Special session eyes OT, holidays for state workers

One section of the Schwarzenegger administration’s budget blueprint for state employees targets the eight-hour day, forced furloughs, changes in the way overtime is computed and the elimination of two state holidays each year.

If ultimately approved in the form of legislation, the changes envisioned by the governor would take effect immediately for state employees, except those covered by a collective bargaining agreement negotiated earlier between the state and the California Highway Patrol.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal is an attempt to help resolve an immediate $11.2 billion budget shortage – a problem that is likely to more than double over two years if no action is taken, according to fiscal analysts.

“If the Legislature approves the statutory changes, we technically don’t require a signed agreement with the unions. But we still think that engaging the unions on this issue is a good idea,” said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the Schwarzenegger administration in negotiations with state employees.

“We are still negotiating with the unions, and we are not going to stop negotiating if the Special Session is unsuccessful,” she added.
Thus far, however, final approval appears unlikely. The Senate and Assembly are tentatively scheduled to convene Sunday to consider the governor’s proposals, but as of mid-day Wednesday it was uncertain if those sessions actually will take place.

Some workers’ representatives see the governor’s proposed pay cuts and scheduling changes as a political response, not a fiscal one.

“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.

Much of the public attention on the special session has focused on the governor’s other budget-balancing proposals, including a 1.5-cent increase in the sales tax. But state employees’ unions are watching the governor’s state job-related proposals carefully.
Those include:

–Requiring state employees to take a one-day furlough each month, starting Dec. 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010. The move would save the state $263 million in 2008-09, and $451 million in 2009-10.
–Eliminate two state holidays and premium pay for hours worked on all remaining holidays. This would result in a savings of approximately $39.4 million the first year, and $30 milllion in the second, according to the Department of Finance.
–Compute overtime based on actual time worked, which would save about $47.5 million over two fiscal years.
–Establish work schedules of 10-hour days and four-day weeks, rather than five days of eight hours each. The Finance Department did not include a savings estimate with the schedule change, but the administration says the proposal would provide flexibility and lessen the number of commutes, among other benefits.

Labor is skeptical of all the proposals, in part because they are envisioned as law rather than an agreement between management and labor.

“We are in bargaining right now, we are at the negotiating table, where everything is on the table,” said Jim Zamora, a spokesman for the Services Employees International Union, Local 1000. Zamora’s unit represents about 94,000 state workers. “We understand the seriousness of the state’s financial picture and we are willing to negotiate, but we want to do that at the table and not in the Legislature.”

Earlier, the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser noted that the recently approved state budget contains scant dollars for state-employee salary increases and assumes that “the vast majority of state employees receive no pay increase in 2008-09.”

“The budget act assumes that total pay and benefits for about 350,000 state government and university employees equal about $30 billion (all funds) in 2008–09. The budget, however, includes a very limited amount – $327 million ($124 million General Fund) – for pay and benefit cost increases…This is because the budget package assumes that the vast majority of state employees receive no pay increase in 2008–09,” said the study by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor.

As reported earlier, the discussions appear to be are proceeding apace and considerable progress and tentative agreements have been made on non-economic issues, according to Zamora, who noted that SEIU had bargaining talks scheduled Monday with the state.

Agreements on key economic provisions –such as pay levels and overtime – continue to prove elusive. Currently, the average state employee’s salary was $63,048 during 2007.

The final, 2008-09 budget, approved more than two months late, called 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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