The State Worker

The State Worker: Did Schwarzenegger do more for state workers than Brown?

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

This is going to be hard to accept, state workers, but think it over: Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was better to you than your current boss, Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sure, the Austrian Oak teed off on pensions, threatened to withhold pay during bogged-down budget talks and furloughed the state workforce during a historic financial crisis.

But Brown has a state on the fiscal mend. His Democratic Party has overwhelming statehouse control. He’s steamrolling toward re-election with heavy union backing. Despite all that, Brown’s state labor-relations record shows he’s as tough on state workers as Schwarzenegger. Maybe tougher.

• This week the union for about 850 government operating engineers said that its members “overwhelmingly” rejected a contract offer with a phased-in 4.5 percent pay raise. The International Union of Operating Engineers wants to close a salary gap of 20 percent or more with counterparts in the public and private sectors. Brown wouldn’t budge.

Another union representing 3,000 state scientists is putting a similar contract out for ratification this month, although it’s unhappy with the deal’s salary provisions. Don’t be surprised if it gets a thumbs-down.

By comparison, state workers never rejected an agreement reached with Schwarzenegger.

• Brown has bargained two rounds of state union contracts since 2010. The first round had no across-the-board raises. The second round started with the 4.5 percent raise bargained by SEIU Local 1000. That set the ceiling for subsequent deals.

Compare that to the last statewide raises Schwarzenegger negotiated. Local 1000’s contract in 2005, for example, gave a $1,000 bonus, a 3.5 percent raise in year one and an inflation-indexed raise of up to 4 percent in year two. And that deal was bargained while Schwarzenegger was pushing several ballot measures SEIU and other unions vehemently opposed.

• Schwarzenegger championed shifting more public pension costs onto workers and eventually negotiated higher contribution rates from state employees. Brown did that and more to cut pension costs at the state and local level in 2012. And he did it legislatively, without bargaining.

• In the depths of the state’s deep budget crisis, Schwarzenegger furloughed state employees up to three days per month. Brown criticized the policy during his 2010 run for governor. When he assumed the office, the state’s budget remained under water. Brown continued furloughs for several months. Two years later, he persuaded unions to accept furloughs again, burnishing his cost-cutter credentials as he promoted a tax-increase ballot measure.

• State government grew to about 245,000 employees under Schwarzenegger. It’s down to about 220,000 employees now.

Add all that up and you could argue Brown has been tougher on employees than his predecessor, despite more money, political power and union support.