Furloughs prompt strike threat from union

July 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
There was surprise and disappointment at state run offices Friday. Customers who showed up found the doors locked at a number of state agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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It amounts to a 14 percent cut in pay for those furloughed. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says the state cannot afford to stay open for business five days a week.

At the DMV office in Oakland, customers slumped when they heard the news. The office was closed Friday and will be closed next Friday and the Friday after that.

Customers who needed to get their drivers license renewed or their car registered were all told to come back on Monday.

"A good 50 (people had been turned away) and it's just noon, it's just starting," security guard LaRue Judice said.

Outside a DMV office in Hayward, workers who would normally be on the job inside instead stood outside to explain to customers why the doors are locked.

"They're telling us it's bad on them because they can't pay their registration or they have to come in on Monday and wait in a longer line, so they're frustrated just like we are," DMV employee Joyce-Anne Freeman said.

The workers say they had a deal with the governor in February. They agreed to 17 furlough days a year, but that contract was never ratified by the legislature and when the budget mess grew worse, the governor added another day.

"State workers are outraged about the furloughs," SEIU Local 1000 spokesperson Adrienne Suffin said.

Suffin is a SEIU organizer who helped negotiate the deal with the governor. This week she and other union leaders voted unanimously to authorize a strike vote.

"We hope it sends a very clear signal to the governor, we've tried to get the message out, we've been saying it," Suffin said.

Suffin's local represents 95,000 state workers.

In all 210,000 workers are being told to stay home three Friday's out of the month.

The Caltrans offices are closed, as are unemployment insurance offices and the Franchise Tax Board.

Highway patrol and state firefighters are exempt from the furloughs, as are state hospitals.

In all, the days off without pay are expected to save almost $1.3 billion over the next year. A spokesman for the governor said state services must be cut across the board and like everyone else; state government must live within its means.

And so, like so much else around the state budget mess, push is coming to shove. SEIU says the governor is considering adding another furlough day -- the governor denies it.

ABC7 was told Employment Development Department offices were closed Friday. But when ABC7 checked, offices in Oakland and Fremont were open. For clarification ABC7 was advised to call headquarters in Sacramento -- which was closed because of the furlough.

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