State workers at risk of earning minimum wage

June 24, 2010 5:38:30 PM PDT
State employees are furious over Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to pay them federal minimum wage, if a state budget isn't in place by July.

They could also have more unpaid time off, despite the fact that furlough days were supposed to end last week.

The state workers who fix your roads, renew your drivers' licenses and process your tax refunds; some 200,000 of them could soon be earning the federal minimum wage: $7.25 an hour.

Unpaid furlough days, which were supposed to end this month, could also be extended.

Even though they would eventually get back pay, the minimum wage threat is all anyone could talk about today.

"I'm not going to be able to pay my bills. I'm going to get really behind and not be able to catch up," state worker Vanessa Vaughn said.

"They're robbing us, and there's nothing we can do about it. All we can do is sit there and accept it and go to work," state worker Rudy Jackson.

The Schwarzenegger administration sent a memo out to department heads warning them he would seek to enforce a law that allows the pay cuts absent a budget by July 1.

A court has already ruled that's legal.

"The Controller has to pay minimum wage. That's the law of the land. That's not the Governor making the decision. That's a court case compelling him to do so," Schwarzenegger's press secretary Aaron McLear said.

But State Controller John Chiang defied Schwarzenegger's order once before, claiming the decades-old payroll system can't handle the change and he's willing do it again.

With another $19 billion deficit to solve, little progress has been made on the budget.

Assembly Speaker John Perez sent a confidential memo to Democratic lawmakers saying there will be no negotiations until Schwarzenegger backs down on his proposed spending cuts to social programs.

The minimum wage threat ups the ante.

"It's inappropriate to be using the livelihood and lives of folks as a negotiating tool, or as a ploy. These are real people; these are jobs," Assm. Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, said.

State worker Clifford Brandt just might take matters into his own hands.

"It would mean for me not coming to work, picketing, being outside any office," he said.

About 23,000 state workers, though, may escape this latest threat.

Four public employee unions have reached a tentative contract deal with Schwarzenegger to roll back retirement benefits. In exchange, those state workers would not be subjected to minimum wage pay or more furloughs.


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