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Gov wants minimum wages for state workers

June 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
California's budget problems could soon be taking another bite out of state workers' wages. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants wages rolled back to minimum-wage levels until the state has next year's budget approved. State workers are upset about the move.State workers have had to take nearly 50 unpaid furlough days since February 2009. Paychecks are about to shrink even more if the budget fight isn't settled in a week.

The state workers who fix your roads, renew your driver's 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 Thursday.

"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," said Vanessa Vaughn, a state worker.

"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," said Rudy Jackson, who works for the state.

The Schwarzenegger administration sent a memo to department heads warning them the governor 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 simply a court case that compels him to do so," said Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary.

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

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

State 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 real jobs," said Assembly Budget Chairman Bob Blumenfield (D-Los Angeles).

One state worker just might take matters into his own hands.

"It would mean, for me, not coming to work, picketing, being outside any office," said state worker Clifford Brandt.

Twenty-three thousand state workers, though, may escape this latest threat.

Four public-employee unions have reached a tentative contract deal with the governor 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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