The State Worker: California state workers rally for pay package

06/06/2013 12:00 AM

06/12/2013 12:17 AM

Several thousand purple- shirted state workers took over the Capitol's west side Wednesday for a SEIU Local 1000 union rally that was equal parts picnic, party and protest.

They danced. They chanted. They ate lunch in the shade at Capitol Park. And they complained about their pay.

The night before the 10 a.m. event, Local 1000 fired off a mass email blasting "the state's bargaining team" – a euphemistic reference to Gov. Jerry Brown's administration – for rejecting several pay-increase proposals during recent contract talks.

Among them: an across-the-board $2,500 bonus this year for all 95,000 state employees whom Local 1000 covers, followed by a 7 percent salary increase in 2014 and 9 percent boost the following year.

Local President Yvonne Walker framed those proposals at Wednesday's rally as a fair request after years of furloughs, higher out-of-pocket pension contributions and other rising costs.

Here's the budget and salary-math logic:

After years of deficits, the state budget is in better shape. Although state worker furloughs end this month and veteran employees will receive a 3 percent raise starting July 1, those changes merely bring them back to the take-home pay they earned five years ago.

Real raises, said state lottery employee Bob Walsh, are long overdue.

"We've done our part," said Walsh, who came from San Diego for the Service Employees International Union rally. "More than our part."

Then there's the political quid pro quo to SEIU's wage proposals.

Brown leaned heavily on labor's backing to win the 2010 gubernatorial race. Ditto for Democrats seizing supermajorities in both state legislative chambers last fall.

And, Walker said Wednesday, union efforts won voters for Brown's successful November tax proposal: "We put money in the state budget."

All that adds up to one conclusion for Local 1000: Time for lawmakers and Brown to make good.

"We're letting them know this is our house!" Walker said, pointing to the Capitol during the rally. "Our house!" the 8,000 or so activists shouted back.

Tough talk aside, Local 1000 faces a hurdle to getting those raises.

Much like his Republican predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brown has furloughed state workers and wants to hold down pay. The difference is that he's a Democrat and a political veteran who can squeeze labor without open warfare.

Brown will again need their backing – and Local 1000 is California's biggest public employee union – assuming he runs for re-election. They will need him, too. Brown probably won't face opposition within his own party, but a Republican challenger will likely play to his or her anti-union base.

Margaret Drake, a teacher at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, summed up the union's quandary on Wednesday.

"I like him," Drake said. "I voted for him. But I wish he'd stop playing games."

Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Follow him on Twitter @thestateworker and read his blog, The State Worker.

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