The State Worker

Half the state’s workforce is voting on raises this month. Will the deals pass?

Gov. Jerry Brown’s last contracts with state workers will cost at least $569 million in the current budget, but the big number is no guarantee that unions will accept the deals when they vote on the final batch this month.

In fact, some state workers are loudly advocating for their peers to turn down a handful of contracts Brown’s team negotiated in December.

“Definitely, I’m voting no,” said Dave Watkins, 53, of Sacramento, an associate government program analyst who thinks he’ll have to postpone his retirement if a contract for Service Employees International Union Local 1000 wins approval.

More than half of the state’s workforce represented by five unions this month will get a say on 14 labor agreements that mostly close the book on a major bargaining year for state government. They cover a wide range of workers, including office assistants, nurses, Caltrans mechanics and firefighters.

The deals generally stick close to the Brown administration’s opening offer: A raise of about 11.5 percent over four years offset by a new payroll deduction for retirement health care costs that could take up to 4.6 percent of a worker’s paycheck.

It’s an offer that one union rejected in July, when the International Union of Operating Engineers turned it down. That union, which represents maintenance workers, later reached a tentative agreement that included a little more money.

Brown’s opening offer also almost drove SEIU Local 1000 to a strike. Its leadership announced and canceled a one-day walkout last month. It reached an agreement that would give workers a $2,500 bonus and delay the retiree health care contributions.

Still, the overall SEIU contract looks similar to Brown’s opening offer. It nets an 11.5 percent general salary increase offset by new the retiree health deduction.

“We feel like with what we got, it could have been settled in July (when the SEIU contract expired). We feel like we’re getting the same deal. We feel like we went through a lot of steps to get nowhere,” said Tim Baker, 31, who works for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Red Bluff and supported SEIU’s strike vote.

With that history, some union bargaining teams acknowledge they’re not sure whether workers will approve the proposed contracts.

“I still don’t know if this agreement is going to be ratified. It’s not one of those things where everyone is jumping-up-and-down happy about it,” said Steve Crouch, director of public employees for the maintenance union, IUOE.

Brown began the year with expiring contracts for 17 of the state’s 21 labor agreements. He signaled that he anticipated their cost in January, when his budget proposal included a placeholder for about $350 million in increased employee compensation.

In his May budget revision, he acknowledged the cost of the new contracts would increase. That document suggests increased compensation would total $500 million.

Summaries of the new agreements from the state Human Resources Department show that they’ll cost about $556 million in the 2016-17 budget. That sum does not include a contract that came together over the holidays for state firefighters.

Next year, the cost of increased compensation in the latest labor agreements would rise by another $901 million. In 2015, state workers earned $16.2 billion.

Over the past year, union leaders pointed to the state’s fairly stable economy when they advocated for bigger raises. A UCLA Anderson Forecast projected that wages would grow by 5.7 percent in California this year with decreasing unemployment. The Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipated similar economic growth this year.

“We were at the table because we were not satisfied,” said Cliff Tillman, senior business agent for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents health and social workers. “We did not feel the state was addressing needed salary adjustments or cost of living. Everyone tried. I think everyone squeezed what they could. I know I did.”

Union leaders wanted to make up for the fairly austere years they recorded in the recession, but Brown’s team countered that the state was due for an economic downturn.

“We want to be careful because the economy is uncertain (and) the revenue stream is not everything we would like. So we want to be prudent,” Brown told reporters last month after the state reached a tentative agreement with SEIU. “We had seven fat years. We may be coming in to seven lean years.”

The contracts going to member votes in January are:

▪  SEIU Local 1000: A 42-month contract that offers raises that amount to 11.5 percent between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2019. SEIU is the state’s largest union, representing some 96,000 employees with nine separate but linked labor agreements. The new retiree health care contribution would cost SEIU members would rise from 1.2 percent of their pay on July 1, 2017, to 3.5 percent in 2020.

Workers would receive a $2,500 bonus for 2016 if they approve the agreement. The proposal includes dozens of special salary adjustments that would grant raises up to 27 percent during the contract for certain workers in highly competitive fields, such as actuaries and vocational nurses.

▪  IUOE craft and maintenance: A five-year contract for about 11,000 workers backdated to 2015 that provides 14 percent wage increase for all members between this Jan. 1 and July 1, 2019. Some workers would receive additional pay raises of up to 10 percent next year. They’d pay the highest retiree health care contribution, peaking at 4.6 percent in 2020.

▪  IUOE stationary engineers: A three-year contract for about 1,000 employees that would raise wages by 8 percent by July 1, 2018. Their retiree health care contribution would peak at 3.9 percent on July 1, 2019.

▪  Psychiatric technicians: A three-year contract for about 6,200 workers in hospitals that would raise their pay by 9 percent. Their retirement health care contribution climbs to 4 percent by July 1, 2019.

▪  Cal Fire Local 2881: A four-year agreement that would raise base wages for some 6,000 firefighters between 11 percent and 18 percent, with a number of changes that could boost extended duty pay.

▪  AFSCME: A three-year deal that would raise pay by 11.5 percent for about 5,000 social workers and health care workers. Their raises are front-loaded, with 7 percent coming in 2017. Their retiree health care contribution would climb to 3 percent by July 1, 2019.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton