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California state workers would get paid twice a month if this bill passes

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A Republican lawmaker wants to help California state workers balance their checkbooks without actually giving them a raise.

Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford is carrying a bill that would compel the state to pay its employees more often, switching to biweekly paydays instead of the monthly schedule state government uses now.

The change would force the state to comply with a 1919 law that generally requires employers to pay their workers every other week.

"I have heard from folks in my district who are state workers, and they have made it clear to me that they want to be paid twice per month like virtually every other Californian is," Vidak said.

Vidak’s bill is scheduled to appear before a Senate committee later this month. He proposed it after one of his staff members, a former Caltrans employee, told him that a biweekly pay schedule would help state workers stay on top of their bills.

The adjustment sounds simple, but California state workers are paid through a Vietnam War-era system that could make changing the schedule a time-consuming and expensive challenge.

The State Controller’s Office estimates that making the change would cost at least $1 million up front and potentially increase ongoing expenses by $6.7 million a year.

The changeover also might take more than one year to execute. That delay could expose the state to penalties for failing to pay its employees in a timely manner, according to an analysis of Vidak’s proposal by the Senate Committee on Public Employment and Retirement.

A small number of California’s 230,000 state workers receive paychecks twice a month. The union that represents mental health technicians, for instance, has a contract that requires the state to pay its members twice a month.

A few thousand maintenance workers also receive checks twice a month, although that practice is being phased out.

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They’re represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the state last year in contract bargaining held firm to its request that it shift them to a monthly pay schedule.

Those workers will start getting monthly paychecks in 2020, at the end of IUOE Local 12’s contract. The union negotiated to put the changeover at the end of the agreement to give the state time to implement the new schedule carefully.

“It’s not something we wanted by any means,” said Steve Crouch, IUOE’s director of public employees. “We didn’t give it up easy, but the state decided it was a hill they were going to die on.”

Cory Burkarth, the former Caltrans employee who works for Vidak, said his former co-workers at Caltrans’ Fresno office told him they’d have a better handle on their household budgets if the state moved to a biweekly pay schedule.

“Getting paid twice per month would be a tremendous help to lower-paid workers, especially those who have children, college loans, credit card debt, housing expenses and other day-to-day needs,” he said.

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