense), and by ignoring the bargaining table and imposing furloughs and cuts directly. This style did not work so well in Sacramento, and he is still losing in the courts. He is not liked very much by both Democrats and his own party (nobody likes bullies who don’t discriminate between friend and foe). Arnold said he had his own money so he was not beholden to anyone. Well, that proved true, and that meant he couldn’t deliver any votes either, even from his own party. Love it or hate it, that is the way Sacramento works—you have to deliver the votes.

Whitman was a corporate CEO. This style works (sort of) in the dog-eat-dog corporate world. It is top-down and does not lean towards collaboration. Union activists don’t particularly care for this style when we see it practiced in the CSU. Just like higher educational institutions, government is not exactly corporate. Whitman’s sudden interest in government (she didn’t bother to vote for 28 years) will not go very far in Sacramento. You need to build relationships and alliances over many years to be able to talk to people and convince them to make compromises with you. She says in her ads that she will force the legislature to sign a budget on time by cutting their pay and benefits until they do. This bullying will not work. It’s beside the point. They are not delaying the budget because they are getting paid. Besides, why would some of the independently wealthy in the legislature (mostly Republican?) care so much? She says we need to “clean house” (as if she ever has to worry about such a thing) but that is same thinking that got us in this mess in the first place: term limits have taken the expertise out of the legislature. Now only lobbyists seem to really know what is going on.

As with Arnold, Whitman is being advised by former Governor Pete Wilson. When Wilson was governor we got performance pay (which usually creates more inequality in the workplace for various reasons) and lost yearly salary steps. Arnold’s anti-union, anti-worker agenda will continue under Whitman. Count on it.

Retirement—Brown sees some reform as necessary for the state retirement systems. We agree that pension spiking should end. Our retirement benefit is one area where we will have to educate Brown. The average state retiree monthly check is $1,400. This is earned with over 20 years of public service. We know the infamous “$100,000 club” is made up primarily of former administrators (who got their pensions spiked just before their separation dates, no doubt) and not rank-and-file employees. Not only do we contribute monthly to our retirement savings while working, but that money is invested, which, between the two, covers a good portion of the payout. Also, our checks are deferred compensation because our real wages (not the pay ranges) are depressed, lagging between 16 and 24 percent under market for most of our classifications.

Whitman says our defined benefit retirement plans have to go. (The irony is that most, if not all corporate CEOs, have defined benefit retirement plans.) Arnold has said this also, but one difference is Whitman has the dough to purchase the signatures to put this on the ballot. (By the way, changing the pensions for new hires—Arnold’s plan—and for all state employees—Meg’s plan—to private 401(k) accounts does nothing to address the current budget shortfall. It’s all about taking advantage of the economic crisis to push a long-range agenda of funneling public monies to Wall Street.) While Whitman is at it she may as well put the entire “union question” on a ballot too, e.g.: “Should state employees have union rights?” How do you think that question will go after all the anti-state-worker propaganda of the Arnold era and the “lifeboat” envy of drowning private-sector workers?

Higher education—Whitman says she will “invest in higher education.” What she means by this is that she will use the system to funnel public dollars into private hands. Whitman has said she will declare “free enterprise zones” near universities, where businesses can get tax-free holidays and investment dollars from state coffers. This is where you and I will go to work when she fires the promised 40,000 state employees as her first act in office (California does not have the highest ratio of state employees per population; out of the 50 states we are average; yet we provide more services than many other states). We will be doing the same jobs for the university, but like the private foundation employees, working without secure retirement plans and the benefits of unions.

One of Whitman’s nuttiest ideas is to cut the programs that currently put the poor to work by a billion or so and invest the money in our universities. If she does that the state will lose two-to-one federal matching funds. I wonder the affect that will have on our state economy when two billion fewer dollars are spent here?

Brown, on the other hand, believes in the work we do. His father, in a bi-partisan effort 50 years ago, ushered in a new era for California with the Master Plan for Higher Education. Brown has no intention of dismantling and privatizing this system. He knows it’s good for California to invest in our children by providing quality and affordable higher education. (Remember, the governor appoints CSU trustees, and the lieutenant governor and supervisor of public instruction are trustees, so those races affect us as well. Former governors have appointed a few too many corporate types, IMHO, who don’t have the same commitment to public education that Brown has.) He says he wants to figure out how to cut down on our prison spending (which even Arnold bemoaned as prison spending surpassed higher education spending) not by privatizing the system or sending prisoners out of state like Whitman proposes, but by maybe not locking up so many in the first place (bringing some sanity back to our criminal justice system by reversing the unfunded mandates of mandatory sentencing, re-committing to cutting down on recidivism rates, and legalizing pot so we stop locking up people at great public expense for non-violent, non-victim crimes, etc.).

Demographics—Pre-voting election polling looks at what is called the “union vote.” This counts all voters in households with a union member. Arnold had 40 percent of this vote. Brown and Whitman are 50-50. Why union people would vote for leaders who hate unions is beyond me. Be selfish, join your union and vote like a union member. The last figures I saw for how CSUEU union members are registered go like this: 52 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican, 17 percent decline to state, and 6 percent other. Conventional wisdom says only talk to your own. I don’t agree with this strategy. I want to especially talk to our 24 percent registered Republicans. I want to know what they are thinking. Some of our statewide leaders are in this group. We have two affiliates within CSEA, the Association of State Supervisors and the State Retirees, Inc., who are organizing a group called “Republicans for Brown.”

Conclusion—Along with Brown, I too believe in civil discourse. We should be able to sit down and talk about things without overblown rhetoric and insults. We all need to learn from those with different ideas and perspectives, and they need to learn from us. I do want a governor who can have the backbone to hold to principals, at the same time I want those principals to be of the highest order and applied with equality and justice. The elitism of Arnold and Meg should be exposed for what it is. Like Lincoln said, if you are against labor you are either a fool or a traitor, or both.

What can we do? Everything we can right now to make sure Whitman doesn’t become our new boss. If Brown is elected our work will still be cut out for us. No matter how it turns out California is in trouble, but at least with Brown we are starting from a similar premise, that the CSU is worth keeping and funding properly for the good of California’s future.

Is Gov. Brown labor’s* champion?

September 11, 2010

It’s déjà vu all over again. Jerry Brown wants to be governor. So I visited his campaign website to see what he is about this time. Among other statements he says he knows how to fix the bi-partisan stalemate in Sacramento, but I fear what that implies. I know how to fix it too: either elect enough Democrats so that the 2/3rds vote requirement wouldn’t matter, or eliminate the rule altogether.

There is this thing called democracy — you may have heard of it — in which the majority decides. How anyone thought that the “tyranny of the minority” would be better than the “tyranny of the majority” is beyond me, yet that’s exactly what the 2/3rds requirement represents. We have laws to protect minority rights from the latter’s oppressions (the majority isn’t always just or constitutional), which have worked pretty well through our history. What protections are there for the majority against minority rule? There are none that I know of. Our system isn’t set up for it.

I suppose either of these scenarios is possible this November (either enough seats could “flip” party affiliation or Prop. 25, the ballot measure to change the 2/3rds rule could pass) but both are long shots. Besides, this is not what Gov. Brown means. I believe he plans to “work across the aisle” and not take so many “partisan” stances by taking a page from the Clinton Democrats: adopt the opposition’s programs and meet them halfway.

Outside of polling of “likely voters,” this makes no sense. Brown may win, but, either way, working people lose. What this says to me is that Whitman is controlling the debate. The election is being run on her terms and Brown has no intention of questioning that, let alone rising to the challenge of changing the terms.

If he follows this plan through, Gov. Brown will make the same mistake as President Obama. Remember, Obama promised to return to a more civil government. However, civil discourse only works when the other side is willing to listen and be persuaded by your arguments. How do your persuade this particular group of California’s Republican ideologues to meet you halfway? These are not the old-fashioned moderates who were in office the last time Jerry was governor, let alone the ones who worked with his father from 1959 to 1967 to make great strides in infrastructure and investment in our future.

There are lots of California examples of moderate Republicans working across the aisle. Gov. Pete Wilson saved us all a lot of time and trouble by proposing a budget that the Democratic Party majority could pretty much go along with. Arnold, on the other hand, tries to bully “girly-man” Democratic legislators across the aisle or to hold state employees hostage and to wear down the state until we all “cry uncle.” In spite of a Democratic Party majority in both houses, we have “government that doesn’t work.” This is all by design. Why would these extremist Republicans want government to work if they are not getting their way?

They understand the power they hold and they know what to do with it. They are not the least bit shy in this. For example, you can’t have a rational discussion on taxes with this group. All of them have signed conservative activist Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge. That’s the beginning and the end of the argument. Where is the space to talk about tax fairness? (A rational debate over taxes would question why we allow a tax break to yacht owners and must cut the already meager benefits to the socially needy [we are getting meaner and leaner so corporate America can supposedly “create more jobs”; how’s that workin’ for ya?]; or when you tally up all taxes people must pay to live, why the top income brackets pay a lower percentage overall [seven percent vs. 11, see CBP research]; or how the state income shifted from ever-shrinking corporate taxes to being more dependent on the more volatile personal income and sales taxes [thanks to Prop 13 and the bi-partisan project to serve the corporate needy]; or why we even tax income on lower and middle Americans at all — which directly affects their quality of life — while already-accumulated, real (and obsessive) wealth lives on with little tax. You might think our tax policy was more informed by Madison’s elitism rather than Jefferson’s egalitarianism. How’s that workin’ for ya?)

The way to reverse the downward slide of the last 30 years is to elect real champions of labor. As radio commentator Jim Hightower says, “If God had meant us to vote, he would have given us candidates.” We need to develop candidates who understand what working people need, candidates who get that public investment helps the quality of life for the majority of California’s residents beyond those with so-called independent wealth.

Is Brown our champion? Hardly. Unfortunately, if you believe what he says, we are in a lose-lose situation this November. But it’s a lose-lose worse situation. Should we do all we can to elect Brown over Whitman? Yes, if we believe in progressive values. Brown will do the right thing if pushed into it. Whitman’s agenda will continue Arnold’s main project: starve the public “beast” and feed their wealthy constituents at the public trough, and to hell with a California for the majority.

For California to turn around, it will ultimately come down to us, no matter who wins. We, the working majority, need to make our voices heard in Sacramento to make sure our elected “leaders” follow us and do the right thing.


* What I mean by “labor” may not be immediately obvious. I mean labor as in working people and their quality of life, as opposed to organized labor as a political entity, which doesn’t always have the former’s best interests as its primary goal. The difference could also be described as the bottom-up, social justice labor movement vs. the business unionism of the post-McCarthy (Herbert Hoover) era. If social justice labor ever catches on, then images of Jimmy-Hoffa-corruption would finally be replaced in people’s minds when you say “strike” or “labor” with images of people in the streets demanding justice.

Dear CSU Trustee Chair Bleich,

November 6, 2009

Congratulations on your new job! I’m sure you will serve our country well. I wanted to commend you for your heartfelt speech given at the Sept. 23 CSU Board of Trustee meeting in Long Beach. In my case you were correct in stating that many in the room had similar stories to yours. I too grew up in Connecticut and dreamed of being a college professor someday. My father earned his BA in business at UCONN on the GI Bill after serving in WWII. He dreamed that all his eight children would be college graduates too. Unfortunately, the state of Connecticut did not share that dream. One older brother and older sister each had some college, but I’m the only one to get a degree, and I had to come to California to find it.

After working as a baker for 16 years (both in Conn. and Calif.) I attended California Community Colleges and, with my 4.0 GPA and guidance counselors promising a bright future through the UC system, I transferred into SF State. My eleven-year path to a BA saw divorce, three-and-a-half years of single parenthood with two young children, and eventually a new relationship that—along with the university experience—helped transform my life into the one of great privilege I enjoy today.

Despite the troubled times we live in I am loving my work and family—I’m sometimes reminded of the Dickens’ opening in “Tale of Two Cities.” Yet I still dream of becoming a professor someday and starting a master’s in philosophy a few years back gave me a taste of that wonderful life. Unfortunately, my academic plan is on hold due to other more-pressing challenges and priorities. Like you, a day does not go by that I do not thank California for believing in me. And like you, I am thoroughly disheartened by the apparent abandonment of the California Dream—especially as this is happening without public debate. However, without your moving speech I was not even sure if the CSU trustees were fully aware of what was happening on their watch. They need to do more, much more of what you did and in public like never before. They need to take our case to the taxpayers of California and stop relying on, like you said, an unreliable system lead by shortsighted fools.

As a union leader who gets the “big picture,” I’m deeply offended when the small-minded call what I do a “special interest.” I tell people that I’m doubly blessed in my union work—not only do I get to fight for the rights of employees in the workplace (extending what it means to be an American into a third or more of people’s lives) but I get to fight for the CSU and all that it represents to California and the nation. Make no mistake; those who would privatize public education have an anti-democratic agenda.* A system of, by, and for elites is their vision for America, what my political scientist neighbor calls, in his book by that name, “Democracy For the Few.” I believe in the Alliance for the CSU, in advocating together because of our shared interests and vision. That same spirit infuses my union advocacy as well.

Thank you again for a wonderful speech and for your service to the CSU and California, but mostly thanks for your recognition of the sacrifice we, the staff, continue to make for the good of both the CSU and California. Best of luck “down under” and remember that Australia was at one time a British penal colony. With examples like that in the world there may yet be hope for California’s future.


Russell Kilday-Hicks
VP for Representation

* I highly recommend Thomas Frank’s works on why people vote against their own interests (“What’s the Matter With Kansas?”) and on the difference between moderate and neo-conservative Republicans (“The Wrecking Crew”), and the work of UCSB Professor Christopher Newfield explaining the dismantling of public higher education (“The Unmaking of the Public University”). Also, Obama’s books are pretty great, especially for a president. His chapter on our Constitution is a must read if you are going to work for him. In many ways the nation has some catching up to do to the president’s vision before we will see substantive change.

Related links:
* http://www.calstate.edu/BOT/chair-reports/sept2009.shtml
* latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-bleich4-2009nov04,0,1193621.story
* http://toodumbtolivearchive.blogspot.com/2009/07/ucsb-save-uc-letter.html

Rally on steps of SF City Hall

October 18, 2009

I attended the rally on the steps of SF City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 15. I was asked to speak and was about to but at the last minute was cut from the program due to being over time. After listening to many great speakers (politicians, faculty, students) I was thinking of wrapping up the event with the observation that there was never to this point a public debate on the abandonment of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education and the California Dream. At the chancellor’s office in Long Beach a mock funeral was held for the death of these two. I wanted to tell them that our challenge was to raise them back from the dead.

Rally for AB 656

October 18, 2009

The week of Oct. 12-16, CFA held events on most, if not all of the CSU campuses. I was a featured speaker at Monday’s event on the CSU East Bay campus in Hayward. The focus of the rally was for AB 656, sponsored by Assembly member Alberto Torrico, a bill that would tax oil as it comes out of the California ground. This is something the other 16 oil-producing states in the country do, and Texas the longest, using the revenue to fund their higher education system. Here is what I said at the rally.

I am Russell Kilday-Hicks, vice president for representation for CSUEU, the non-faculty staff union; and I work at SF State. I stand here today with my son, Liam, who is off from school because it is Indigenous Peoples Day. I hope we can preserve the CSU and would be proud to have him attend this university system someday.

I attended the last few Board of Trustee meetings at the chancellor’s offices in Long Beach. At one of these, Lt. Gov. Garamendi tried unsuccessfully to get support for AB 656. So what has been the trustee plan for replacing shrinking state support for the CSU? Over the last 20 years they were on bended knees begging for corporate support, through voluntary donations. I ask you: How is that working? Why won’t the trustees support taxing California’s oil wealth so that higher education can have steady income to continue providing the opportunity a quality education offers to the children of working people in this state? Because, as BOT Chair Jeffery Bleich said recently, 656 as written takes away some trustee control on how the money would be spent. What Bleich didn’t say was they might be concerned it will also offend the wealth they are wooing for donations.

What we are seeing is a failure of a political system to provide for its people. Governors appoint the trustees. The current governor says he wants to “starve the monster,” which is the name he gives to the public sector, including the CSU. The attack on the higher education budget is a strike against democracy. The elites will always have their ivy league to send their children to. In the elite worldview, the children of working people don’t need higher education; they only need job training. It’s time the CSU had trustees we can trust to not only preserve the CSU, but to expand it to fill the yet unmet needs of California for a universal education where you learn to think critically, a crucial ingredient for a healthy democracy. The current trustees are merely managing the decline of a once great system. We need leaders who believe in a government that provides for its people. Thank you for being out here today. Let’s continue to show the trustees and the next governor that this is what democracy looks like.