Unions go to court over furlough days

December 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
State workers are facing hard times with the two days off without pay. That is a move Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California is forcing them to take, but his order will not be enforced without a fight. The unions are going to court.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1000 filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board accusing Governor Schwarzenegger of unfair labor practices when he ordered the furloughs Friday. The largest state employee union has been trying to negotiate a new contract with the Governor since summer. They now say he had no intention of listening to their demands.

"We think he stalled so that he could declare an emergency and then basically force all the unions to accept his proposals without any negotiations," said J. Felix De La Torre, a SEIU Local 1000 Attorney.

The State Engineers Union took a different tactic by going to court. Their lawsuit contends the Governor has no authority to force state workers to take two days a month of unpaid leave. The move essentially amounts to a 10-percent pay cut.

"He and his departments cannot cut people's pay. They can bargain it; they can go to the bargaining table and negotiate some kind of an agreement. The law also says employees work a 40-hour week," said Bruce Blanning, from Professional Engineers in California Government.

It is Day 47 of the budget impasse with the deficit now topping more than $7 billion to date. The chambers in Sacramento remain empty, which is a sure sign a budget solution isn't close.

While criticizing lawmakers for the gridlock, the Governor said he didn't want to order state worker furloughs, but absent a budget compromise, he has to keep expenses down.

"They are hard working people and they all have to provide for their families. But we are running out of cash by February. So I have no other choice," said Governor Schwarzenegger.

In another ominous sign of the state's dire financial situation, State Controller John Chiang sent a letter to leaders saying California will run out of money in less than 70 days.

In fact, Chiang told them "We are literally weeks away from a meltdown of State government."

That melt down could include the shutting down of some government services and the issuing of IOUs instead of checks.


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