The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 16, 2010
Judge denies Schwarzenegger's minimum wage order

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette today denied Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's request to immediately compel State Controller John Chiang to pay state employees minimum wage.

The denial means there will be a status hearing on July 26, with a full hearing sometime in August, but Marlette's ruling is a boost for about 200,000 state workers, who were facing paychecks for $7.25 an hour for the July pay period. Chiang has said he would issue full pay unless the legal process went against him before July 22, the cutoff to send payroll to the check printer.

Today's hearing extended a stop-and-start legal battle between Chiang and Schwarzenegger stretching back to the state's last budget impasse in the summer of 2008.

Then, as now, Schwarzenegger invoked a 2003 state Supreme Court ruling to order state workers' pay withheld to the least allowed under federal law when the state fails to appropriate money for payroll by the July 1 start of a fiscal year. Once a budget is in place -- which could take weeks or months -- the employees receive their withheld pay.

Chiang refused to comply with the 2008 order. He contended that the state's computers couldn't handle the job and that the state would risk running afoul of federal labor law if it recklessly did what the governor instructed.

Schwarzenegger sued and won in Sacramento Superior Court last year, but by then the 2008-09 budget was in place with money designated for payroll. State workers had escaped minimum wage.

Chiang appealed the decision and lost again this month in Sacramento's 3rd District Court of Appeal. But the court declined to rule on the so-called "infeasability" argument that Chiang had made, the notion that the state's system of payroll processing isn't up to the task.

After the administration issued instructions that state worker pay be withheld starting with the July pay period this year, it sued Chiang on July 6 to force him to comply. Chiang countered with his own suit, attacking the governor's order and laying out more specifics about the state's payroll processing limitations.

Both sides filed nearly four dozen documents with in Sacramento Superior Court from July 6 through Tuesday. Today's ruling is based on Marlette's consideration of those filings.

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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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