SEIU contract snared in special election fight

Union officials lashed out at Assembly Republicans for slowing down the progress of a State employee contract negotiated with Gov. Schwarzenegger earlier this year.

The new contract for Service Employees International Union Local 1000 was caught in the special election morass, with Republican lawmakers saying the state should wait and see what happens to the measures on the May 19 ballot before ratifying the agreement.

The bill sailed through the Assembly committee process without receiving a single Republican vote. That held to form on the Assembly Floor Monday. And since the measure needs a two-thirds majority to move on to the Senate, support from 51 Democrats was still three votes shy of the supermajority needed to get the bill out of the Assembly.

The final vote count for AB 964 was 51-16, with all of the Assembly’s Democrats voting for the measure and 13 Republicans abstaining.

“We should not pre-empt the voters by dealing with this issue today,” said the Assembly Republican’s ranking member on the budget committee, Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks during his floor speech against the measure. “It can wait until June or after.”

But Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said the contract reflected a compromise made by union negotiators and the administration. “I am disappointed that not even a single Republican Assembly member voted to support this cost-saving deal the governor cut with the state workforce,” Bass said in a statement.

Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, criticized Republican lawmakers, arguing that the new contract would save the state money.

“We negotiated this contract with the governor in good faith to help close the budget shortfall,” Walker said in a written statement.

“More than 90 percent of our members voted to ratify this agreement. Once again, Republicans failed to do their jobs.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger echoed Walker’s disappointment in a statement Monday.

Under the agreement, the roughly 95,000 state workers represented by SEIU 1000 agreed to take one furlough day each month through June 2010, effectively reducing their pay by 4.6 percent. The union also agreed to eliminate two paid holidays – Lincoln’s Birthday and Columbus Day.

A Schwarzenegger spokesman said the administration “stands by the contract,” but also indicated the governor still would have “emergency authority” to make cuts and furloughs above and beyond what is outlined in the negotiated deal.

Earlier, in another labor-related action, a bill sponsored by Local 1000 to help the public keep track of wasteful government outsourcing contracts passed a key Assembly committee.

The bill, AB 756, which was approved by the Business and Professions Committee, would require state agencies to post all their private outsourcing contracts on the internet in an easily searchable format.

The bill is sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, and is designed to allow taxpayers to easily examine on how their money is being spent and make government officials more accountable for their spending decisions.

 “While a state agency’s payroll is public information, the money paid to private contractors is hard to access because it is scattered throughout each department’s budget. This legislation will change that,” Eng said.

The legislation follows a 2006 report conducted by the independent California Research Bureau showing that many state agencies hire private firms to perform information technology services at more than twice the cost of doing the work in-house. Local 1000 researchers estimate that more than $350 million could be saved each year by hiring state employees to perform work that is currently being contracted out.

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