The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

June 7, 2012
UPDATE: 13,000 California state workers win back pay in furlough lawsuit

Editor's note, 5:51 p.m.: This post has been updated with a response from the Brown administration.
Editor's note, 2:40 p.m.: This post has been updated with a statement by CAPS President David Miller.

An Alameda County judge has ruled that state engineers and scientists are owed back wages because they were excessively furloughed last year.

The decision, which also includes a ruling to restore all the furlough wages withheld from a few hundred employees' paychecks, means some 13,000 workers could receive roughly $10.5 million in back pay. The payments would not affect the state's general fund, because the employees due the money are paid from special funds.

In an email to The State Worker, Department of Personnel Administration spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley said, "We are evaluating the ruling and are likely to appeal."

The Superior Court decision affirms that "this was an Illegal act by Gov. Schwarzenegger that cheated employees," said Bruce Blanning, executive director of the engineers' union. "They're entitled to the money illegally withheld from them."

California Association of Professional Scientists President David Miller issued a statement, "The ruling proves what CAPS has contended all along: the Schwarzenegger furlough plan was misguided, didn't save money, and was illegal. We look forward to working with the Brown Administration to implement the decision and avoid illegal furloughs in the future."

It's worth noting, however, that the extra two days of furlough that make up the bulk of the back wages awarded in the unions' lawsuit occurred in April 2011, when Jerry Brown was governor. The Bee has contacted the administration, seeking comment on whether Brown will appeal. We'll update this post with the response.

Judge Steven A. Brick issued his final judgement in favor of Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists this morning. The unions had argued in February that their 13,000 combined members suffered two illegal furlough days in March 2011 because they were furloughed that much more than management.

"The annual budget legislation authorized only reductions in represented employees' compensation that would be proportionate to the reductions made to non-represented employees' compensation," the unions argued in their Feb. 3 complaint.

In a tentative ruling last April, Brick had said he was "inclined to deny" another union argument that furloughing 255 scientists and engineers at the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the State Water Control Resources Board violated state law. Those workers handle hazardous substance management and remediation at military bases.

But in today's decision, Brick leaned the other way, agreeing with the unions that furloughing those employees in those departments violated the so-called "single subject rule" that prevents a single bill from addressing more than one subject. Because of laws protecting employee pay in those two departments, PECG and CAPS had argued that furloughing those 255 workers required separate legislation from the budget bill that authorized furloughing everyone else.

The unions also said that a small handful of their members in three departments that settled furlough litigation and issued back wages -- the Earthquake Authority, the Prison Industry Authority and the Housing Finance Authority -- should receive the same remedy. Brick agreed, noting that the Brown administration didn't dispute the claim.
PECG CAPS Furlough Ruling 6.7.12

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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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