By Jon Ortiz
jortiz@sacbee.com
Published: Wednesday, May. 16, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 16, 2012 – 6:26 am

One day after Gov. Jerry Brown proposed sweeping changes to state government work schedules, many employees were still deciphering what it means for them.

Brown wants to move most of California’s 214,000 workers to four-day workweeks and 9.5-hour shifts starting July 1. The change would reduce state workers’ hours and pay by 5 percent each month and cut state payroll by about $839 million, $401 million of it from the deficit-ridden general fund. Many departments would be closed on Fridays, some on Mondays.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from reader emails and comments on sacbee.com:

>So now what?

Marty Morgenstern, the Brown administration’s Labor and Economic Development Agency secretary, said the state will meet with departments and labor union officials to hammer out the particulars.

Look for those talks to heat up immediately, because Brown wants the new arrangements in place in time for the July 1 start of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

>Are the unions going for it?

It’s difficult to make a blanket characterization: A dozen unions represent 181,000 state workers divided into 21 bargaining units who perform thousands of different jobs.

But it’s clear that labor had a hand in shaping the proposal. For example, Brown’s budget also calls for cutting back on outside contracts for services such as janitorial and security work and computer technology consultants.

SEIU Local 1000, the largest state worker union, has argued for years that California pays too much for those kinds of vendor service contracts. Of course, ending that outsourcing would mean more jobs for state employees who are covered by the union.

By giving SEIU what it wants, it raises the likelihood that the 95,000-member union will go along with Brown’s furlough plan and make it harder for the other smaller unions to resist.

>State workers are all under contract right now. Doesn’t this violate those agreements?

Brown says he wants to honor the bargaining process, but that doesn’t mean that the contracts would need to be reopened. The changes could be enacted through short side-letter agreements that focus on the scheduling changes and nothing else.

>How long would the state run on the four-day schedule and cut employees’ pay?

Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said the arrangement “could extend beyond the 2012-13 year.” That’s a detail that the administration needs to hammer out with the unions.

>What leverage does Brown have?

The governor could lay off employees, but that seems a stretch, given that the state already has shed 15,000 positions in 2012-13 and Brown anticipates cutting another 11,000 in the coming fiscal year. The layoff process is cumbersome, too, and Brown needs savings quickly to plug a $15.7 billion deficit.

Brown’s hand could be strengthened if Democratic legislators signal they’re willing to use their authority to circumvent labor contracts and impose pay cuts or furloughs if the unions don’t cooperate.

>Would Democrats really do that to their friends in organized labor?

Under severe budget pressure in 2009, the Legislature erased two paid state holidays and changed overtime rules without the unions’ consent. Nearly two years ago, the threat of legislative action on pension reform prodded labor leaders to compromise with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

>Would union members vote on the schedule changes? What’s the Legislature’s role?

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