The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 13, 2012
Column Extra Part 2: How Gov. Jerry Brown would counter a furlough lawsuit

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 100602 yolo county gavel.jpgWith just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, much of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you some of the notes, the quotes and the observations that inform what's published each Thursday.

On Thursday, we looked at one way Professional Engineers in California Government might sue the state for imposing furloughs on its members and violating state and federal contract laws. The union hasn't committed to suing and has said it still hopes to work out an agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown for wage reductions.

But how would the state, specifically the Brown administration, defend the imposed furloughs?

We asked Tim Yeung, a former state personnel lawyer who is now a partner at Sacramento-based Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai LLP. He referred us to state law and the October 2010 furlough ruling by the California Supreme Court.

In the 2010 case, PECG v. Schwarzenegger, the state argued that it had authority to furlough under Government Code 19851, which establishes state workweeks and allows for variations. Unions argued that furloughs violated that law.

Here's what the court said:

Moreover, when related statutory provisions and administrative regulations are considered, it is apparent that the furlough program at issue in this case has no effect on the "workweek" as that term is employed in section 19851. The related statutes and regulations reveal that the principal purpose served by the designation of a normal "workweek" in section 19851 is to establish the number of hours that an employee may be required to work in a given week before the employee is entitled to receive overtime compensation for additional hours worked during that week. ...

So, if PECG argues that its contract should be interpreted as guaranteeing a 40-hour workweek, the state would probably counter that the union's contract language has the same meaning as GC 19851 -- it merely establishes the workweek for overtime purposes and was never intended as a limitation on shorter workweeks.

For those of you who want to delve more deeply into the high court's furlough ruling and how it might apply to a new furlough lawsuit -- you know who you are Bargaining Unit 2ers! -- we've embedded the California Supreme Court's ruling below. Scroll down to the middle of page 42 to start the court's analysis of the state workweek language.
PECG v. Schwarzenegger

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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