Clad in purple, thousands of state employees partied with a purpose at the Capitol on Wednesday, hoping to prod Gov. Jerry Brown to accept their union’s contract proposal that, among other things, would raise their pay 22 percent.
“This is not going to be easy,” Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker told the crowd gathered on the Capitol’s west lawn. “But there’s no quit in Local 1000.”
That line was among many that prompted hollers, chants and clapping from what the union estimated was about 8,000 members. There is little, however, to indicate the union will get its wish. Brown has come to terms with four state unions so far, and none of those multi-year agreements has approached that kind of salary hike. State employee labor contracts often run for three years, but it’s unclear over how many years the proposed 22 percent raise would be distributed.
Furthermore, the governor’s 2016-17 budget proposal allots an average 3.4 percent pay increase for the nearly 180,000 state employees whose salaries have yet to be set at the bargaining table. Local 1000 represents roughly half of them, and their contract expires the first day of the new fiscal year, July 1.
The union reported on its website Tuesday evening that Brown’s negotiators had rejected Local 1000’s pay and health care proposals and had proposed deleting a no-furlough guarantee in the existing contract.
Asked for comment, administration spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said, “We don’t talk about bargaining.”
The Local 1000 Capitol rally for a contract has become a regular June event in years when the union’s agreement is about to expire. In June 2013, Local 1000 rallied members to support its proposal for an immediate across-the-board $2,500 bonus for its members, and a total 16 percent in raises over two years.
A week later, the union took an agreement with 4.5 percent in raises and no bonus, although pockets of employees, such as some DMV staff, received larger pay increases.
The angry tone of that 2013 rally, during which Walker pointed to the Capitol and shouted, “This is our house!” was fueled by years of furloughs and stagnant wages. Walker and other union leaders said that Brown had relied on union muscle to pass a 2012 ballot measure to temporarily increase taxes and should have shown gratitude with a better contract.
On Tuesday, with a November ballot measure to extend that same tax increase likely to go before voters, Walker suggested Brown should ante up with a better contract now as a down payment for union support of the measure in the fall.
“We did that!” Walker said, referring to the successful 2012 tax measure. “We are prepared today to hit the streets again. But we are unapologetic to express what we need.”
The latest rally was more festive than the one three years ago. Activists from San Diego to Eureka arrived at the Capitol hours before the 11 a.m. start time. They found a battery of union staff and volunteers prepared to hand them everything from T-shirts and bottled water to deli sandwiches and fresh fruit.
Near the building, live music alternated with recorded pop hits such as “Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson. Some in the crowd danced. Hundreds of others ate at tables arranged under the trees on the unusually temperate day.
About two hours later, the rally morphed into a march around the Capitol as stacks of loudspeakers blasted a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ rock anthem, “I Won’t Back Down.”