Hundreds of state workers stay home in protest

Several hundred state employees, protesting the Schwarzenegger administration's order forcing them to work on Columbus Day, took unauthorized absences Monday at scattered locations across California as part of a union campaign.

There were conflicting accounts of the impact of the job action, which had been organized by the 95,0o00-member Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about half of the state's unionized workforce. Both sides declared victory.

SEIU said access to nearly four dozen Department of Motor Vehicle offices was temporarily interrupted and nine offices remained closed for at least half a day. The administration said four offices – in Gilroy, Watsonville, Lincoln Park and Barstow were closed all day, and services were interrupted at a handful of others.

By one estimate from the administration, about 560 employees of the DMV's 4,300-member field-office workforce took unauthorized absences, or about 13 percent of the workers. Another 125 DMV workers also were absent in other offices, including the department's Sacramento headquarters. The DMV has about 9,000 employees.

SEIU said 75 percent of employees at some DMV offices in San Diego and Sacramento were out, and that half the employees at nine other offices also were absent. A tally provided by SEIU showed that 45 offices were temporarily closed and that by noon, nine of them remained closed. Those offices were Barstow, Glendale, Oxnard, Watsonville, Gilroy, Chula Vista, Hemet, Oakland and San Jose.

The Schwarzengger administration said the action had little impact on state operations. Employees participating in the action faced docked pay or suspension.

"It was business as usual and normal operations yesterday," said Lynelle Jolley of the Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the administration in collective bargaining negotiations with the state's public employee unions.  "The only places where there were any issues at all were in isolated pockets at DMV, and they were able to shuffle employees around there."

The state, struggling to balance its books, eliminated Columbus Day and Lincoln's Birthday to save an estimated $26 million. SEIU protested the move, saying the time off was legally required by its labor contract with the state.

SIEU Local 1000 agreed to give both days up when it negotiated a new contract with the administration in February. But the bill needed to ratify that contract, AB 88 by Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-Baldwin Park, went nowhere. Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the administration did little to get the bill passed, saying the budget the Legislature passed in July added more furlough days and made the deal "moot."

That means "The old contract is still in place," said Tonya Phillips, a Dept. of Public Health employee and SEIU 1000 member who joined in a protest against the governor's decision to force state workers to work on Columbus Day. She added: "If you're forcing me to be here on a holiday, you should pay me accordingly."

SEIU said a number of its workers filed grievances about the loss of the holidays. The Professional Engineers in California Government, which represents several thousand engineers, surveyors, draftsmen and other workers, also filed a grievance.

The PECG contract "continues to list the second Monday in October as a holiday.  The grievance for PECG-represented supervisors, based on a recent Court ruling, is that if pay is reduced when employees are told to stay home on a normal work day, such as through furloughs, then pay must be increased when employees are ordered to work on a normal day off, such as a holiday," PECG said. It's grievance applied to both Columbus Day and Lincoln's Birthday.

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