News Column

SEIU Pay Raise Could Yield Hikes for Other Unions

June 12, 2013

California's largest public employee union and Gov. Jerry Brown reached a new labor agreement early Tuesday, sending a strong signal that pay raises are possible to other unions bargaining contracts with the administration.

The centerpiece of the deal gives the 95,000 employees covered by SEIU Local 1000 an across-the-board 4.5 percent raise -- far less than what the union wanted -- and defers the increase until at least mid-2014, depending on the state's finances.

The Service Employees International Union's tentative deal could form the basis of deals for the nine other unions bargaining contracts with the administration.

"This won't escape their attention," said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, a union historian at UCLA's Anderson School of Management.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Brown said the SEIU agreement is "a fair proposal" but declined to say more.

"I don't want to characterize it, because if I characterize it to please the critics, then I might say that it's, you know, it's good for the taxpayer," Brown said. "And if I'm trying to get it ratified, I'll say it's a hell of a deal for the workers. So either way I will err, and therefore I will say nothing more."

SEIU wanted across-the-board raises, and the contract provides a 2 percent increase July 1, 2014, if the state "achieves certain revenue targets," and a 2.5 percent raise a year later, according to a union email announcing the deal Tuesday morning.

If the state misses the 2014 fiscal target, the entire 4.5 percent increase would be effective July 1, 2015.

Still, the agreement is less lucrative than what Local 1000 negotiators wanted -- a $2,500 bonus this year, a 7 percent salary increase next year and 9 percent boost in 2015.

Brown can claim the deal avoids increasing the state's payroll cost in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Because of the previous contract, most state employees will see their take-home pay increase this July 1 when furloughs end and a 3 percent raise kicks in for top-step workers that offsets higher pension contributions.

It remains unclear exactly how the fiscal triggers in the new contract work.

"Revenues have to be consistent with meeting the state's obligations" for the 2014 raise to take effect, said Pat McConahay, spokeswoman for Brown's Department of Human Resources. "And that's determined by the Department of Finance."

State officials on Tuesday were reviewing the terms of the agreement and weren't ready to comment more on specifics, McConahay said.

The union's announcement, meanwhile, didn't explain what factors would trigger the earlier raise. The local didn't respond to The Bee's texts and messages requesting comment.

By linking the 2014 pay raise to state revenue, the agreement reflects the same sort of trigger thinking that characterized the 2012-13 state budget. That deal would have automatically cut spending for a wide variety of programs last December if state voters had not approved Proposition 30's tax increases.

Bruce Blanning, the longtime executive director of the state engineers' union, said he has seen state labor proposals contingent on certain economic factors in the past, but that they weren't put into contracts.

"They were too difficult to measure," Blanning said.

History indicates the early agreements reached between a state employee union and a governor set the contours for those that follow.

In 2010, for example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration and four unions, including those representing Highway Patrol officers and firefighters, agreed to contracts with furloughs.

All but two of the other unions, including Local 1000, eventually accepted unpaid days off in their contracts, including some pacts negotiated with Brown.

Last year, the governor and Local 1000 reached a one-year agreement that traded a monthly furlough day for tougher outsourcing reviews and other workplace considerations.

By then, however, nearly every other union had already agreed to furloughs, leaving Local 1000 with little choice but to work out a similar deal. Lawmakers imposed furloughs on two unions that held out.

At a Capitol rally last week that drew 8,000 purple-clad union activists, Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said the union would "demand" pay raises, and in a statement that same day declared "the fight is on" over money.

The local had helped elect majority Democrats to the Legislature and worked for Brown's tax measure, she reminded the crowd, and declared the Capitol "is our house."

Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, said the local's contract highlights the quid pro quo that exists between Democrats and the unions.

"They seem to feel that they deserve a raise because they helped Jerry Brown with a heavy lift in November," Jones said. "That's not a reason for a raise."

The SEIU agreement left state worker Ernie Medina disappointed, especially in light of Walker's tough talk.

"She said she would fight for us," said Medina, "but I don't see where she even threw a punch."

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