The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

November 17, 2009
From the notebook: Monday's furlough hearing, part 1

Thumbnail image for 100602 yolo county gavel.jpgWe never get all of what we learn into a news story like today's piece on Monday's furlough court hearings. Fortunately, this blog can give users items of interest from the notebook.

The court hearing is in Alameda Superior Court's Department 31, a 30-foot by 40-foot room up one flight of marble steps above the Post Office on 13th and Jackson streets in Oakland.

There's no jury or witness box in the cramped room and less than 30 seats for observers. About 50 people are packed into the space when I arrive at 9:05. By the suits they're wearing, I assume most are lawyers. A few SEIU workers have come out in their purple shirts. It looks like I'm the only journalist. I stand for all the hearings; there's no place to sit.

A court clerk enters the stuffy, stuffed room with a stack of documents that looks about 3 feet high and balances them on the bench. Judge Frank Roesch enters a few minutes later. He's wearing rimless glasses and has a salt-and-pepper goatee. He's self-effacing: As the audience starts to stand, he chuckles and motions everyone to stay seated.

Roesch quickly moves through four or five cases. One woman finds out that her check will be garnished $80 per month to pay a $3,500 debt. A couple of litigants are no shows. The 3-foot stack loses six inches.

Then the judge calls out CCPOA's attorneys and Schwarzenegger's lawyers. It's 9:45 a.m.

Roesch is frustrated with statistics presented by both sides that say that deferred furlough time off will never be entirely redeemed (CCPOA) or that Corrections has stepped up burning down furlough time and it should all be cleared up by June 30, 2012 (the administration).

Roesch on the stats: "This is a closed system with a set number of employees and a set amount of time off. No statistic has answered the question of how the Department of Corrections can absorb 46 (furlough) days per employee. That's more than nine weeks ... That's the biggest question that I have."

CCPOA attorney Gregg McLean Adam argues that furloughs for correctional officers are illegal because the time off must be taken within the same pay cycle, but COs have accumulated more than 1 million hours of furlough time. And furlough credits have no cash value, but the law says pay must be rendered in cash.

Adam on deferred time off: "There are legal consequences if (furlough time on the books) expires (by the June 2012 deadline). The state has a duty to pay employees monthly and furlough time must be taken off during the pay period ... Otherwise, the state could put off its obligations to pay indefinitely ... What if they issue a memo tomorrow (putting off the redemption deadline) to 2015?"

Schwarzenegger attorney Tyra says that 15 percent of Bargaining Unit 6 employees have no furlough time on the books and that CCPOA hasn't proven that there's a problem with redeeming the rest by the 2012 deadline. CDCR is working hard to get the time down, and if someone has time left on the books after the deadline, they can sue.

Tyra on unredeemed furlough time off: "(Employees) can file a claim for nonpayment of wages. (The labor code) provides for recovery of wages. (CCPOA) is looking to invalidate an entire statewide program. Their declarations don't show a connection between furlough (staff) reductions and the inability to get the time back."

A few minutes later, after a discussion about how correctional officers don't work conventional 40-hour weeks, Roesch again asked about the impact of furloughs on the system: "How does a closed system ... how does that system take away 13 1/2 percent of that staff without at some point having to increase staffing?"

Tyra's response: "People are taking a lot of time off. There's time within the system. We're paying down the bank of furlough credits."

Attorney Will Yamada, who is also representing Schwarzenegger follows up: "(CDCR has) taken over 1 million hours off the books."

A few more comments and then arguments end. It's 10:30 a.m. Roesch calls for a break before calling the next case, CASE v. Schwarzenegger. We'll post our notes on that next.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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