Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to extend the labor contracts of four state worker unions, pushing aside a potential obstacle to his quest for a tax increase later this year.
The agreements affect roughly 24,000 state employees working under deals that expire July 1, extending their current terms for one more year. The governor's deals with labor are "mind-numbing," given the state's $9.2 billion deficit, said Senate GOP leader Bob Huff.
The Diamond Bar Republican and three other GOP leaders last month put their names on a budget proposal that included cutting state workers' pay by about 5 percent.
"It's yet another example of Democrats going full speed ahead" with spending, Huff said during Monday's Senate floor session.
But with Republicans in the minority, their proposal isn't going anywhere because Democrats can pass budgets and the state labor contract extensions on a party-line majority vote.
The unions agreeing to extensions include the International Union of Operating Engineers (Bargaining Unit 12), the Union of American Physicians & Dentists, the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
It's unusual for union and state negotiators to agree to anything three months before a contract expires. Talks usually nudge up against or run past deadline, and state law keeps an expired contract's terms in place until a new deal can be worked out.
During former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, contentious talks dragged on for years past contract expiration dates.
The new contract extensions show that labor and the Democratic governor, who hopes to put a tax increase before voters in November, are in sync, said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a state labor expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The unions are generally supporting Brown and his tax plan," Mitchell said. "To negotiate something that looks like you're raising costs wouldn't be good publicity for the tax increase."
Ken Murch, who worked out the contract extension for the 7,000-member psychiatric technicians' union, said Monday that economics led the union's leadership to decide that now wasn't the time to talk contracts.
"The timing isn't right to go in and make economic demands on the state," Murch said, noting that the government is downsizing both the prison and mental health systems that employ his members.
Depending on what happens with the 2012-13 budget that starts July 1 and whether voters approve a November tax measure, "things could get better in the future," Murch said, "although it still wouldn't automatically mean raises for state workers."