The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 11, 2012
Jerry Brown administration issues furlough orders for holdout California state worker unions

blanning.jpegIt's official. Gov. Jerry Brown has accomplished what his predecessor couldn't: All state workers under the governor's authority are now furloughed.

Despite Brown's long-time criticism of furloughs as a bad business practice for the state, his Department of Human Resources (the former Department of Personnel Administration) last week issued a memo to government personnel officers detailing how to execute a 4.62-percent cut in the hours and pay for employees whose unions didn't negotiate a salary reduction with Brown.

The memo applies to about 11,000 state engineers in Bargaining Unit 9, most of whom work for Caltrans, and another 900 or so heavy machinery operators in Bargaining Unit 13.

Although the state's furlough memo applies retroactively to July 1, the Brown administration is still open to a negotiated reduction, said CalHR spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley.

"We've certainly left the door open," Jolley said.

Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, said that the union is continuing to talk with the Brown administration. In the meantime, it has told members to comply with the furlough policy, even though PECG may later fight it in court.

"We've told them to take days off if they're told to," Blanning said. "Obey now, grieve later. Anything else would be insubordination."

Still, Blanning said, "We'd prefer to work it out."

GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger three years ago tried to furlough every state worker under his authority except Highway Patrol officers and firefighters, who were excluded from wage reductions, which started at 10 percent and then went to about 15 percent, for two reasons -- the nature of their work and the fact that they were under contract.

But soon after a judge cleared the way for furloughs to begin, pockets of the state workforce continued their regular hours and pay. Constitutional officers, including then-Attorney General Brown, said that they controlled their staffing and refused to comply. Although the courts later said that wasn't the case, the constitutionals' 16,000 employees avoided imposed furloughs.

Subsequent court decisions carved out exceptions and led to back pay for several thousand state workers. Last month, the engineers' union won a lawsuit that restored some furloughed pay for its members.

Although a Brown gubernatorial campaign aide in 2010 called furloughs "a temporary solution to a permanent problem," the Democrat has relied on them as governor nonetheless.

In the 2012-13 budget, the Legislature authorized the governor to impose furloughs equal to $839 million in payroll savings. He then negotiated work and wage reductions equal to eight hours per month for 19 of 21 bargaining units. That means everyone represented by those unions -- including constitutional officers' employees -- are taking furloughs. Those unions can't fight the policy in court.

That option remains open to the two holdout groups, however. Blanning said that the engineers' union leaders are weighing whether file a court complaint alleging the imposed furloughs violate their contract. Until now, the state has imposed furloughs only on unions without contracts or negotiated them as provisions of labor pacts.

This new round of forced furloughs includes the same reductions as the 19 units negotiated: eight unpaid hours off per month for full-time workers through June 30, 2013.

Unions that bargained the cuts received some sweeteners such as contract extensions or promises to review outsourced contracts.

Blanning has said that his members want a specific commitment to cut outsourcing before they will agree to a furlough.

"We've said from the beginning we would agree (to a furlough) if the governor stops outsourcing the work of our members," Blanning said, citing reports that indicate outside engineers cost the state twice what it pays for in-house employees to do the same jobs. A group representing private engineering firms disputes that conclusion.

Here's the furlough memo to department personnel managers issued last Thursday:

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PHOTO: Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, talks to the press. Sacramento Bee file, 2011 / Hector Amezcua

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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


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