On March 4th, the Sacramento Bee published, in conjunction with a series of articles detailing salaries paid to certain high-level civil service employees, the salary of every single person employed by the state of California.
Including me. ($39,900)
The database created by the Sacramento Bee was, in its original form, searchable only by the department or the name of the employee. Not by classification. Not by salary amount. Not by length of service. Not by office location. Not by office.
While the information is public record, the fact that the Sacramento Bee made the database searchable primarily by name brought the database out of the realm of public information and dropped it squarely in the realm of snooping.
Could you search to find out what others in your classification were earning? No.
Could you find out what your old boss was currently earning? Yup.
Could you search to find out how many state employees are earning less than the poverty level? Nope.
Could you find out what your ex is making? Absolutely.
Could you search to find out what other employees are making with similar length of service? No.
Could you find out what that jerk that works in that office that is totally inept earns? Oh, yes.
On top of this, there is the added issue of privacy and safety that the Sacramento Bee fails to consider. I have heard numerous stories of people who left violent relationships or were witnesses to violent crime who had managed to gain some degree of anonymity, even as civil service employees, only to see what many consider to be personal information exposed online. Simply plug in a last name and you have direct and immediate access to information that can put you in touch with a person (where they work), and information that will let you know if it might be worth it to seek civil action against someone. Or steal their identity.
The Sacramento Bee has since updated its database to include the ability to search by base salary and by job title. However, the instructions indicate that you still need to include a last name or a department when making your search. While I appreciate the Sacramento Bee’s efforts at making the database remotely less like a witch-hunt, the changes don’t do very much to open the database up for meaningful searches. If I want to search by base salary, I can only search within a department or agency, or for people with a certain last name.
The release of the information led to a flood of comments on the Sacramento Bee’s website, which prompted a response from the editor. The response included the following gems:
“The Bee did not set out to embarrass anyone or to invade anyone's privacy -- government pay is public record, not private information.” It’s good to know that the Sacramento Bee did not intent to embarrass me by releasing my salary to the public. It’s also good to know that the Sacramento Bee has no problem reminding me of my place as a civil servant. And that place is, apparently, to bend over and take it whenever the Sacramento Bee decides it’s time.
“The pay database does not include addresses, social security numbers, email addresses, telephone numbers or other personal information. We do not believe names and pay levels are adequate information for identity theft. Simple internet searches might show you that your address and phone number, for instance, are available online through other sources.” Personally, I love how the Sacramento Bee points out that it has left out key information that would be required to steal someone’s identity, and then goes on to point out ways in which a person could access that particular information. It’s good to know that the Sacramento Bee is looking out for my best interests.
Look, I understand that the state of California is facing a big ass budget crisis. I also understand that the easy and popular choice for dealing with the crisis is by pointing fingers at all of us lazy state workers. I can tell y’all right here and now that you are not going to find the answer to the deficit in my monthly pay warrant. It ain’t there.
I know you’d also just love to point fingers at all of those state employees who are earning big bucks. It’s easy to pick on civil servants, isn’t it? Everything’s just right out there. Consider, though, that these people are doing jobs that would earn them, in the private sector, two to three times what they’re making as civil servants. Even though they are making what you consider to be offensive salaries now. These are people doing jobs that earn that money. Maybe you don’t consider that a state employee is capable of earning money, but there it is.
The number one thing you need to remember about civil service employees, love them or hate them, is that not a damn one of them is in it for the money. Because that would be stupid.
Love them or hate them, I can tell you that state workers work damn hard for the money we receive. Work loads are going up, staffing levels are going down or staying the same, and even getting a cost of living salary increase is like pulling teeth. By the way, when we do get one, it's eaten almost entirely by increases in tax rates, benefit premiums, and increases in union dues.
I know the Sacramento Bee is looking for an easy way to increase readership and incite controversy and make it look like it's a Big, Bad Newspaper that's going to Solve the State Budget Crisis Single Handed! But maybe y'all should try some real reporting.
You might be surprised by what a pleasant change it is.