The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

June 7, 2012
California state workers ask: Will minimum wage issue return?

Thumbnail image for 100830 checkbook2.gifSeveral jittery state workers have called and emailed in the last week asking whether their pay might be withheld if lawmakers don't reach a budget deal by the June 30 fiscal year-end.

The short answer: No.

But you can understand why some folks might be nervous. Former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice tried to apply a 2003 Supreme Court decision that says without a budget appropriation for salaries by July 1, the state shouldn't pay employees more than the federal minimum wage. Once a budget is in place, the state would issue back pay.

Schwarzenegger tried to use the minimum wage threat to pressure majority Democrats into budget concessions. Then the state's chief paycheck writer, Democratic State Controller John Chiang, refused to comply. Litigation ensued. The state never withheld the money.

Three factors are in play now that didn't exist when Schwarzenegger was in office.

First, the Legislature is highly motivated to pass a budget by the June 15 constitutional deadline, even if the numbers are a sham. If they don't, 2-year-old Proposition 25 kicks in, docking their pay until a budget (which would include a state worker salary appropriation) is approved.

Second, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown wouldn't hold state workers' pay hostage. The proof? One month after taking office, Brown dropped the Schwarzenegger lawsuit to force Chiang's compliance.

Additional note: Many employee contracts, including SEIU 1000's guarantee no minimum wage for their duration.

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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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