The State Worker

SEIU leader wants bigger raise for state workers amid revenue upturn

Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 1000
Yvonne Walker, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 SEIU

The leader of state government’s largest union is pointing to better-than-expected tax revenue in encouraging workers to hold out for a more lucrative contract than the one Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is offering.

SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker rallied members Wednesday night with an online bargaining update in which she reiterated that the union is not satisfied with the state’s offer of a contract that would raise salaries by 2.96 percent this year and by 12 percent over four years.

The union in late July signaled that it’s willing to authorize a strike vote over the disagreement. SEIU restarted contract talks this week after a two month break.

Now, it’s rearmed with surveys showing that large majorities of SEIU members are worried about rising housing and child care costs.

“Our members – just like the bargaining team told them – they did not believe (the state’s first) offer was good. It did not value them or the services they provide to California,” Walker said.

She spoke after Controller Betty Yee released a budget update Wednesday that showed the state receiving better-than-projected revenue from income and sales taxes in September.

As a result, state revenue receipts “outpaced expectations for two straight months after four months of shortfalls,” the revenue report said.

The uptick brings the year’s overall revenue almost up to what the Legislature anticipated in its budget. So far, it’s 0.1 percent below the budget target.

“We’re up, so it makes no sense” for the Brown administration to stick to its offer, Walker argued.

The Brown administration has a cautious outlook for the next four years. It anticipates a $4 billion shortfall if voters do not pass Prop. 55, a measure that would extend temporary tax increases that voters approved in 2012.

If Prop. 55 succeeds, the Brown administration believes the budget would be “barely balanced,” according to the May revision.

Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer cautioned “you can’t take one month of cash data and extrapolate a long-term revenue trend.”

SEIU represents about 95,000 state workers in a wide range of job categories, from custodians to government analysts, nurses and information technology staff.

It accounts for nine of state government’s 21 labor units. Contracts for 14 of those units have expired.

Generally, the Brown administration has been offering 3 percent raises and asking unions to begin having state workers pay a portion of their projected retirement health care costs.

Unions with agreements, such as the one that represents correctional officers, this month began contributing to their retirement health care at a rate of 1.3 percent of their paychecks. Over time, retirement health care costs are expected to take 3 to 4 percent of state worker salaries.

The questions Walker took during her online town hall reflected anxiety about the contract talks, uncertainty about statewide human resources changes called civil service improvement and lingering worries about furloughs. State workers in SEIU were subjected to mandatory furloughs in the depths of the last recession, between 2008 and 2010.

Walker said the state won’t promise to refrain from furloughs for more than one year. She told the audience the Legislature has the final say on furloughs, making the Brown administration’s stance on furloughs irrelevant.

“That position is crazy, but they haven’t even changed their crazy position. Now you know what we’re dealing with,” she said.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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