The State Worker: Will Jerry Brown give state workers a raise?

jortiz@sacbee.comNovember 22, 2012 

After California voters embraced Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax hike, this column received a half-dozen phone calls from state workers asking essentially the same question: "What are the odds I'll get a raise?"

At the risk of ruining their Thanksgiving, here's the answer: virtually zero.

Still, some state workers clearly see the $6.1 billion infusion of Proposition 30 and labor's role in its passage as an opportunity to call in a favor from Brown when talks start for contracts that expire in July.

They figure the governor owes public employee unions for getting out the vote for his tax measure. Why else was Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, standing at Brown's side when he announced the measure had won on Nov. 6?

State workers sacrificed for Brown by agreeing to take a furlough day each month, essentially a 5 percent pay cut, and clipped the state's 2012-13 payroll by $839 million. They offered loud-but-largely-token resistance to the pension reform laws that Brown signed.

Both let Brown put another notch in his budget-cutter's belt ahead of the Proposition 30 vote.

Now mix in the state's history of paying less than local governments for similar jobs and the fact that several unions, SEIU Local 1000 included, haven't seen across-the-board raises in 20 years. You can get a sense of why those callers hope they get a taste of Proposition 30.

When told about the phone calls during a recent sit-down with The State Worker, Brown's labor secretary Marty Morgenstern dropped his eyes toward the floor of his office and slowly shook his head.

He recalled speaking to a couple of state employee groups following the big Proposition 30 win.

"First, I thanked them for helping with Prop. 30," Morgenstern said. "Then I told them that they should have every confidence that the money is already spent."

The frank comment summarized a political reality. Many groups have their hands out. State employee unions' are among the easiest to slap down.

Social services groups want their piece of the pie. So do local governments shouldering heavier incarceration loads from the state's prison realignment plan.

Don't forget that Brown sold the measure as a vital fix for schools. Remember that the California Teachers Association gave more than $10 million to Brown's campaign. So education will sit at the head of the table.

The Proposition 30 upside for state workers is that a July raise promised to top-step employees to offset their high pension contributions will probably go through as planned. Furloughs will end at that same time. Unions leaders say that if the measure had failed they expected Brown to stop the raises and extend furloughs.

In other words, Proposition 30 gives the state breathing room to return state workers' take-home pay back to where it was a couple years ago.

But new raises? Sorry.

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