Members of California's largest state employee union will vote today on furlough terms negotiated by union leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown.
It isn't clear, however, that the vote will mean anything or, if it does, what it means.
Service Employees International Union Local 1000 declined to say Tuesday if union leadership will abide by results of the ratification vote, which is not required by the union's bylaws.
Nor would the union say how ballots will be counted or what measure of support is required a majority of all members or just of those voting, for example to constitute ratification.
"We don't have a comment for your inquiries regarding tomorrow's election," Jim O'Donnell, a union spokesman, said in an email.
The 93,000-employee local posted on its website a list of 88 voting places, including seven in Sacramento, as well as out-of-state locations in Chicago, Honolulu, Houston and New York.
Even if the rank-and-file rejects the furlough and the leadership follows suit, a new budget bill the Legislature is expected to consider today includes language that would let Brown furlough state workers without an agreement with their unions.
The furlough language, introduced in Brown's budget proposal in May, but removed from the Legislature's initial 2012-2013 spending plan, could give the Democratic governor leverage in negotiating with unions that have not yet struck deals or with SEIU should the union balk.
"I don't think our vote matters," said Geoff Shumway, an associate land agent in the Department of Water Resources. "It's going to be imposed anyway."
SEIU announced on Saturday that it had tentatively agreed to a furlough plan in which members will take 12 unpaid leave days over 12 months starting July 1, reducing wages by about 5 percent.
SEIU's bargaining team said on its website that more than 14,000 members had participated in a survey before the agreement with Brown was reached, preferring a temporary pay cut to layoffs by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Because the agreement does not affect other aspects of the local's current contract, including a 3 percent raise for certain employees next year, it is not a contract renegotiation for which member ratification is required, the union said on its website.
However, union officials said they "wanted state employees to have an opportunity to weigh in before the June 30 constitutional state budget deadline."
The reduction of state worker costs is significant to Brown, who is trying to demonstrate a commitment to spending cuts before asking voters in November to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners.
Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a labor and public policy expert at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, doubted SEIU's leadership would go forward with the furlough program if members vote it down.
"I'm sure that if it actually got rejected, they would enter into some further discussions with the state," Mitchell said. "What that means is not clear. If they've gone through the process and people say this is not what they want, the union officials then would be strained to do something."
But Mitchell said SEIU would likely not have allowed a membership vote if leaders didn't expect the furlough program to be ratified.
"Although they can always be wrong," he said, "I think they think that this will pass."
Lori Kemper, a graphic designer for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, said she doesn't mind the furlough. Her household is a two-income home, she said, and the furlough affords her more time with her family.
She said she is also mindful of the state's financial troubles, and she prefers furloughs to layoffs.
"I'm grateful just to have a job," she said.