By Jon Ortiz
jortiz@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Apr. 18, 2011 – 12:03 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 18, 2011 – 6:21 am

State Sen. Mimi Walters last week summed up in five words the Republican reaction to six state labor contracts now winding through the Legislature: “They don’t go far enough.”

The deals negotiated by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown last month include union concessions, but they fall far short of the savings that lawmakers from both parties said that they wanted from the contracts.

That failure has laid bare the politics of public employee pay, while raising the specter of deeper program cuts and layoffs as legislators wrestle to close California’s $15.4 billion deficit.

The agreements, covering roughly 60,000 state workers, are bound in a Senate bill that needs at least token Senate and Assembly Republican support to get the two-thirds vote to become binding.

The deals are similar to those negotiated last year with 15 other bargaining units by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. GOP lawmakers ultimately provided enough votes to ratify those deals as part of the budget agreement.

But last week, a committee on which Walters is the vice chair heard the current measure and then split along party lines: Three Democrats in favor, two Republicans against, including Walters.

“I don’t believe there will be any Republican support for these contracts,” the Laguna Nigel senator said after the vote. “Not at this point.”

The agreements blend concessions and gains:

• Workers pay more toward their pensions, but top-step employees get an offsetting raise in two years on the contracts’ last day.

• Two paid holidays are erased from the state calendar, but they’re replaced by two floating paid days off.

• The contracts call for 12 unpaid days off spread over a year but end the three-day-per-month furlough program in place since early 2009.

The deals also lower pension benefits for new hires, but that change won’t appreciably affect the state budget for many years.

Walters and Republicans focus on the gains, while Democrats like Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino focus on the concessions.

“The state negotiated with the remaining bargaining units, and these were the agreements made,” McLeod said last week. “Employees were willing to extend pay cuts. They’re part of the solution.”

State workers such as Shabbir Ahmed say the contracts are “a huge compromise.” The affected employees endured 70 unpaid furlough days in the last two years – the most of any government employees in the nation. Many state workers haven’t seen a raise in several years.

“At this point I think we’ve given our all,” said Ahmed, a Transportation Department engineer for nearly 13 years. “The (contract) is reasonable. There aren’t any huge bonuses or big raises in it.”

In January, Brown assumed he could wring $308 million in general fund payroll savings from the six unions. The cut would have affected a broad cross section of workers, from scientists and engineers to drug agents and business inspectors.

Although that represented 10 percent less than those employees earned under their expired contracts, it was still better than the 15 percent they were losing to furloughs.

“It was a reasonable estimate,” said H.D. Palmer, Brown’s Department of Finance spokesman.

The Legislature then passed a series of 2011-12 budget cuts that included Brown’s payroll savings calculation. But when the governor closed negotiations with the unions last month, the agreements saved only $110 million, or roughly 3 percent, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

If lawmakers want to mine for more savings, the analyst said in an April 8 report, they can reject the contracts and ask the administration to go back the table, or the governor could “authorize or require administrative actions, such as layoffs.”

To read entire story, click here.