The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

March 14, 2011
Union says rejecting contract could have dire consequences

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 100806 ballot-box.jpgLawyers and other legal professionals who have sidestepped two years of furloughs because of where they work could wind up with three unpaid days off each month, their union warns, if voting members don't ratify a new labor pact between now and month's end.

California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment, which reached a tentative labor agreement last week with Gov. Jerry Brown, laid out that scenario in advance of ratification ballots going out today. The deadline for their return is Mar. 31 at 5 p.m..

Some CASE members tell us they'll vote for agreement and others say that they won't. What makes this situation different is the large cohort -- about a quarter of the employees CASE represents -- who work in the Department of Justice.

As we noted in our Thursday column, those folks have never taken a single furlough day. Now they're voting on a contract that includes one unpaid day off per month for 12 months, close to a 5 percent pay cut on top of a 3 percentage point employee pension contribution hike for all members.

(To be fair, the contract contains sweeteners, such as a smidgen of monthly paid leave time each month and an increase in what the state pays toward health benefits.)

If the rank and file rejects the deal, however, it's possible that DOJ staff would have to start taking three furlough days each month, just like their colleagues in unprotected departments. CASE explained how that could happen in the third of a series of tentative agreement FAQs it sent to members last week:

What Happens To The Employees Of Constitutional Officers And Others Who Are Not Presently Furloughed If The Tentative Agreement Is Not Ratified?

Based on statements made by Governor Brown and other state officials, furloughs would most likely be imposed against virtually every member of Bargaining Unit 2 (with the exception of employees at State Fund, who are protected by a court order from furloughs). This includes employees at the Attorney General's office (an office currently facing a $46 million budget shortfall), the employees of the other constitutional officers, and those employees who are presently exempted from the current Executive Order imposing furloughs. In short, it is highly unlikely that the status quo would simply continue.

CASE says that furlough litigation asserting that constitutional officers control their departments' staffing may have kept Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from furloughing Justice attorneys, but there's nothing to keep Attorney General Kamala Harris from from furloughing them.

We asked the AG's office on Friday whether Harris would end the Justice Department furlough exemption for Bargaining Unit 2 employees if the rank and file rejects the tentative agreement. We'll let you know what we hear.

Some other insights from the CASE FAQ series:


  • The Brown administration believes that it will prevail in litigation challenging furloughs of employees in so-called "special fund" departments.


  • Although the union has fought pension roll back attempts for years, it's possible that attempts to change benefits for current employees via legislation or ballot initiative "may be successful." The union is ready to take the fight to the courts, if that happens.


  • Although Brown criticized furloughs when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered them, he has refused to lift his predecessor's executive order that authorized the policy "because whatever Governor Brown may think of the wisdom of furloughs, they save money for the State, which is facing an enormous budget deficit."

Click here for CASE FAQ No. 1.
Click here for CASE FAQ No. 2.
Click here for CASE FAQ No. 3.

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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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