The State Worker

The State Worker: Ironic twist in Jerry Brown’s contract talks with lawyers

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

If the state attorneys union wants an eloquent argument for Gov. Jerry Brown to give a substantial pay raise, its negotiators could consult another powerful public official: Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Under penalty of perjury in 2007, then-Attorney General Brown said in a court declaration that his Department of Justice faced “a compensation crisis” that “threatens the execution of my office’s constitutional duty ... to adequately and uniformly enforce the law.”

Brown, a Democrat, filed the statement in support of California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment, or CASE.

The union was suing GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, contending that members’ pay was so abysmal that the state had become “the employer of last resort” for lawyers.

Comparable public-sector jobs elsewhere paid so much more, the union said, that it made a mockery of the merit system’s like-pay-for-like-work principle and siphoned off so much legal talent that the state’s competent function was at risk.

Brown wrote in the declaration supporting the lawsuit that his office was “competing in the market for attorneys not only with public sector employers but also with California private sector law firms who have recently raised the starting annual salary of first-year associates from $145,000 to $160,000. In contrast, an entry-level annual salary for a Deputy Attorney General is $56,088.”

After citing a law that says the department should have resources “to provide competent legal representation,” Brown circled back to pay:

“In conclusion, the Office of the Attorney General simply cannot continue to provide the outstanding legal services that the public deserves and has the right to expect when the State ignores the relevant labor marker in setting deputies’ salaries.”

Now Brown is the governor. His administration – which declined to comment on the 2007 declaration – negotiates state labor contracts. Now the attorneys’ group is the last of 21 bargaining units without a contract. The sides are stuck on salary. CASE’s last across-the-board pay raise? A 3.6 percent bump in 2006.

Most of the other unions have accepted modest raises that wouldn’t approach closing the gap Brown once described. If Brown does something dramatic to narrow it, he would doubtless incur the wrath of those other groups, including the powerful SEIU Local 1000.

Brown is a pragmatist, but he’s also known for taking some controversial positions. He wants to build water tunnels. He’s pushing for a bullet train. He supports fracking.

And Brown understands attorneys. He’s a member of the State Bar. His wife, Anne Gust Brown, is a lawyer.

The union needs a contract soon for lawmakers to take it up before their July recess. No deal by mid-August means no deal until next year when the Legislature comes back from a four-month break.

Which Jerry Brown is at the table?

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