State labor pacts move through Legislature

A package of a half-dozen collective bargaining agreements for state workers – including prison correctional officers – is making its way through the Legislature and could go before the Assembly as early as this week.

Last week, the 40-member Senate approved the pacts in a 27-13 vote, the bare minimum required for passage, when two Republicans Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo and Anthony Canella of Ceres, voted with 25 Democrats to assure passage.

The contracts cover about 50,000 state employees, including scientists, engineers and others. The most public attention has been focused on the prison guards’ agreement, which allows the officers to build up an unlimited number of unused vacation days which they can later cash out at what is typically a higher rate of pay.

The correctional officers’ earlier agreement expired five years ago and they have been working under state-imposed terms and conditions since. The Schwarzenegger administration and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents the prison guards, were unable to reach an agreement, despite years of negotiations. Their last collective bargaining agreement was negotiated with the Gray Davis administration. That agreement was heavily criticized, in part because the agreement pegged cost-of-living boosts to those of the Highway Patrol.

Gov. Brown said the agreements would save taxpayers about $500 million, although the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser – the Legislative Analyst – put the figure as considerably less and other estimates put the savings at about $300 million.

The agreements “would result in significantly lower savings (about 3.6 percent), falling short of the assumed … savings target by $181.3 million,” the LAO noted.  “The other four proposed MOUs (memorandums of understanding) currently pending before the Legislature also would result in significantly lower savings.

“If the Legislature wants to maintain the level of savings assumed in the budget,” the LAO added, “it could (1) reject some or all of the MOUs and request the Department of Personnel Administration to negotiate for more savings, or (2) authorize or require administrative actions, such as layoffs.”

The savings to the state in the contracts stem from the increase in the amount that state employees must contribute to their pensions. Those increases range from about 2 percent up to 5 percent. The agreements abolish the forced furloughs that Schwarzenegger ordered, but instead require one day per month of unpaid, personal leave.

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