Credit: fresnostate.edu
Fresno State University

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The California State University system does a poor job of paying non-faculty staff and employees across the 23 campus system, according to a new, independent study. 

The study, which will be explored in more detail this week during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting, found the system has failed to keep up with institutions nationwide across higher education in staff pay. The system also lacks consistent and updated job classifications, and there is no consistency in how the university system advances or increases individual wages and salaries. 

The study’s recommendations would require $287 million to implement with ongoing costs in the tens of millions of dollars per year “to annually maintain market competitiveness and to sustain step progression,” the study concludes.

“The CSU recognizes that fair and competitive compensation for faculty, staff and management is essential to the university’s success,” a spokesperson from the chancellor’s office said, adding that the office is also lobbying the Legislature and the governor for increased investment to compensate employees. 

The study, funded with $2 million in state funds approved by the Legislature and the governor, made recommendations to improve staff salaries and wages. Those recommendations include: 

  • Creating a step-salary structure based on job levels, market data and geographic adjustments that recognize tenure, expertise and performance.
  • Creating new pay ranges that adjust wages to the market median, based on location, and regularly update them. 
  • Increasing salaries annually by 3.05% so they remain competitive with the market. 

CSU employs more than 30,000 non-faculty staff members across 11 different bargaining units as the nation’s largest public university system. Those staffs include university police, engineers and teamsters. 

“There’s a longstanding crisis at CSU of substandard pay practices because unlike all the rest of state service in California, there’s no step system at CSU,” said Jason Rabinowitz, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 2010, which represents the 1,100 skilled trades workers like plumbers, carpenters and electricians, in the system. We have people who have worked in CSU 10, 20, 30 years who are stuck at the low end of their pay range.” 

Catherine Hutchinson, president of the California State University Employees Union, representing about 16,000 employees in academic support, information technology, health care, clerical and custodial departments, said the lack of pay structure has been detrimental to employees of color.

Instead of a standard step structure, employees face biases when they submit paperwork to be considered for promotions and raises, she said.

“We’re human, and those biases start to come in and affect how you move up,” Hutchinson said. “It just so happens that it happens toward women and people of color a lot of times.”

The low pay has also impacted CSU’s ability to attract new employees, including students who work for the university as tutors, graduate and teaching assistants.

“The CSU is struggling to attract and support talent, and below-market wages are a large part of the problem when costs of living, especially housing costs, are high and continue to rise,” said Robert Hogg, a graduate student and teaching assistant at CSU Northridge. Hogg is also a board member for UAW 4123, which represents the 10,000 student workers in the system. “In the end, inequitable salaries directly impact students and the quality of their college experience.”

Rabinowitz said the salary issues are more acutely felt because of the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing inflation. 

“Our members have been making the sacrifices and keeping the place running without receiving a raise in almost three years,” he said. “We have a really dire situation.” 

On Monday, both staff organizations will rally in Sacramento for the Legislature to address the staff salary problems in the budget. Last year, CSU trustees asked the state for an additional $223.3 million to increase salary and benefits in this year’s budget to help address faculty salaries. However, neither Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January budget nor his May revision addressed the issue. 

Last week, CSU interim Chancellor Jolene Koester indicated she was disappointed that more funding hadn’t been proposed for the system because of the “economic challenges such as inflation impacting every dollar earned by our talented and dedicated faculty and staff.” 

Rabinowitz said it was concerning to see that the governor’s May revision didn’t address the problem. 

“We’re hoping that if the budget comes through with the funding this year, then we will be able to bargain for fair raises,” he said. 

However, there is already support in the Legislature for improving staff salaries, Hutchinson said, adding that the state Senate’s budget plans include $400 million in ongoing money for CSU to cover fair and competitive compensation for employees, including faculty.

The study and its recommendations focused only on CSU and not the University of California.

This story was changed to clarify the overall costs of the salary recommendations.

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  1. Tom 6 months ago6 months ago

    There's enough historical evidence to suggest that the CSU compensation system is broken ... with or without the study. First of all, the CSU eliminated salary steps for their employees in 1996. Nobody will argue that this was a huge cost-saving move for them at the time. It served them well through good times and bad. Since that time, negotiated salary increases were small and spread very thin across the board. This might seem fair until … Read More

    There’s enough historical evidence to suggest that the CSU compensation system is broken … with or without the study.

    First of all, the CSU eliminated salary steps for their employees in 1996. Nobody will argue that this was a huge cost-saving move for them at the time. It served them well through good times and bad. Since that time, negotiated salary increases were small and spread very thin across the board. This might seem fair until a new hire is brought in at the same level as someone who has tenured more years of service. This happens all the time.

    Second of all, any negotiated salary increase is typically in the neighborhood of the cost of living (CPI), so there’s really no “getting ahead” while working for the CSU. If anything, you’re trying to catch up. For the most part, the CSU doesn’t lift a finger to retain their employees because the market was always prime for hiring.

    Additionally, during the housing crisis in 2008, the CSU threatened layoffs across the board. It was the unions that negotiated with the CSU to save jobs by taking a collective furlough (10% pay cut) to keep all members employed and the lights on.

    When Covid hit, and there was another threat of layoffs, it was again the unions that offered to maintain the current contract as-is with no pay raise for 2 years. Heading into 2023, the majority of the CSU staff will have gone over 3 years without a single raise.

    All of this causes a huge amount of turnover in employees and very low morale. The campus I work at has had a very difficult time not only attracting applicants, but retaining them. In one instance, a recent candidate laughed when they were told what the starting salary was. Whole departments have been decimated by the private sector and even competing public universities that have recognized the need for better compensation.

    The bottom line is that this study didn’t even need to be done at all. I personally know plenty of people within the CSU who can verify the compensation structure is broken. The fact that the CSU is stepping in and lobbying for additional funding is because the situation is so dire and vacancies are at an all-time high.

  2. LRC 6 months ago6 months ago

    To those saying the study was funded by the unions: "As a result of CSUEU advocacy to improve the salaries of CSU support staff, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom have agreed to add $2 million to the CSU state budget to hire an independent research firm to evaluate the current support staff salary structure." That's from a news article published last year - the unions and CSU worked together to secure funding for this this … Read More

    To those saying the study was funded by the unions:

    “As a result of CSUEU advocacy to improve the salaries of CSU support staff, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom have agreed to add $2 million to the CSU state budget to hire an independent research firm to evaluate the current support staff salary structure.”

    That’s from a news article published last year – the unions and CSU worked together to secure funding for this this study. It’s not like they spent 2 million in union dues to pay for this.

    Also, I work as staff at a CSU and the low wages and lack of promotion is news to no one. I earn $30-40,000 less than people working in my exact position at universities across the country – in places that are much more affordable to live. I’d rather not move states for a better job, but I may end up doing exactly that. The CSU where I work now is woefully understaffed because everyone is leaving for better pay and no one is applying for the open vacancies. We just hired an IT administrator who literally has zero experience with the system they’ve been hired to administer because there were no qualified applicants. People can’t pay their rent with the “privilege” of working at a CSU – they need a fair salary.

    And if ya’ll think you can run a university with nothing but faculty and provosts, well good luck with that.

  3. Jim 6 months ago6 months ago

    "independent study" must mean something different than it used to. Since the study was designed by the unions it's hardly "independent" even if they hired Mercer to "conduct" the study. Read More

    “independent study” must mean something different than it used to. Since the study was designed by the unions it’s hardly “independent” even if they hired Mercer to “conduct” the study.

  4. Gregory Lipford 6 months ago6 months ago

    Is it not standard journalistic practice to mention when a study is sponsored by biased parties on one side of an issue, and noting it, ignoring the results as biased nonsense? Because that’s what we have here: government agencies and labor unions say they should have more money. Wow.

  5. Becki King 6 months ago6 months ago

    Thank you, Ashley, for writing this article. As a CSU staff employee for the last 8 years I have barely seen my salary increase. With high gas prices and rampant inflation, it is time we are fairly compensated for keeping the CSU system up and running especially during the Covid years. If I did not have a working partner, I could never fully support myself on my current wage. It is not a living … Read More

    Thank you, Ashley, for writing this article. As a CSU staff employee for the last 8 years I have barely seen my salary increase. With high gas prices and rampant inflation, it is time we are fairly compensated for keeping the CSU system up and running especially during the Covid years. If I did not have a working partner, I could never fully support myself on my current wage. It is not a living wage! Thanks for sharing this information with others!

  6. ann 6 months ago6 months ago

    A trust operates inside a monopoly paid for by taxpayers. I see a need for a ‘study’, too.