Jim Hard, former president of SEIU Local 1000 and the union's current vice president for organizing and representation, sent an e-mail to members on Tuesday that passionately argues for ratifying the local's tentative agreement with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ballots went out to members on Monday. The deadline to return them is Nov. 8. Clearly, the union has caught flack from some members who are upset with the deal's concessions.
In the lengthy e-mail that follows, Hard says the contract is a shield from future turmoil, "From my viewpoint our choice is this contract or no contract, and negotiate with the next Governor during the next budget fight.
"Yes, there is an election, but if the Governor turns out to be Meg Whitman she will make Schwarzenegger seem mild. Also, every Governor has to deal with the 2/3 majority for budgets and taxes (increased revenue) and an extreme legislative minority pledged to only cut services, state employee compensation and positions."
From: Hard, Jim
Sent: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 1:55 PM
To: Hard, Jim
Subject: Some Considerations of the Tentative Agreement and Its Circumstances
Dear Concerned Co-Workers
I have received many questions and seen various opinions regarding the proposed contract. Below I provide my answers and my view of the circumstances in which we have reached this tentative agreement.
I certainly understand the frustration and apparent anger of some state workers with the state budget and the outcome of negotiations. But the ratification of our tentative contract is not a "done deal". It must be approved by our membership, not just the legislature. If it is rejected, we will need to begin again, probably with the next Governor and during the next budget fight.
By way of background, I started as a state employee in 1975 and am an employee of the Employment Development Department. I have been a union steward, active leader and participant in the bargaining process ever since Deukmejian was Governor. This is the worst it has ever been.
While bargaining is no longer my role in the union, I was present for some of the final negotiations from last Sunday morning through late Wednesday evening when the tentative agreement was made. Our bargaining teams were tough and tireless, but also had to make some very hard decisions in coming to an agreement with the Schwarzenegger Administration.
They fought for months at the bargaining table right up to the last possible moment. Our bargaining, legal, research and lobbying staff worked around the clock to provide immediate factual data and analysis, legal advice and political leverage in the Legislature, even holding up the budget process to win the best agreement possible during the worst economic crisis in eighty years.
But in the end, our bargaining teams are our messengers to the Governor and management. The messages they convey, like our contract proposals, are only considered by the other side based on our strength in the workplace and the political arena. Outcomes, like tentative agreements are not determined by cleverness or eloquent articulation of what is "fair", "reasonable" or even "efficient" or "cost effective". We can all see this in some of the actions by the Governor and Legislature, like selling state buildings and leasing them back.
I believe the Democratic leadership in the Senate and Assembly did what they could to stand by state workers. They did hold up the budget for us and did advocate to the Governor some basic requirements for negotiating a contract with SEIU. But in the end, they do represent all Californians including our children and grandchildren in public schools, disabled people, those who care for them, the unemployed and local governments, etc.
All these groups suffered deep cuts in this budget, and along with those cuts the new budget requires more than $1.5 billion in cuts from employee compensation regardless of funding source. If these cuts cannot be achieved through collective bargaining the new budget language authorizes the Governor to implement furloughs to achieve the "savings." This contract achieves our proportion of those adopted "savings." In other bargaining units that do not have a contract, the Governor has extended three furlough days per month through June 2011.
The Governor made it clear he would not sign the budget unless the Legislature gave him the same budget language the Supreme Court relied on in its furlough decision. And he is supported by an extreme minority pledged to only cut state services, not increase taxes or make them more fair to the vast majority of Californians.
I do not blame the legislative majority or our bargaining teams. I blame the Governor and his supporters. That's one reason I think this election is so critical. If we state workers want to be treated fairly it will take more members and resources engaged in California elections and when necessary and appropriate action in the workplace.
Please don't get me wrong. I am not "happy" about the contract and certainly not happy with paying 3% more for our retirement (that part applies to all of us, not just new employees). I am not telling anyone that they should like this tentative agreement. But I do believe we're better off with this contract than without it. For instance, the net difference in gross pay for a Local 1000 represented worker is $7,046 higher over the next four years under this contract compared to the Governor's initial proposal.
I believe underlying most of the questions that start with "Why didn't you get . . ." or "Why did you agree to . . ." is, "did our bargaining teams try to get the best and did they fight hard?" The answer is absolutely, yes. Our bargaining teams are smart, they fought for it all. They argued for everything I have seen in emails stating what a better outcome could have been. Our teams argued for greater increases, sooner and a smaller contribution increase from us toward our pension. They fought for counting the nine furlough days of August, September and October to be subtracted from the twelve months of the new Personal Leave Program rather than added to it. The list of issues and fights is long.
But in the end there must be agreement from the other side, the Governor. And he would move no further. The outcome, including more than 400 pages of language, is on our union webpage. From my viewpoint our choice is this contract or no contract, and negotiate with the next Governor during the next budget fight.
Yes, there is an election, but if the Governor turns out to be Meg Whitman she will make Schwarzenegger seem mild. Also, every Governor has to deal with the 2/3 majority for budgets and taxes (increased revenue) and an extreme legislative minority pledged to only cut services, state employee compensation and positions. Of course, there is already an expected deficit for the next state budget. Those are a few reasons I will be voting yes on the contract.
But I have also been asked some questions on specific issues so here are my answers.
There is a 3% increase of the top salary range effective July 1, 2013 the last day of the contract and in the 2013-14 fiscal year. That means those who have been at the top step for 12 months or more on that date will get the raise on July 1, 2013 and others as they complete 12 months at the top. Other members are presumably getting step raises (MSAs). Overall, many of us are going from a 14% pay cut for the last 18-22 months to a 7.5% cut for the next 12 months and then a 3% cut (additional pension contribution) from then on. So, financially there is some relative improvement for more than 66,000 workers or about 70% of those we represent.
Assuming member ratification on November 9, 2010, the Personal Leave Program will begin November 1 or December 1, 2010 and run twelve months. This amounts to a 4.62% pay cut per month. It is not permanent. The PLP days accrue at one day (8 hours) each month, have no cash-out value and must be used by June 30, 2013. The contract protects against any furloughs during that twelve months. The Governor would not agree to protection from furloughs through the end of the contract. But we will work in the Legislature to ensure it does not allow furloughs in the last two years of this contract and that is why every Assembly and Senate race in California is important.
Some other unions that made earlier agreements requiring a 5% increase in members' retirement contributions did not suffer the furloughs of August, September or October. Also, they got a 5% top step increase. But all salary increases eventually evaporate with inflation. The increase in our contribution is likely forever. So, every month over the long term those in other unions will be paying 2% more than us for retirement. By the way, it took all these months of hard bargaining and political lobbying to get it down to a 3% increase.
Also, the California Supreme Court has concluded that paying minimum wage to state workers is legal and can be done, if the state has no budget. This tentative agreement provides protection from that through the 2013-14 budget as this contract is still effective July 1, the first day of that fiscal year. Because the California Constitution requires annual budgets and appropriations, this is as close to a guarantee as can be achieved in California state civil service.
It is true that the three year contract means no changes until then. That fact can be viewed as a problem or a protection. Most economic forecasts expect difficult times for the next several years. That includes our state budgets. Many, including myself, believe the protection from minimum wage and (if we secure the support of the majority in the Legislature) protection from more furloughs in the last two years of this proposed contract, on balance were more important.
State workers have been the favorite target of the Governor and his allies. And comparisons with unions representing local government employees should remember that the 2/3 majority rule to pass a state budget makes defending ourselves comparatively very difficult. In fact, I think the Governor's vetoes evened the cuts out a bit more than what the legislature did.
But this is a terrible economic crisis brought on by Wall Street and the extremely rich, meaning those making $360,000 up to billions each year, make up one tenth of one percent of the U.S. population. That group's income went up 9% in 2009! Now, they are spending tens millions of dollars on the election to keep it that way. We state workers can only defend ourselves on a collective basis with many of us engaged in political and worksite efforts.
I hope this is of some help. If it is, please feel free to share it as you believe appropriate.
Jim Hard, Vice President for Organizing and Representation
PHOTO: Jim Hard / www.seiu1000.org