Schwarzenegger administration, unions negotiating collective bargaining pacts

Unions representing thousands of state employees have begun hammering out labor contracts: The state has presented its initial proposals, the unions are responding–many did so earlier–and both sides are preparing for a major round of face-to-face negotiations.

One of the state’s 21 bargaining groups, the California Highway Patrol, has negotiated an agreement–it was negotiated two years ago and runs until 2010–and 18 others are in the midst of doing so. The two remaining groups, the correctional officers and the state’s attorneys, are working with expired contracts.
The state has about 189,000 rank-and-file employees covered by union contracts or about 235,000 employees when supervisors, managers and exempt employees—typically political appointees—are included. When higher education, judiciary and legislative employees are tallied, the number totals about 340,000.

The contracts vary in length, but the beginning of the fiscal, July 1, is often viewed as target for the effective date of new contracts because it coincides with the latest state budget—a document that is often approved, despite constitutional requirements, after the deadline.

 In the case of the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, its 31,000 members are working without the prospect of regular raises pegged to those of the CHP. The expired contract—it expired in 2006– contained such a provision, but the state and the union were unable to agree on a compromise and an impasse was officially declared by the Public Employment Relations Board. Since the impasse, the state imposed provision in which that piece of the earlier agreement was removed.

The prison officers’ agreement is projected at $240 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year, a figure that could change depending on the strength of final state budget, which has not yet been approved. In 2007-08, the price tag was about $260 million.

“We are in a holding pattern to see what the Legislature is going to do to approve the funding elements of our terms and conditions of the contract,” said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the Schwarzenegger administration.

The group representing the state’s 3,200 attorneys and administrative law judges have been without an agreement since last year. Unlike the CCPOA, an impasse has not been declared and discussions are under way.

“We are continuing to bargain,” said Brooks Ellison, chief negotiator of California Attorneys in State Employment, or CASE, which includes hearing officers and administrative law judges. He noted that CASE, unlike other groups, is limited because its members represent the legal interests of the state.

“We’re the attorneys for the state, and we have to make sure that the state is in ‘safe harbor.’ Because of that, there are certain things that are otherwise available. We can’t strike, we can’t walk out or take any other kind of job action that would affect our clients,” he noted.

The initial bargaining period is called the “Sunshine Phase,” a period in which both sides present their positions in writing. The state already has submitted its paperwork; the unions are in the midst of presenting theirs’. The disclosures are required by the Dills Act, which governs the state’s collective bargaining arrangements, and are a prerequisite for more direct, detailed meetings between the parties.

“It’s still really early. All that’s really happened so far is that we are establishing the ground rules. We represent nine separate bargaining units within the state, ranging from analysts to clerical workers to nurses at state hospitals and prisons. The substantive negotiations, for the most part, haven’t really begun,” said Jim Zamora, a spokesman for the 95,000-member Local 1000 of the Service Employees’ International Union.

SEIU Local 1000 is the largest single local of state government employees.

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