4-Day Workweek Plan for California Workers Abandoned

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to move the state to a four-day workweek died with the news that California's biggest state worker union has tentatively agreed to furlough terms that don't include the compressed schedule.
by | June 25, 2012
 

By Jon Ortiz, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to move the state to a four-day workweek died Saturday with the news that California's biggest state worker union has tentatively agreed to furlough terms that don't include the compressed schedule.

Service Employees International Union Local 1000 told members that its negotiators accepted a deal with Brown requiring that covered workers take 12 unpaid leave days over the 12 months starting July 1.

Although employees' paychecks will show a 5 percent monthly hit on their wages, they have some flexibility to schedule the time off, unlike Brown's proposal to put workers on a fixed 9.5-hour, four-days-per-week calendar.

The deal doesn't affect any other aspect of Local 1000's current contract, including a scheduled 3 percent raise for top-step employees effective July 1, 2013, the day after the new round of furloughs is supposed to end.

It's also a marked reversal for Brown, a former furlough critic, and for the 93,000-employee local that last month said it wouldn't even talk about furloughs.

Brown spokesman Gil Duran brushed aside questions about the governor's shortened workweek plan or why the administration changed its furlough position. Instead, he focused on the results.

"The administration's goal was a 5 percent pay reduction for all state employees," Duran said in a Saturday afternoon email exchange with The Bee, "and that goal is being met."

A union statement posted on its website said that since the pay cut was already figured into the budget, the only question was how it would be accomplished. Negotiators ultimately decided that a furlough instead of layoffs was the least harmful course.

"Bargaining gives us an opportunity to mitigate the harm of the pay cuts to our members instead of having pay cuts imposed on us," the Local 1000 website explained.

As a 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Brown criticized a similar and extremely controversial furlough program imposed by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature. Last month, SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker assured members that "furloughs are not on the table" after Brown asked labor leaders to negotiate a pay cut.

Later, when reporters used "furlough" to describe Brown's 38-hour workweek idea, Finance Director Ana Matosantos bristled, insisting the proposal was an "operational change." Unlike Schwarzenegger's furloughs, she said, the shortened workweek wouldn't prompt employees to bank more of their paid leave, which creates a deferred cost when those hours are cashed out.

Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a labor and public policy expert at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, said Brown had to come at cutting employees' hours and pay from a different angle, given furloughs' vexed political history.

"Brown came in as the new guy and a friend of labor," he said. "It would have looked funny if he had proposed the same thing as Schwarzenegger. So he came up with the rejiggered workweek."

SEIU's refusal to go along means the four-day plan is dead, Mitchell said, because the local accounts for one in every two unionized state employees and six other smaller unions have taken similar furlough deals.

Politically, the agreement "takes care of everybody's problem," he added. "The governor didn't make them take a conventional furlough because he didn't propose it, and the union got to choose its poison."

The proposal will go to Local 1000's voting members this week for an expedited ratification vote. The union plans to set up about 100 polling places at locations it will announce Monday, with voting scheduled for Wednesday and the results to be announced July 2.

Normally, the union handles elections and ratification votes via mail-in ballots and gives members several days to return them. But with the July 1 start of the fiscal year bearing down, union officials decided to speed up the process.

Local 1000 activist Richard Brown said the quick turnaround won't keep him from voting against the proposal.

Brown said he thinks the furlough is a political ploy to burnish the governor's cost-cutting credentials ahead of a November ballot initiative that would raise sales and some income taxes. A state Treasury employee for three years, Brown also resents being asked for yet another wage concession, especially since Local 1000's current labor agreement doesn't expire for another year.

"I have a contract," Brown said in a Saturday telephone interview. "I want my contract honored."

The union's agreement includes a few sweeteners. The governor agreed to terminate all but the most essential state retired annuitants and student assistants and to set up a task force on state job outsourcing. Both could lead to more state jobs for Local 1000-covered employees.

Departments will have until Sept. 1 to purge retirees and students from their payrolls, with exemptions for those whose jobs are deemed "mission critical." Brown also has agreed to freeze hiring of retirees and students during the 12-month furlough period for SEIU-covered workers, the union said.

Last year, about $110 million of the state's $15 billion payroll went to roughly 5,800 retirees who drew a pension and a paycheck, according to a Bee review of data from the state controller's office. The state employed about 1,600 student assistants in 2011, paying them a total of $13.4 million.

Those figures don't include employees in either the California State University or University of California systems. Neither is under Brown's direct authority, nor does Local 1000 cover workers in either system.

Local 1000 is the seventh state labor group to reach a furlough agreement. Others include unions representing correctional officers, firefighters, CHP officers, psychiatric technicians and skilled crafts workers.

Groups representing state scientists, engineers, attorneys and some law enforcement officers have yet to come to terms.

(c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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