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Budget woes, election play role in state employees’ bargaining

Fiscal uncertainty prompted by the unprecedented stalemate over the 2008-09 state budget and the political activities surrounding the Nov. 4 elections have played a role in the time frame for reaching collective bargaining agreements between the state and hundreds of thousands state employees.

“Things were essentially put on hold,” said Jim Zamora, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents about 95,000 state workers and is the largest state-employee bargaining unit. “Both sides took some time off. After they passed the budget, they needed time to analyze it to see what they had. We agreed after some discussion to essentially take some time off and let them do that, too.”

The discussions are proceeding apace and considerable progress and tentative agreements have been made on non-economic issues, he added. But agreements on key economic provisions –such as pay levels and overtime – have not yet been reached. Those discussions are likely to intensify after the elections. The average state employee’s salary was $63,048 during 2007, ccording to the state Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the Schwarzenegger administration in collective bargaining negotiations with state workers.

The SEIU local, for example, reached tentative agreement with the state over a provision allowing the union “earlier access to lists of employees and layoff plans produced by the Department of Personnel Administration,” said SEIU negotiator Cindie Fonseca. “We need to keep this momentum going through October so that we can make some real progress when we go back to the table in November.”

Of the state’s 21 bargaining units, only one – the California Highway Patrol – has negotiated a new contract. Another unit, the prisons’ correctional offices, is operating under terms and conditions set by the state following a lengthy legal wrangle. Agreements have yet to be negotiated for the remaining units.

Although there is no indication thus far that there are insurmountable issues separating two sides in the negotiations, but lingering bitterness remains over the budget impasse, which resulted in layoffs and pay-cutting attempts by the administration.

 “Together and separately, we exposed the governor’s effort to reduce the wages of state workers to the federal minimum for what it was – a cheap political stunt,” Dave Hart, president of the California State Employees Association, wrote in the CSEA’s October newsletter.

The 2008-09 state budget was signed Sept. 23, for the fiscal year that began July 1. It was the latest state budget in California’s history, because lawmakers and the governor couldn’t agree on how best to eliminate a $15.2 billion shortage.

The final document calls for $147 billion in total spending, including about $103 billion from the state’s General Fund. The governor called the document prudent and responsible, but the state’s Democratic controller, John Chiang, said the hard-fought document was out of balance as soon as it was signed.

The flaws in the budget, coupled with a weakening economy, signaled a tough year for the 2009-10 budget.
In addition to personnel cuts, the tardy budget resulted in delayed payments to legislative workers and postponed payments to some 80,000 state vendors.


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