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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

Jon Ortiz

The State Worker: California state worker contracts still pending

Published: Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

Observations about the approaching end of the state-employee contract bargaining season:

• As of Wednesday, four unions representing nearly 20,000 attorneys, scientists, equipment operators and civil engineers still didn't have agreements. They have until Labor Day, maybe the day after, to get deals done this year. State law allows up to 10 days for the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office to estimate a contract's cost before the Legislature votes on it. The legislative session ends September 13, so following the letter of the law makes Tuesday the contract drop-dead day.

The unions could bargain nonstop and come in before deadline. The analyst could crunch the numbers in less than 10 days. Lawmakers could change the rules and ram through contract votes with no cost analysis.

After all, if they can push a state budget through in three days, what's the big deal voting blind on labor deals worth a measly few hundred million bucks?

• Pay is the big hang-up.

The unions for attorneys and scientists are particularly sensitive about wages because their pay lags up to 40 percent behind counterparts in other levels of government. And they know that the administration can find money for big pay hikes. Gov. Jerry Brown in July agreed to raises of 30 percent or more for several hundred employees at the Department of Water Resources. About 4,000 DMV employees in SEIU Local 1000 earlier this month received raises of up to 7.5 percent beyond 4.5 percent over three years given to members across the board.

"We're prepared to go into the fall and winter without a contract," said Chris Voight, executive director of the state scientists' union.

The attorneys want Brown to create some new and higher-paying classifications of existing jobs. They also want to dump promotional exams for some jobs, called "deep classing" in bureaucratspeak. Instead, promotions would be automatic unless an employee's performance warranted otherwise.

• State attorneys and heavy equipment operators, about 5,000 employees combined, will start paying more for health insurance than other state workers if their unions don't come to terms before January.

The state pays about 80 percent of the monthly insurance payments, but when premiums go up an average 3 percent in January, the state's contribution won't change for those two unions. Their expired contracts, which remain in force until they reach a new deal, specify a dollar amount, not a percentage that the state contributes for their medical insurance.

When this situation has come up before, some prior administrations have worked out side deals to boost the state's health care contribution anyway.

Patrick Whalen, spokesman for the attorneys' union, said a medical insurance offer from the Brown administration "has not been forthcoming so far."

Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Read his blog, The State Worker, at blogs.sacbee.com/the_state_worker.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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