Tag Archives: Personal

California State Worker Crisis (x-posted at DKos)

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Re:  California

Dear President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama:

Good evening, I’m sure you get hundreds of these per day, pleas to intervene via policy and politically to mitigate horrible situations.  Especially from those who live on the gulf.  I grew up in that region myself and feel terribly for those who live there still.  

Now I live in Sacramento and work as a state employee – general counsel to an agency within California state government.  I just learned that Governor Schwarzenegger and his staff decided to order pay cut to the minimum wage for all California state employees.  Which, because of the FLSA, means no payment whatsoever to attorneys.

I am in my fourth year of practice and graduated with $150,000 in undergraduate and law school debt.  I put myself through UC Berkeley and Pacific McGeorge School of Law, working part-time through all seven years of school.

My wife is a third-grade teacher at a charter school in Natomas, an ethnically diverse school district within the City of Sacramento.  Her students have improved during each of the four years she has taught there and the parent board decided she should be certified as a teacher for the gifted and talented.  Abigail is in her fifth year of teaching – the first was spent in a moribund, bureaucracy-bound school district that is now on the verge of bankruptcy.   She didn’t fit in.  

She graduated with only about $15,000 in educational debt because of the generosity of her father, a long-time employee of the City of Los Angeles who was able to buy a house for his family of four in Los Feliz, near Chavez Ravine.  They were also able to buy another house in Santa Rosa in the North Bay Area in which they are now retired.  Howard and his wife DJohn Jr.tha live on one pension and one social security check along with some income derived from savings during his career.

I contrast that with the situation my wife and I now face.  Two salaries barely make ends meet.  And, unlike many of my co-workers, our salaries are well within the definition of “middle class.”  

But our house is 54% underwater ($160K upside down).  Yet, we pay our mortgage every month although now I suspect we may file for bankruptcy.  State workers exhausted any savings cushions they may have had during the last 18 months of furloughs.  Even with the 15% percent furlough wage cut ($1,000 per month) that the Governor has improperly withheld from my checks for the last 18 months.  

We also have a 14-month-old baby boy.  Well, a toddler really which means we get to incur another $900 per month bill for daycare on top of the lost furlough money.  

Moreover, I’m not sure that California is a state in which I want John Jr. to grow up.  But my mother grew up in San Diego and my wife is a California native.  And my law license lacks reciprocity with any other state so I’m invested in trying to help California (or studying for another bar exam).  And by helping California, helping my family (and avoiding the aforementioned bar exam).  I forgot to mention the school district Abigail works for, like many school districts across the state, faces near term bankruptcy.

You likely know that Meg Whitman, a corporate shill who wants to abolish government, is the Republican Candidate for Governor.  And that our party is running ex-Governor Brown.   Ms. Whitman has already spent approximately $91 million dollars trying to buy the office in which a political notice who has wreaked havoc on the state trying to bully his way into a legacy rather than work with the diverse stakeholders who make up the state.

Ms. Whitman would be, in the parlance of your last campaign, “more of the same.”  California cannot afford another 4 years of political posturing and angry ranting from an ego-maniacal, unethical, individual.  Governor Brown, although certainly not the shining star of our party we were hoping for, is inestimably better than the alternative as he knows how government works, its place in the scheme of our society and is ethically beyond reproach.  I’ll take that after more than 7 years of dysfunction.  The state is broken; but not beyond repair.

But we are tired.  Tired of fighting to keep our heads above water financially.  Fighting to keep our student loans current.  And our mortgages.  We’d love to replace my wife’s 1990’s era Civic with a newer car but we can’t afford a monthly payment on a used car, even with a low rate from our credit union.  The safety advances alone make it a worthwhile purchase but one long-deferred.

Struggling to find time, with two parents working in public service, both with graduate-level educations, to raise our child and to volunteer in our community.  Wishing that we had the money to take a vacation or to enjoy the many three-day weekends of the last 18 months, the sole benefit of the Governor’s illegal furlough program.  

And we fight on.  To satisfy our financial obligations, charging those necessities that our salaries won’t cover.   Eventually we hope the California courts will restore our lost wages with interest, as that would just about offset the debt we’ve accrued.  We now face losing more than half of our combined monthly income due to the Governor’s latest payroll order.  That order will push us over the edge.

You could help in two ways.  One in your capacity as President of the United States and one in your capacity as the leader of the Democratic Party.  

In your official capacity you could assist approximately 240,000 California state workers by asking the Department of Labor to intervene in the litigation pending in several state appellate courts, including the state Supreme Court and to issue an opinion letter on the Governor’s proposal to cut all hourly workers to minimum wage and all exempt workers to either the minimum salary-basis test of $455 week or to zero (for doctors and attorneys as they are not subject to the salary-basis test of federal law).  

In your capacity as the leader of our party, perhaps either yourself or your lovely First Lady could visit our once-Golden state to campaign on behalf of Mr. Brown.  He needs help to beat back Meg’s attempt to make an outright purchase of the Governor’s office and its attendant powers.  Which I’m sure she would use to undermine the nation’s recovery at every opportunity.  Perhaps not intentionally but that would be the certain effect.

All the Best,

John Adams

P.S.  Apropos of absolutely nothing, I volunteered for your campaign as a poll-watcher on election day in Nevada.  Glad we won there.

Cc: Senators Feinstein and Boxer

Congresswoman Matsui

Mid-Day Wednesday News Dump

You may have noticed that my story about Sen. Boxer and others stepping up and insisting a public option in the Senate health care bill made its way to Firedoglake today.  Well, there’s a good reason for that.

I’ve accepted a position with Firedoglake running a new site over there that will be called FDL News.  The site has not yet gone live bit will come into being in the next couple weeks; in the meantime I’ll be posting on the main site over there, starting next Monday (today was kind of a preview).  It’s an opportunity to do a mix of breaking news, analysis and some original reporting.  Firedoglake has some fine bloggers in their stable and I’m excited about the opportunity.

Unfortunately, what this means is that, due to the expected workload, I will be unable to continue writing at Calitics, at least in the near term.  This is a big blow to me.  I started here sometime after the 2006 gubernatorial election and have participated in Calitics’ expansion to one of the more widely-read sites in the state blogosphere, and even a conduit for national blogs to understand what the hell was going on out here during the various budget and governance crises.  The site has been a real boon to me in learning how to cover an unfolding story, which will greatly enhance my capabilities at my new job.

More than that, Calitics is like a family.  All of us writers sort of built this site together and took it from scratch into as important a daily read to understand California politics as there is anywhere in the state, including (perhaps especially including) all major media outlets.  Brian, Robert, Dante, Julia, Jeremy, Lucas and anyone else I’ve missed should be extremely proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish, and I have no doubts that they’ll be able to make great strides in the future.  This remains a crucial time for progressives in California, with so many challenges: to return majority rule to the state, construct a Constitution that actually works to govern the population, restore democracy to the citizenry, all with 2010 elections coming up to boot.  Those are not small topics, and as a California resident I know I’ll be looking to Calitics to help sort it all out.

I never intended for blogging to be anything more than a hobby, but it quickly grew to an obsession and now a career.  Thanks to everybody here for helping make that a reality.  And who knows, maybe you’ll see me pop up in the comments every now and again.  I’m going to stop posting here on Friday.  I’ll be sure to drop a URL and let you all know where you can find me once FDL News gets off the ground.

Thank you again.

An Announcement

On exceedingly rare occasions we divulge ever so little about our personal lives here on Calitics.  It’s what makes a community a community.  Plus I didn’t want anyone to send out the search parties.

So I will be away from blogging and the online world for the next week.  That’s because, in between posts over the last couple years, I met a wonderful girl, and we will be getting married in her hometown of Pittsburgh on Saturday.  Somehow she likes the chained-to-the-computer-and-occasionally-unresponsive type.  I don’t know.  But I’m pretty pleased about it, as I’m a lucky man.

After the wedding and a little “mini-moon” (a word I’ve coined for “shortened honeymoon,” how do you like it?), the wife and I will go back to Pittsburgh for the annual gathering, Netroots Nation. So seek me out there and say hello.  After all, you’ll be on my honeymoon!

By the way, I should again plug the panel discussion I’m running at Netroots Nation on Saturday, August 15 called “California: How Process Creates Crisis,” in room 317 at 3:00pm.  The panel features myself, Robert Cruickshank of Calitics and the Courage Campaign, Jean Ross of the California Budget Project and AD-21 legislative candidate Kai Stinchcombe.  I’ve created a Facebook event for the panel, and for more information visit the Netroots Nation event site.  If you’re heading to the convention, I hope you can make it.

And that’s it for me.  

The Story of One State Employee

Because I did well in law school, I landed a job at a big downtown law firm where I worked during my first 18 months as an attorney.  The salary was great but corporate law wasn’t a good fit.  Having previously served as a Capitol Fellow I decided to return to public service.  I was hired by a large State Department in April 2008 and am currently employed there as in-house counsel.  I took a 40% pay cut to move from private practice to government service but thought the trade-off was worth it if only to be able to see my growing family once in awhile.  If only I had known I’d be asked forgo another 20%.

I like my job, enjoy having a high level of responsibility, relish having my own clients, and feel as if I contribute to the greater good by helping my clients to comply with and enforce the laws protecting public health and safety.  My co-workers in the office are all dedicated professionals and to a person defy the stereotypical notion of a “state worker.”

Since I became a state employee I’ve taken a 15% pay cut and, according to the news today, am now looking at an additional 5% cut.  Junior level attorneys don’t make much money compared to our brethren in local and federal government service and I won’t be receive any substantial raise until 2012 when I become eligible, by virtue of years of service, for a more senior attorney position.  Needless to say, that might not ever happen given the direction in which our state is headed.

At this point the only solutions for junior attorneys working for the state and facing large amounts of student loan debt are to default on our mortgages, declare bankruptcy via Chapter 13, or leave state service for the private sector (assuming there are any jobs available).  Although my monthly salary may seem high in comparison to many other state workers it has to cover my student loan debt, our mortgages, and other fixed costs.  In fact, when I went to work for the state my wife (a third-grade public school teacher) and I created a budget and realized we could get by on my starting salary but just barely.  Since then, my pay has gone from about $5100 per month when I was hired to $4505 per month which includes a 10% raise I received in April of this year when I passed probation and moved from Staff Counsel Range B to Staff Counsel Range C.  That promotion, in a non-furlough environment, would have increased my salary from $5100 per month to about $5600 per month.  Instead, I’m making $4505.  That’s an $1100 dollar swing between my projected earnings and what I’m actually making.  Add the fact that my wife and I just had our first baby in mid-April and we’re looking at substantially increased monthly expenditures.  We thought, when we found out my wife was pregnant, that because I would be moving from Range B to Range C that there would be no problem covering our expenses associated with a new baby.

I realize that some readers may not think I have anything to complain about given the fact that I have a job and that I’m making a decent salary –  and to some extent, I agree.  On the other hand, families make decisions about employment, living location and everything else on the basis of promises made to them by their employers.  Those promises seem especially likely when they are outlined in a union contract.  When I took the position with the Department last year I knew that our finances would be tight for the first year but thought we could make it.  I didn’t realize then that our budget would get even tighter as the Governor tries to punish state workers in an attempt to leverage the legislator to give him everything he wants.  Add a new baby into the equation and we are now really trying to figure out how we’ll manage.  Things are suddenly much tougher as the Governor continues to chop public employee wages and benefits.

After the third furlough day was imposed I began looking into bankruptcy and/or foreclosure.  We would qualify for a loan modification but our first mortgage isn’t owned by Fannie or Freddie but instead by Bank of America.  We can’t let the house to go into foreclosure because at this point our second mortgage (which we used for a new roof, fence, and to pay off some private student loan debt) is completely unsecured by the value of the home.  Practically, that means that the lender who holds the second mortgage could come after us personally for the balance of a loan that as once secured by our home’s value.  We could stop paying our second mortgage and it’s likely that the lender wouldn’t foreclose because it wouldn’t receive any proceeds after the foreclosure sale.  On the other hand, that would destroy our credit rating and eventually, when we’d paid off enough of the first mortgage, the second mortgage holder would begin foreclosure proceedings.  In short, we are stuck with both our house and our current mortgage payments of $2500 per month unless we file for bankruptcy.

We bring home about $5900 per month in salary.  We pay $2500 to the mortgage companies and $750 per month to the student loan companies.  That’s about 40% of our gross salary and 55% of the net.  Both of our cars are completely paid for but we could only keep one of the two cars if we were to file for bankruptcy.  Then there are the standard bills paid by any homeowner, water, light, heat, garbage, phone, Internet, day care, etc.  When all is said and done we’ll have about $900 a month left over to buy gas, groceries, and pay for other incidentals.

We are hanging on by what feels like a thread.  The first two furlough days meant that we cut all discretionary spending.  The third furlough day meant that we cancelled some monthly bills, started making the absolute minimum payments on our outstanding credit card debt and downgraded our service to the lowest possible level on things like cable, the land line phone and Internet, car insurance, my wife’s emergency cell phone, and whatever else we could live without.  Adding a fourth furlough day means that we’ll now move to cancel things like my life insurance policy, quarterly pest control, and the newspaper.  It may also mean, given the minimal nature of those savings, that we may declare bankruptcy.  I suspect that any plan imposed by a bankruptcy court through a Chapter 13 wouldn’t be any more stringent than the life we suddenly find ourselves living.  Having one car, however, could prove to be a problem.

Putting our family problems aside, however, I feel truly bad for those thousands of my co-workers and Californians who make less money and are therefore impacted more drastically by the Governor’s draconian plans.  Paul Krugman coined the phrase “50 Little Hoovers” in discussing state’s roles in our collective economic plight – the phrase refers to each state government making cuts at the absolutely worst time in our current crisis.  Cuts that send hard working state employees over the edge into bankruptcy.  Cuts that drive thousands and thousands of uninsured children, the disabled, the working poor, and the elderly into financial oblivion and grinding poverty.  Unfortunately for California, our current Governor isn’t a “Little Hoover” but is instead “Boss Hoover” – sitting smoking his cigars and reclining in his jacuzzi while refusing to negotiate in good faith.

The economic and social climate in this state has changed for the worse and state workers must stand up against foolish and wrongheaded “know-nothing” diatribes by those who seek to demonize state workers and shrink California’s social safety net.  Without those of us who choose to work in service to the citizens of this once great state there would be no safe roads, no first responders to save lives, no professors to educate our children at the University of California and the California State University System, no teachers for the children in our public schools, no one to put out the fires that rage through our state every year, no one to protect us against the misconduct and crime committed by professional licensees such as doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors and contractors; no one to investigate or prosecute statewide crime, no one to represent the People during criminal appeals, no one to open and maintain our state parks, no one to regulate our health insurers, inspect our hospitals, and safeguard the public health, no one to guard the state’s violent prisoners, and no one to patrol our highways to stop drunk and reckless drivers.  In short, without state employees California would resemble a third-world country.  Who knows, that may be the Governor’s plan.  That would certainly be the outcome if the budget problem is solved through cuts alone.  Rather than continue to attempt to balance the state budget on the backs of those least able to bear it our politicians can begin to solve this budget crisis by rescinding the 3.5 billion in corporate tax cuts enacted during the April version of what is becoming a semi-annual budget drill.    (crossposted @ DailyKos)

My Mother was Escorted from the Building

I was at work yesterday, working.  This has been a very big week on many fronts but the elation of a shiny new President Obama was going to end quickly.  I just gave notice that I would finally be cutting back my hours (And it scares the hell out of me, because I just kissed 25% of my income away) due to chronic illness.  It was time.

And my Mother has been dealing with issues related to my Grandmother’s health.  My Grandmother can no longer care for herself and it was a very tough time for my Mom, to know her Mother can never go back home again.

And then what?  I get a phone call from my Mother that she’d just been laid off.  She had been working at the same company for over ten years, underpaid and overworked and taken for granted.  And to top things off, they escorted her from the building, letting her know she could clear up her desk after working hours.

I understand the need to do this but I also feel it’s just cruel.  And to hear my Mother sobbing on the phone, my Mom who had already been dealing with so much recently, it broke my heart. She’s worked her whole life, she deserves better than this.

My Mom knows the reality of things, she knows that at 61 years old she will find it very difficult to get another job and she is just not ready to retire yet.  Unfortunately, my Mother doesn’t have much retirement savings and was hoping to really stockpile in the last few years of working.

My Mother is a young 61, she still goes to concerts and loves her life and her granddaughter very much.  I don’t think of 61 as “old”, not anymore.  And personally, I think it should be her choice.  It’s up to her.

The bright side is that she is technically employed until February 18th and she has health insurance, etc.  She is going to visit every doctor possible and get anything taken care of before her last work day.  She is also receiving three months severence and then will have a chance to apply for unemployment.  After she had had a chance to calm down (She told me through sobs that she had to pee and that they probably wouldn’t let her back in the building.  My Mom is a spitfire, she said she might as well just pee in their parking lot) she realized that she had time to find another job and time to help the transition for my Grandmother from her rehabilitation home to a new permanent home.

There is a lot to do, they have to clear out my Grandmother’s belongings (I’ve already been offerred her China and her sewing machine) so they can either sell her house or rent it out.  My Grandmother has two years savings to pay for her care already socked away and she’s one of those lucky ones.  My Grandfater worked for ConEdison for forty years, she gets his pension and his social security.  But we know times are different now.

But our whole family has already sworn that we would be there for each through thick or thin and that the next few months were going to be tough ones.  I told my husband the news and his first reaction was, “Do I need to clean out the spare room?”  Yes, he’s a good guy.  If it came to that, my Mother could move in with us and she could rent her condo and pay her mortgage that way.  There are always things to be done.

And so, when Barack Obama said that we’d all have to sacrifice, I knew he was right.  We all knew he was right, that we would all have to help each other.  I just think yesterday’s news was so out of the blue.  But just as many here have already proved, most of our jobs are not “safe”.

So please, say a little prayer, send a little thought to my Mother and Grandmother, they need it but I also know that it will all work out just fine.  

Both women have worked their whole lives, my Grandmother caring for her four kids and then my ailing Grandfater.  She’s always been there to help raise her Grandkids, she also deserves better.  She’s 4’9″ and a tiny little Italian lady, everyone thinks she’s just adorable with her chin hairs and her cooky hair cut.  She’s just my Grandmother.

Update:  I just got this email.

Toshiba/Tabs in Irvine and they laid off about 100 employess between Monday & Tuesdaybasically did the same thing walked them right out and wouldn’t let them get their personal effects they have to come back Friday after 6pm.

And a personal note since this is A California Blog, my husband teaches at Cerritos College and we’re not even sure he will get paid next month.  So how are we going to pay our mortgage with an IOU?