The State Worker: Do California's state managers make enough money?

jortiz@sacbee.comJanuary 24, 2013 

There's a question floating just below the surface of last week's news that CalPERS paid hourly wages to some salaried employees for performing rank-and-file tasks: Do state managers make enough money?

Maybe some don't. About 43 percent of members recently surveyed by the Association of California State Supervisors, a management advocacy group, said they earn the same as or less than their subordinates.

"The state has failed to address the very real issue of pay inequity and compaction among their most skilled and dedicated employees," said Kevin Glidden, spokesman for the association.

Compaction occurs when management salaries get lapped by hourly rank-and-file employees' pay. It breeds dissatisfaction and makes management recruiting difficult, particularly in 24/7 public safety jobs.

The Brown administration, for example, cited compaction when it added a "recruitment-and-retention" differential of about $22,000 per year to state assistant fire chiefs' pay last year.

Of course, the flip side to the supervisor group's survey is that nearly six in 10 managers said they make more than subordinates.

A check of 2011 payroll data shows the median base pay for rank-and-file state workers – the figure at which half earned more and half earned less – was $4,827 per month. Management's median was a couple thousand dollars more.

A state report six years ago said that the state doesn't consistently analyze compaction issues. It's a problem, but no one knows how pervasive.

"It is still my impression that pay issues for managers and supervisors are often an afterthought for the administration," said Jason Sisney, a labor expert with the Legislative Analyst's Office.

State managers, like those in the private sector, enjoy some special benefits such as more annual leave and flexible schedules.

But the positions come with headaches. Managers must do what's necessary to get the work done, be it 12-hour days, scrub work, whatever. And bosses are vulnerable: They have to rely on others for success.

CalPERS says its in-house program – which included managers and hourly-exempt workers – saved $1.6 million since June 2011 by avoiding new hires or outside consultants.

The fund suspended its program last week, blaming distracting media sensationalism. It also defended the practice as hitting the sweet spot between getting specialized work done quicker while still saving money.

Maybe. It also served as a reminder that the state expects extra effort from managers, and in some cases the pay doesn't match the responsibility. That's why the management association has put pay at the top of its agenda this year.

Look for several unions to weigh in on management wages, too. Although it's not a labor issue per se, they know it's tougher to bargain raises when the boss's pay is stagnant.

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