The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

November 20, 2009
From the notebook: More from Monday's furlough hearing, part 4

This is the fourth and final installment in our mini-series on Monday's furlough hearings in Alameda Superior Court, presided by Judge Frank Roesch. Click the following links if you need to catch up:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

And you can click here to view the most recent Furlough Fights spreadsheet, which details all 23 furlough lawsuits.

The pace of the hearings has quickened. Roesch has told attorneys to avoid retreading ground covered in earlier arguments, and assures them that he'll consider all the points made as he decides each case. Now it's Felix De La Torre's turn to take a swing at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's furlough policy on behalf of SEIU Local 1000.

Other lawyers have argued that the administration should have analyzed, department-by-department, the impact of furloughs before the governor issued his executive order, in keeping with Government Code 19851. De La Torre raises the legal bar higher:

"The governor not only to has to show it doesn't hurt (departments)," he says. "He has to show it does something for them."

Instead, the policy takes a shortcut. "(Schwarzenegger) wanted the most efficient, easiest route," De La Torre says.

"But you have to give the governor credit," Roesch says. "At least he did something. The Legislature is paralyzed."

De La Torre: "We have (state workers) sleeping in their cars (because of furloughs' impact on their income). And for what? Absolutely nothing."

Roesch asks Tyra to explain the governor's rationale for furloughs and whether he looked at the needs of the various departments.

Tyra says the rationale is laid out in the governor's two executive orders. The reason is "the fiscal well being of the state, which includes the fiscal well being of all state agencies."

And the governor did look at specific department needs. The orders provided for exemptions, Tyra says, including Highway Patrol officers and firefighters. Those two groups needed to remain furlough free because protecting public safety and property was "even a greater need" than furloughing them to ease the budget crisis.

Other arguments made by Tyra and co-counsel Will Yamada:

  • Union contracts allow for furloughs, according to Judge Patrick Marlette's ruling.
  • The state's improved financial well being through furlough savings benefits all departments, including those whose employees are paid with money outside of the general fund.

Roesch asks about the California Earthquake Authority, which offers reduced-cost residential property insurance through participating private insurance companies. It receives no money from the general fund, but it wasn't identified by DPA as one of the state's five fiscally untouchable departments.

"If the state has more debts than assets, how does that affect the earthquake authority?" Roesch asks Tyra and Yamada.

The authority still has ties to the larger state government, Tyra says. Their offices are managed by the Department of General Services. Their employees are subject to collective bargaining, which is a function of the Department of Personnel Administration.

Tyra: "To suggest that a (special funds) agency is unaffected (by the state's overall financial health) suggests that there's no relationship whatsoever between the agency and the state." But payroll, facilities management, employee discipline and other functions flow through the rest of government."

A few moments later, someone in Tyra's group hands him a yellow sheet of paper. He glances at it and adds to the list of strings attaching the Earthquake Authority, such as payroll and employee discipline.

Now it's attorney Michael Strumwasser's turn to speak on behalf of the Earthquake Authority. He jabs a finger toward Tyra and Yamada.

"These guys are making it up as they go along," he says.

The authority is a small department with a single office in a private building. It deals directly with its landlord and pays its own utilities, Strumwasser says. It's working toward moving its payroll services from the State Controller's Office.

"Sure, if the state slips into the ocean the CEA's affected." Strumwasser says. "So is Wal-Mart."

The attorneys briefly attack and defend how Schwarzenegger has handled furloughing the Employment Development Department, which the governor furloughed and then declared needed more resources.

Yamada says that the department's heightened workload wasn't related to furloughs, but by the state's economic crisis.

Roesch wraps up the hearing with his signature, "I'll have something in the mail to you."

One of the attorneys who watched but didn't participate in the hearing wants clarification. Does that mean if he misses a letter.from the judge that he'll miss the decision?

Roesch says that the rulings are mailed and posted online. He'll have something soon, "but probably not tomorrow," he says with a smile.

It's 2:40 p.m as about 40 of us funnel through the courtroom door, down the stairs and out to the street..

.

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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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