Court awards back pay for furloughs to some California state workers

Published: Friday, Jun. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

An Alameda County judge on Thursday ruled that state government engineers and scientists are owed back wages because they were excessively furloughed last year.

The decision means that about 13,000 workers are in line to receive roughly $10.5 million in back pay. In addition, the ruling could lead to a few hundred employees receiving all the furlough wages withheld from their paychecks.

The payments would not affect the state's general fund, because the employees due the money are paid from special funds.

The decision affirms that "this was an illegal act by Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger that cheated employees," said Bruce Blanning, executive director of the engineers union. "They're entitled to the money illegally withheld from them."

The extra two days of furlough that make up the bulk of the back wages awarded in the unions' lawsuit occurred in April 2011, when Jerry Brown was governor. Administration officials are "evaluating the ruling and are likely to appeal," Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for Brown's Department of Personnel Administration, said in an email.

Judge Steven A. Brick issued his final judgment in favor of Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists. The unions had argued in February that their 13,000 combined members suffered two illegal furlough days in March 2011 because they were furloughed that much more than management.

"The annual budget legislation authorized only reductions in represented employees' compensation that would be proportionate to the reductions made to nonrepresented employees' compensation," the unions argued in their Feb. 3 complaint.

In a tentative ruling in April, Brick had said he was "inclined to deny" a separate union argument that furloughing 255 scientists and engineers at the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the State Water Control Resources Board violated state law. Those workers handle hazardous substance management and remediation at military bases.

But in Thursday's decision, Brick leaned the other way, agreeing with the unions that furloughing those employees in those departments violated the so-called "single subject rule" that prevents a single bill from addressing more than one subject. Because of laws protecting employee pay in those two departments, the two unions argued that furloughing those 255 workers required separate legislation from the bill that authorized furloughing everyone else.

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Read more articles by Jon Ortiz

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