Like his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown moved to trim state worker salaries Monday as a way to help cut a ballooning budget deficit.
Although many of the details still need to be hammered out with the unions, Brown proposed that workers lose a day's pay each month in a move that evoked memories of furlough days under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Under Brown's plan, state workers would switch to a four-day workweek, working 9.5 hours a day, or 38 hours a week, instead of the current five-day, 40-hour workweek. The change would cut workers' pay by 5 percent, saving the state $401 million in general fund costs.
Administration officials said they also expect to save money by closing buildings one day a week.
For weeks, the Brown administration has been talking to labor leaders about wringing savings from payroll. Brown did not say Monday whether union leaders had specifically suggested the shorter workweek but did say those discussions were considered in shaping the policy.
"The state employees particularly have come forward with some very imaginative ideas," Brown said during a Monday news conference. "They've been willing to step up to the plate."
Union leaders didn't dismiss the proposal outright, but individual workers expressed concern.
California state worker Kim Barry said longer workdays would complicate child care for many of his Department of Public Health colleagues and that the 5 percent pay cut would harm low-paid workers.
"And it's going to really be a hardship to work those extended hours," Barry said.
Brown's plan envisions that most departments now keeping regular business hours would stay open longer for four days each week. They would close on Fridays or Mondays.
An agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles might open offices at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., for example, said Ana Matosantos, Brown's finance director. "This could improve services," Matosantos said.
Administration officials objected to referring to the plan as "furloughs," saying it differs from the days without pay instituted under Schwarzenegger.
From February 2009 through April 1 last year, state workers took up to 70 days of unpaid furlough time off. Pay cuts during that period ranged from 10 percent to 15 percent a month.
When he was running for office, Brown's campaign blasted Schwarzenegger's approach as a poor solution to the state's budget troubles. Furloughed employees spending extra days away from the office didn't take as much vacation and sick time, paid leave that has stacked up on the state's books and must be paid at some point.
By contrast, Matosantos argued that Brown's plan "operationally changes things. It's not a deferral in cost."
Utah launched the first-ever 4/10 workweek in state government in 2008 under Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman. Under that plan, thousands of Utah public employees worked Monday through Thursday, 10 hours per day.
The Utah policy sought savings through efficiency, lower operating costs and energy conservation, not payroll cuts. Still, workers resisted.
"We were concerned with the people caring for relatives and children. We heard a lot of complaints from our members," said Todd Sutton, who represents employees in the Utah Public Employees' Association.
The complaints subsided after about six months, Sutton said, as day care providers, other businesses and the public adjusted. Still, Utah lawmakers ended the experiment last year, concluding it didn't save enough and hurt services, particularly in rural areas.
"It was more painful for our members to switch back," Sutton said. "Some people were volunteering on their days off. Some had second jobs to help make ends meet. We still get complaints."
Brown's plan wouldn't affect California employees' pension calculations. State workers earn straight time until they exceed 40 hours worked in a given week, so the scheduling change would not add to their overtime.
Marty Morgenstern, Brown's labor secretary, said the administration and labor unions could quickly hammer out the details. One hurdle: how to get savings from wages paid to state hospital workers, correctional staff and others in facilities that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Faculty and staff working for the state's two university systems would not be affected by the plan, since those institutions independently handle their employees' wages and working terms. Legislative staffers also would be unaffected.
None of the 214,000 employees under Brown's authority would escape the reductions, including California Highway Patrol officers and state firefighters, Morgenstern said. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature spared those groups from furloughs.
High-level management "at the very top end" could take even heavier pay hits, Morgenstern said.
A dozen unions represent about 181,000 state workers who would be affected by the proposal. Brown wants to finish negotiating the changes in time for the July 1 start of the next budget year.
Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, said the union was willing to negotiate and didn't reject the July 1 deadline. The scheduling changes could be handled with quicker-to-bargain side agreements that focus strictly on changing the workweek.
"I think that when reasonable people start talking that anything is possible," Walker said.
The plan would be a tough sell for some of the 95,000 employees Walker represents. Over the last few years they have endured furloughs, contracts that included more unpaid days off and higher payments for pensions.
Some "say they've given and can't give any more," Walker said, but she thinks they're in the minority. "I don't think we're going to get to a solution without everybody putting a little something on the table."