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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

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Hector Amezcua/ The Sacramento Bee
Daniel Lubin, left, an environmental scientist for the State Parks and Scott Tidball, a seasonal biologist, look at the soil near the Lake Tahoe golf course East of Meyers to determine the wetland’s boundary.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has filed its rebuttal to a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to reimburse state scientists for work-related travel and meal costs at the same rate as other state workers.

Documents filed in Sacramento Superior Court this week attempt to discredit a decision by arbitrator Catherine Harris that the scientists should receive the same per diem increases negotiated by other state employees. Brown has refused to give employees in the California Association of Professional Scientists higher reimbursement rates than other unions negotiated for their members last year because the scientists are still working under the terms of their expired contract and its lower per diem provisions.

Department of Human Resources attorneys Joan Markoff and Frolan Aguiling say in their filings that Harris “exceeded her powers and violated public policy” by incorrectly applying narrow protections in the scientists’ expired contract to per diem. The arbitrator’s ruling also undermined the Legislature, Markoff and Aguling wrote, because lawmakers didn’t review the higher rates as part of a contract and didn’t appropriate money to pay more for lodging and meals to scientists.

The difference in the rates is relatively little. The per diem breakfast rate increased from $6 to $7, the lunch rate went from $10 to $11. Dinner per diem increased $5 to $23 for qualifying meals. State lodging reimbursements formerly ranged from $84 to $140 per night, depending on location. The new contracts reset the range at $90 to $150.

The State Worker caught up with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed on Wednesday as he made the rounds in Sacramento to talk about his plan to give governments the power to reduce their pension debts.

Here are highlights of an interview in the Capitol’s basement, during which Reed discussed with whom he met, his plan to keep pressing for a pension ballot measure in 2016, and his thoughts on the fight over pension obligations in the City of Stockton’s bankruptcy case.

story mug Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

The I-word – “impasse” – has butted in on contract talks between Gov. Jerry Brown and a state employees’ union that has been without a labor agreement for more than a year.

The Public Employment Relations Board, which decides when union negotiations have deadlocked, recently put that stamp on negotiations between the governor and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39. The union represents 850 state workers who run power and water systems at hundreds of state facilities, from the Capitol to Calipatria State Prison to China Camp State Park.

For years, their pay has lagged by 30 percent or more the wages for similar jobs in federal and local governments, and the private sector. The union says the gap is so severe that the state struggles to recruit and retain workers that literally keep the air conditioning running and toilets flushing. Brown hasn’t budged from offering the same 4.5 percent salary increase given to SEIU Local 1000 and several other unions.

Last month, the operating engineers union rejected the deal and voted to authorize a strike. Then it filed for and won a declaration of impasse. So what’s next?

The State Worker column this week focuses on the promise and peril of impasse for the bogged-down contract talks between Gov. Jerry Brown and 850 state operating engineers in Bargaining Unit 13. It offers a path to mediation, but it also opens the door to management imposing terms and for the rank and file to strike.

Worth noting: While state university employee unions have staged strikes, no union that bargains with the governor has ever walked off the job en masse.

What’s next? Will the union strike? Take our poll.

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Eric Risberg/ The Associated Press
Sproul Plaza near the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif.

Sacbee.com’s searchable database of state salaries is newly updated and now includes 2013 University of California pay. Also see 2013 civil service pay, 2013 CSU pay and 2012 state legislative pay. Search salaries and view up to seven years of salary history, courtesy of The Bee’s database guru, Phillip Reese. Click here to open the state salary search page.

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Renee C. Byer/ The Sacramento Bee
Pat Grisby, Senior Coordinating Operating Engineer helps James Hinton, 12, right, of Golden Sierra Junior HS guide a backhoe simulator at a Cal Expo career fair.

Both state bargaining units affiliated with the International Union of Operating Engineers started contract talks aiming for substantial raises for their members. One got what it wanted.

Like other unions, IUOE locals 3, 12, 39 and 501 had long argued that their members needed a serious pay increase, especially those whose jobs are vital to running the California’s vast State Water Project.

Last year, however, the union’s case gained traction. Years of below-market salaries had made the state susceptible to poaching by federal and regional water authorities who paid far more. The disparity created a shortage of water project workers, state officials said, squeezed water deliveries and hindered hydroelectric power production.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown was promoting a controversial plan for a massive water project to divert water around the Delta. The mass exodus of key water employees didn’t exactly help that cause.

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Randall Benton/ The Sacramento Bee
Department of Water Resources Senior Environmental Scientist Louise Conrad, right, weighs small salmon to be released into a flooded rice field near Woodland.

After years of complaining to governors on both sides of the political aisle about pay, this summer the California Association of Professional Scientists rejected a contract offered by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown that would have given them a modest raise.

The 4.5 percent increase wouldn’t have come close to the 30 percent or more bump that rank-and-file employees would need to close the salary gap with counterparts in other government sectors. Even worse, from the 3,000-member union’s perspective, is that some state engineers do the same work but earn more money.

State law says the union’s contract remains in effect even though it expired a year ago. The Brown administration cited that fact to withhold the slightly higher travel and meal per diems negotiated by other unions in the last round of contract talks. The scientists appealed the policy to an arbitrator and won. Then the state cited another law that says it can take up to 100 days to review and appeal such decisions. So the union took Brown to court.

Meanwhile, 68 percent of voting members turned down the contract, marking the second time in a month that a state-employee union had failed to ratify a deal with the governor.

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Courtesy Department of Finance
Lisa Mangat, the new acting director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

California’s state parks system has a new acting director.

Lisa Mangat, whose résumé includes tours of duty with several state departments, is taking the helm of the $654 million California Department of Parks and Recreation following Anthony L. Jackson’s abrupt resignation earlier this year after just 18 months on the job.

Jackson, a retired Marine Corps major general, took over parks after a Sacramento Bee investigation in 2012 revealed the department ran an off-the-books employee leave buyout program and sat on tens of millions of dollars, all while soliciting charitable contributions and planning to close facilities during a deep budget crisis. The scandal cost several high-level officials their jobs and prompted lawmakers to create a commission charged with recommending how to reform the the troubled department’s finances, operations and culture.

Mangat served as Jackson’s special assistant starting in October 2013, according to an internal memo issued Wednesday that announced her promotion. Before that, Mangat was a program manager at the Department of Finance, worked at the Legislative Analyst’s Office and was a consultant in the Legislature. She launched her state career in 1988 as an analyst for the Department of Social Services.

Three state employee unions end this holiday week without new contracts. Lawyers, building equipment operators and scientists won’t receive the modest raise that kicked in Tuesday for just about everyone else in state government.

It’s easy to consider the unions that represent them as labor-contract laggards, but look ahead. The lasts could become firsts.

The three unions remain at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown over pay. Every other union has a current agreement with the administration. Most are variations of the contract bargained with SEIU Local 1000 in 2013 that provides raises of up to 4.5 percent split between this year and next.

The holdouts want far more. Their members’ salaries lag their industries so badly, they say, that it hampers recruiting and retention. A mediator has been called in for talks with the 850-employee building operators union, which last month rejected an SEIU-type deal and authorized a strike. The scientists’ 3,000 members rejected a contract offer last week. And the attorneys union hasn’t even presented an offer its 3,400 members.

Bee Capitol Bureau colleague Christopher Cadelago reports today on ethical questions raised by Covered California board members using their personal email accounts to communicate about public matters. Since private emails aren’t subject to public disclosure, the agency says, it can’t divulge their contents. Separately, a San Jose case is testing whether government employees must disclose texts, emails and other private correspondence when they concern public business.

The story raises a question: Do other state departments routinely communicate public business via private electronic accounts? Weigh in with our poll.

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Rob Ferris/ The Sacramento Bee
California State Capitol building.

Lawmakers will probe equal opportunity and diversity in California’s state civil service during a hearing today at 10 a.m.

The Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security and the Senate Public Employment and Retirement committees are holding the hearing, which will be webcast on the California Channel. Click here to watch it.

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Randy Pench/ The Sacramento Bee
A state biologist checks over a young black bear.

California’s state scientists have overwhelmingly rejected a labor contract offered by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The California Association of Professional Scientists says that 68 percent of members who voted rejected the deal, which included a 4.5 percent raise phased in over two years. The balance of votes supported the agreement. The leaders of union did not release how many of their 3,000 members voted.

The Brown administration’s offer mirrored those accepted by other unions, including SEIU Local 1000, that bump salaries 2 percent starting today, with another 2.5 percent increase a year from now. Non-union managers also receive raises that kick in today.

The scientists have long complained that their state salaries lag by 30 percent or more the wages of local government counterparts and state colleagues who perform similar jobs. The state has never denied the pay disparity exists. Brown’s former head of state human resources, Ron Yank, said recently that of all the contracts he bargained while the state was in a fiscal funk in 2011, he most regretted that he couldn’t do more for the scientists.

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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