Oblivious journos still ignore public employee step raises

by CalWatchdog Staff | June 5, 2013 6:15 am

June 5, 2013

By Chris Reed

media_fail_logo_5.24.105One of the worst failings of journalists who cover California government is their failure when writing about budgets to always mention the automatic “step” raises that many public employees get each year, including most teachers, just for accumulating time on the job. These auto raises explain why government agencies depict any reduction in proposed spending increases as “cuts.” But they don’t explain why reporters do so[1].

In failing to offer this context, journalists let down their readers in many other ways as well. “Step” increases explain why pensions get so high and why so few public employees leave their jobs compared to those in the private sector. They also help explain why the productivity revolution never arrived in the public sector. The government status quo may be inefficient, but if it means there are lots of jobs where few people get fired and many/most people get automatic raises, then there is a huge constituency to keep it inefficient.

A reporter who provides context: It can be done

Which brings us to two very different recent stories in the California media.

Here’s what a sharp journalist sounds like when talking about how public employee pay works in California. It’s Will Carless of the Voice of San Diego in an Q&A with Bernie Rhinerson[2], a top San Diego Unified official:

“… three years ago, the board decided to hand out a whole slew of raises.

“Collective bargaining is give-and-take, and concessions.

“At that point in time, teachers gave up five days of paid work; they gave up almost 3 percent of their salary to get a promise of raises in the future. They got the kids through another year without big layoffs.

“And our teachers hadn’t had a raise in years.

“They had a raise in 2008, two years earlier.

“Well, that was before I came.

“They had had a raise, though.

“Well, that was five years ago now. Have you had a raise in five years?

“Sure, but now you’re repeating another canard. Most teachers in the district get raises every single year, just for staying alive. My wife does. Yes, I’ve had a raise, maybe one a year, but so have most teachers. As a communications person, don’t you think that we should start to be a bit more frank about terms like that? Why is an across-the-board raise any different (from) a step-and-column raise? They’re both raises.

“I’m not going to argue about the system in California.”

A reporter who is clueless: California’s sad norm

This sort of context should be required. Unfortunately, even in 2013, this sort of coverage of from the Los Angeles Daily News’ Christina Villacorte[3] is still the norm:

LA-County-Seal“Los Angeles County employees, who are demanding pay raises after five years of going without, could see as much as $285 million in additional salaries and benefits in the coming fiscal year.

“The county is still negotiating with its various labor unions, but it provided that estimate to Moody’s Investors Service during an evaluation of its creditworthiness.

“County’s spokesman David Sommers emphasized that pay raises are a possibility — not a given.

“‘There are a number of proposals floating around about different scenarios of what salary and cost-of-living increases could look like,’ Sommers said. ‘That’s just one possible computation.’

“Sommers said the county provided that estimate because ‘the potential of salary increases — whether they happen or not — are things which rating agencies take into account when thinking about what’s next for us financially.'”

Don’t blame journalistic lapses on newspaper downsizing. It’s incompetence.

Note that Sommers apparently didn’t bother to tell Villacorte that, yes, lots of L.A. County employees got annual step raises, whether or not supervisors increased the broad pay scale of county employees in general after collective bargaining.

But why should he? Shouldn’t the Daily News reporter know this?

Of course.

But don’t blame this on the loss of “institutional knowledge” that resulted from the gutting of newspaper staffs over the past decade. I’ve lived in California since 1990. Even the Los Angeles Times at its bloated biggest — from, say, 1995 to 2003 — never routinely mentioned “step” pay hikes in writing about the state budget.

Why? Who knows? But it’s a black eye for California journalism whatever the reason.

  1. reporters do so: http://www.calwhine.com/so-lausd-teachers-face-5-pay-cuts-not-those-with-step-or-column-increases/3251/
  2. Q&A with Bernie Rhinerson: http://voiceofsandiego.org/2013/06/03/a-bottle-with-bernie/
  3. Christina Villacorte: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_23381081/l-county-bracing-possible-pay-raises?source=rss&utm_source=feedly

Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2013/06/05/oblivious-media-ignore-public-employee-step-raises-still/