The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

June 25, 2010
Are tentative deals enough to escape minimum wage?

As the July 1 start of the new fiscal year approaches -- and the threat of state worker pay being held to the federal minimum wage looms -- a question has arisen about the tentative agreements reached last week by CAPT, CAHP, CDFF and AFSCME. How do those four deals protect those unions' members from minimum wage or furloughs since they aren't yet binding contracts?

Here's what DPA Director Debbie Endsley said earlier this week in a memo to agency heads:

The four unions that recently reached tentative agreements on new contracts (CHP officers, firefighters, psychiatric technicians, and some medical professionals) would not be subject to any new furlough program or minimum wage payments, assuming their contracts are ratified in a timely manner.

The tentative agreements with AFSCME, CAHP, CAPT and CDFF all include a provision that makes their members' pay a continuous appropriation. That would shield the pay for the 23,000 covered employees impervious to wages being withheld to the federal minimum when lawmakers fail to appropriate payroll funds.

(The unions for years have sought legislation that would make all state worker pay continuously appropriated. The Assembly passed the latest bill, AB 1699, and it's in the Senate Appropriations Committee now.)

But turning those tentative agreements into binding contracts will require at least a few weeks. It's clear that none of the pacts will be ratified before July 1, and some might not be in place before August. So with no binding deal in July, how would the governor exclude those four unions from minimum wage, since he has said the withholding is a matter of law that is out of his hands?

"We expect those contracts to be ratified in a timely manner and we will abide by our agreement," DPA spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley said.

That less-than-satisfying answer led us to ask the same question of Ken Murch, CAPT lead negotiator.

"We have DPA on the record indicating that they would honor these tentative agreements," Murch said. "We're really falling back on the good faith that has been developed in the consummation of this tentative agreement. I'm confident that we would not have any problem" in the event the state withholds pay during a budget impasse.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that if an employee works overtime during a given pay period that he or she must receive full base pay. Presumably, DPA would take that into account when drafting minimum wage pay instructions for Controller John Chiang.

Since the psychiatric technicians Murch represents are prone to working overtime, "there would be an assumption that we would be exempt." he said.

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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 jortiz@sacbee.com.

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