Now that SEIU Local 1000 has negotiated an across-the-board pay bump for the 95,000 employees it represents, the inevitable question follows: Is it a sensible agreement?
The query plants a political land mine. Gov. Jerry Brown nimbly sidestepped it Tuesday when reporters asked him about the deal.
"If I characterize it to please the critics, then I might say that it's, you know, it's good for the taxpayer," Brown said. "And if I'm trying to get it ratified, I'll say it's a hell of a deal for the workers. So either way I will err, and therefore I will say nothing more."
That's OK, governor. This column will stand in.
Let's assume the accuracy of Local 1000's public statements about the pay raises, since the administration as of Wednesday still hadn't released its assessment. Here are reasons to argue it's a reasonable deal:
It's modest. The agreement raises pay 4.5 percent by July 1, 2015. Annual pay for all public and private California workers rose 3.9 percent from 2010 to 2012. Median wages, the point at which half of salaries were higher, rose 3.5 percent.
If inflation continues its recent trend (up 5 percent from 2010 to 2012, according to federal statistics), Local 1000's proposed pay hike would be a slight spending-power cut.
It's time. SEIU last negotiated a pay raise for all its members in 2006. California's minimum wage has increased twice since then.
It's necessary. The state faces a drain of experienced employees fleeing to retirement in ever-increasing numbers. The prospect of more pay will keep some of them around at least another two or three years.
It's a recognition of sacrifice. California's state workers over the last five years endured the harshest public furlough program in the nation. At one point they were taking three unpaid days off per month that cost them roughly 14 percent of their pay.
Contracts negotiated in 2010 and 2011 with former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and then with Brown, called for employees to pay more toward their pensions.
"The administration recognizes that through cutbacks and hard work state employees have played an important role in stabilizing California's finances over the past five years," said Pat McConahay, spokeswoman for Brown's Department of Human Resources. So now the governor sees room for what McConahay called "a prudent agreement" with a pay increase.
Already-scheduled pay bumps aren't true raises. One-day-per-month state worker furloughs that cut pay by nearly 5 percent will end June 30. The next day, a 3 percent raise kicks in for top-step workers covered by Local 1000.
So Aug. 1 paychecks will be nearly 8 percent bigger than July 1 paychecks for many employees.
But restoring full hours and pay isn't a raise. And the step increase was negotiated in 2010 to replace higher pension contributions that employees started paying that year.
Next week: The other side - why the contract doesn't make sense.