The State Worker

More arguments filed in unions’ court fight with Brown administration

Gov. Jerry Brown and two unions representing state engineers and scientists filed more arguments on Monday in their two-year-old court fight over furloughs.

The administration has asked San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal to overturn a lower court ruling in favor of Professional Engineers in California Government and California Association of Professional Scientists that said Brown in 2011 illegally furloughed their members two days longer than the Legislature had authorized. Total back pay for the 13,000 or so affected engineers and scientists would cost the state about $12 million, the unions estimate.

The documents filed Monday answer a question that the appellate court had about another part of Superior Court Judge Steven Brick’s 2012 decision that affected a relative handful of employees. Brick ruled that 250 scientists and engineers should receive all wages lost to furloughs – up to 70 days from 2009 through mid-2011 – because their jobs involved cleaning up contaminated military base sites. The judge agreed with the unions that furloughing them violates provisions of the state's health and water codes and breaches a constitutional stipulation that legislation may deal with only one main subject.

The appellate court in November asked the administration and the unions whether the health and water laws meant that the state controller or the state finance director erred when they included furlough savings from those employees’ wages in budget calculations. The unions say those officials made a mistake including those savings – those employees shouldn’t have been furloughed in the first place. The administration says no, that the law doesn’t apply in this case because, among other things, none of those 250 employee worked full time on base remediation and were subject to furlough.

For those who want to dive into the weeds (yes, we’re talking to you, state attorneys!), here are the administration and union letter briefs: