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Labor contracts for SEIU face Legislature’s OK

Labor contracts covering more than 95,000 state employees, about half the state’s unionized work force, are poised to go before the Legislature and could be signed as early as next week.

The workers are members of nine bargaining units represented by the Service Employees International Union. The agreements negotiated by the state administration and SEIU, are expected to go to the Assembly first, then the Senate and, if approved, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature.

The agreements cover an array of employees, including IT workers, clerical personnel, teaching assistants, technicians, medical assistants, prison cooks and others.

SEIU’s membership ratified the agreements with 91 percent of those voting in favor, said SEIU spokesman Doug Crooks.
Facing budget cuts, state workers have been furloughed without pay two days a month, part of the administration’s effort to save $1.4 billion over 17 months. However, the two-day furlough was suspended for SEIU following the initial agreement between SEIU and the state, in which the workers will get more personal leave time monthly, said SEIU’s Doug Crooks.

“We took a temporary 4.62 percent pay cut and in exchange for that, we got eight hours of personal leave time per month. They called off the furloughs as soon as we ratified the contract,” he said.

He added that the legislation containing the contracts, currently set for an April 22 hearing, could be expedited and approved as early as next week, but that the timeline remained uncertain.  

The two-days-a-month furloughs were among the actions ordered by the governor to save money. The furloughs alone accounted for about $1.3 billion, according to the administration. Other items included the elimination of two paid state holidays – Lincoln’s Birthday and Columbus Day – and elimination of premium pay, or time-and-a-half – for working on holidays. In return, SEIU received two personal holidays.

"It's a good compromise. The state gets to keep its offices open. Our members get to choose when to use their time off," Crooks said.  

The overtime reduction included eliminating a practice that allowed workers to put in for overtime after eight hours in a day, even in weeks in which they worked less than 40 hours. The rule governing so-called “premium pay” is similar to the federal practice.
The administration also targeted vacant positions for elimination, as a way of avoiding layoffs of personnel, although officials said layoffs remained a possibility.

Negotiations with unions representing other state employees are continuing, said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the state in collective bargaining negotiations. The state has a total of 21 bargaining units nine of them with SEIU  representing 193,000 workers.

The ongoing discussions include such groups as attorneys, law enforcement officers, engineers, surveyors, psychiatric technicians, social workers and others.

In the background is the May 19 special election, in which voters will consider a half-dozen ballot initiatives related to the state budget. The measures, approved by the Legislature and governor, are part of the February agreement to cover a $42 billion budget shortage. The measures include tax hikes, limits on future spending, a plan to obtain $5 billion in lottery proceeds and using funds destined for programs for the mentally ill and early childhood programs.

The measures also include a plan to freeze politicians’ pay if the state ends the fiscal year in a deficit. The pay-freeze proposal is the only one with public support, according to state polls.

The governor, his administration, the California Teachers Association and three of the four principal legislative leaders are actively campaigning in support of the ballot propositions. The lone opponent among the leadership is Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, the Senate’s GOP leader. Among the donors to the pro-propositions campaign is Jerry Perenchio, the former Univision chairman, who gave $1.5 million.

The opponents include the statewide American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and an array of social-service and health advocates who believe the budget unfairly cuts into social services.


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