With Friday's deadline for a budget looming, Democratic state lawmakers face a test of their loyalty to organized labor.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed cutting state workers' pay by 5 percent by shifting the state workforce to four-day workweeks of 9.5 hours per day.
Going to a compressed 38-hour weekly schedule would reduce state worker payroll some $839 million, about $401 million of that from the deficit-plagued general fund.
Brown also asked the dozen unions that represent 183,000 organized state workers to bargain the cuts in time for them to take hold by the July 1 start of the fiscal year.
The talks have yielded mixed results.
Brown recently reached an agreement with the Highway Patrol officers union and, as of Wednesday, was working on deals with the state prison officers union and the 93,000-employee SEIU Local 1000.
But several groups haven't gone along. After more than two years of furloughs, which for some employees consumed 70 days of pay, the holdout unions have heard loud and clear from their members that there's no appetite for another wage-whacking, particularly since their contracts don't expire for another year.
Many senior workers prefer layoffs, which would hit their newest and lowest-paid colleagues but leave pay untouched. Civil service layoffs can take up to a year to accomplish and the unions have a voice in the process. That makes axing jobs an unpalatable option for Brown because the state needs quick savings.
Some unions have suggested bringing back a one-day-per-month flexible furlough that lets employees and management schedule the unpaid time off.
The Brown administration doesn't like that idea for most workers because they tend to take less paid leave, which stacks up on the state's books. Employee can cash out those hours at their final pay rate when they leave state service.
Some unions have considered simply refusing to make any pay concession by July 1. That would be a gut check for majority Democrats. Brown's budget plan allows the governor to make schedule changes, impose furlough or "other reductions," but the Legislature would have to sign off, since setting state pay and working terms is its job.
So when Friday rolls around, will lawmakers confer that authority on Brown and anger the unions?
There's also peril for labor in holding out. Say Brown gets the Legislature's OK and imposes his workweek plan on holdout unions. Would they sue? If they did, it would inject naked hostility into a relationship with a governor they've supported, even when he's angered them with proposals like public pension reform.
When asked Wednesday about what he would say to the unions about negotiating cuts with Brown, Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said simply, "Work it out."
Otherwise, the Legislature might have to.