The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

August 25, 2010
Next phase looms in minimum wage court fight

100609 gavel.jpgAs noted in this July 26 post, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's tussle with Controller John Chiang over state worker minimum wage will see some court action this week.

Look for Judge Patrick Marlette to issue a tentative ruling by this afternoon on several technical legal points raised by Chiang about the governor's July 1 minimum wage order.

Here's an example from filed Chiang's 28-page cross-complaint:

Some state employees covered by the Pay Letter are paid salary or wages from continuing appropriations or from other funding sources not requiring legislative action. The Pay Letter fails to exempt those employees from its terms or otherwise to provide the Controller with lawful instructions regarding payment to such employees, contrary to state law.

DPA fired back with this rebuttal, which contends that Chiang's challenges have no merit. Here's an example:

The (Controller) does not articulate why, or under what legal authority, the Pay Letter is supposedly "unlawful" because it does not contain certain instructions. No legal authority requires DPA to provide any more detailed instructions than DPA has already given regarding precisely how the Controller should implement the Pay Letter. To the contrary, applicable law confirms that the operation of the state payroll system is a function of the State Controller.

Marlette will publish his tentative ruling by 2 p.m today. It could be a much as a decision on each of the points raised in the cross-complaint or as little as a few sentences telling DPA and the controller that they need to come to court for oral arguments.

If Marlette tentatively rules on the legal points, the litigants have to call the court and the opposition and confirm that they want to proceed with oral arguments at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. Both sides could accept the tentative ruling and decide to cancel the courtroom debate, but that's unlikely.

Marlette will issue a final ruling immediately or within hours, days or weeks of hearing arguments. Judges rarely change their tentative rulings.

This week's court action won't settle the question of whether Chiang's office has the procedural and logistical capacity to withhold state workers' pay during a budget impasse and then restore the withheld wages once the deadlock ends. A hearing on that matter has yet to be scheduled. However, Marlette's ruling on this week's litigation will set the legal ground rules for the next phase in the minimum wage legal saga.

IMAGE: www.yolocourts.ca.gov

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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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