Budget crisis leaves union contracts in limbo

Against the backdrop of a faltering economy and a budget still in crisis, the Schwarzenegger administration continues to negotiate contracts with nearly nine public employee unions.

The biggest union—the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, representing about half of the state’s 190,000 unionized workers—started negotiating their deal last year, when the economy was bad, but not as bad as now. SEIU 1000 won numerous concessions around worker furloughs and other issues.

Now some unions are rumored to want a deal that’s as good, while others say the SEIU 1000 deal wasn’t good enough. Meanwhile, the bill needed to ratify that contract, AB 964, is widely rumored to not have the Republican votes needed to get to the governor’s desk.

“There isn’t a whole lot of news,” said Lynelle Jolley, communication director for the Dept. of Personnel Administration, which oversees the division conducting the negotiations on behalf of the administration.

She also noted that different employment classes have different priorities when it comes to issues like overtime and furloughs.
“It’s probably best for us not to focus on comparisons with the SEIU agreement, because we’re bargaining with each unit representing their own interests,” she said, adding, “We’re not trying to impose any kind of cookie cutter contract on any of them. They have different needs and concerns.”

In the past, a SEIU 1000 has sometimes been seen as a model for those that come later. But this year, most unions appear to agree with Jolley’s assessment.

“No, we don’t think contacts are one-size-fits all,” said Ted Toppin, spokesman for the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG). This is the one public employee union that has never signed a contract with the Schwarzenegger Administration. Public employee union contracts in California can run anywhere from one to five years. PECG has been operating under a contract signed near the end of the Gray Davis Administration.

Voting members of the SEIU certainly liked their deal, ratifying it with 91 percent of their mail-in votes in March. Negotiators got the two day a month furloughs cut to one, reducing their pay cut from over 9 percent to 4.6 percent. That furlough doesn’t have to come on a Friday anymore, and it can be used anytime before the middle of 2012.

“That day off becomes a flexible day off you can stack up and use in the summer when the kids are out of schools,” said SEIU 1000 spokesman Jim Zamora.

This change also saves the government money because they no longer have to pay overtime to workers who need to work on a “Furlough Friday,” as the forced holidays were widely called.

“We were trying to get a contract that would help the governor achieve savings goals but also reduce the effect on the state services we provide and the negative impacts on our members,” Zamora said. “In a lot of ways, we accomplished that. The governor, by buying into the way we did our contract, is able to keep the DMV open.”

The DPA’s Jolley said the bill is “going through the normal process.” However, it needs a two-thirds vote to pass—in other words, at least three Republican votes in each house—and is widely rumored not to have them. According to multiple sources, AB 964 doesn’t have these votes, and likely won’t until at least after the May 19 special election, where voters decide on six initiatives tied to the February deal that ended the record-late budget deadlock.

Meanwhile, the administration is reported to be concerned that SEIU 1000 has stayed neutral on Prop. 1A, which would impose $10 billion in temporary tax increases and is seen as key to the budget deal. The SEIU State Council, which oversees SEIU 1000 and other unions representing another 600,000 workers, is opposing the ballot measure.

Even if the SEIU can’t get their deal, some unions still want a better one. Chris Voight, staff director for the California Association of Professional Scientists (CAPS), said his union wasn’t happy with some of the concessions on pay cuts and benefits in the SEIU deal, he said.

“But in the aftermath, this administration wasn’t even offering the same elements to CAPS or other unions” Voight said. He added, “The story is that SIUE agreement is dead right now, it doesn’t have any Republican votes.”

Only one in five CAPS scientists is paid out of the general fund. The governor, he said, is trying to score political points by “giving everyone a haircut,” even when there would be little or no savings to the general fund. There were also concerns that some money could pile up in special funds and then be borrowed to help cover general fund shortfalls—something which might be illegal in some cases.

“There’s not much going on,” Voight said. “That’s because this governor insists on pay cuts and rollbacks in areas that really do nothing for the state’s fiscal dilemma. Most of our people are funded out of user fees or special funds—like the essential public health work going on with the swine flu.”

The governor’s main spokesman, Aaron McLear, bristled at Voight’s contentions.

“We are reaching out to all the bargaining units to come to an agreement on their contracts,” McLear said. “Unfortunately, the scientists are demanding a pay increase. The governor does not believe that pay increases for state employers are reasonable in this economic environment. Frankly, I don’t know that any taxpayer would see that as a reasonable position either.”

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