County supervisors agreed to spend nearly $14 million to upgrade its antiquated human resources system but not before a contract caveat sparing provider Workday from offering its employees equal benefits to same-sex spouses sparked questions of how to impose local values in an international arena.
Board President Don Horsley said he could not back that caveat which nearly led the supervisors to postpone a decision on the new HR/payroll system until they could get more clarification or craft a workaround.
“If [equal benefits] is a value the county has then that’s a value the county has,” Horsley said. “I don’t care if it is a problem in other states.”
Horsley said if the U.S. military must now offer the benefits regardless of state law, the same can be true for companies employed by San Mateo County.
Ultimately, a review of the Workday contract showed the company will offer equal benefits except where prohibited by local law.
But while the potentially discriminatory situation with Pleasanton-based Workday was remedied, the supervisors said they need to be prepared for future issues that could arise out of doing business beyond the county’s borders. The Workday contract involves software in the cloud which means assigned employees could be located in states or countries that do not favor — or even outright ban — benefits to same-sex partners.
Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said the county must walk a tough fine line because it can’t tell a global company what to do without risking removal from the entire cloud market.
“So does the county stay in the Dark Ages?” Tissier asked.
Horsley and County Manager John Maltbie said it would be unusual for a state to interfere with a private company’s business, including benefit policies.
Workday representative Seth Catalli said the company has no intention of not offering the benefits where it can but that, for example, in Virginia where its attorney lives, the state is asking state universities and colleges to stop guaranteeing equal treatment. Catalli also pointed to recent refusals by the National Guard in some states to abide by the federal law change.
Workday couldn’t point out specific states where such a state ban is in place but said within the five years of the contract the political climate could lead to changes.
Aside from the concerns over benefits, the contract received praise from county supervisors who appreciated it as a pilot program for the county’s reorganization into a so-called “agile workforce.”
The existing system is 20-plus years old and has done an “admirable” job but is due for replacement with an integrated plan that uses newer technology to prevent large peaks and valleys of modernization between the pieces, said Jon Walton, the county’s chief information technology officer.
Nine of the county’s current custom-built systems are so old they are no longer supported.
Walton said the cloud system also protects it from loss in case of a local disaster.
Full implementation is expected to take two years and cost $13.96 million. The price tag includes up to $3.8 million for subscription to Workday, professional services up to $4.4 million and $177,680 for training on the new system. Funding will come from a combination of payroll reserves that have been set aside for years and non-department reserves, according to Maltbie.
After three years, the annual subscription cost is estimated at $851,000, said project manager Mike Murphy.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102