By Jon Ortiz
Published: Wednesday, Jul. 4, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
When California’s largest public employee union announced Tuesday that its members accepted another year of furloughs, it was one more sign that government labor unions are moving to make concessions.
Although Service Employees International Union Local 1000′s contract doesn’t expire until next year, the union said two-thirds of the voting rank and file supported an agreement reached with Gov. Jerry Brown that mandates 12 unpaid days off over the next 12 months.
The union sold the deal, which represents a 4.62 percent cut in hours and pay, as an opportunity for workers to control their own fate.
“If we had simply refused to bargain with Gov. Brown, we would have been stuck with whatever terms he imposed with the Legislature,” Margarita Maldonado, vice president for bargaining, said in a statement.
Pressure has mounted on public employee unions in California to give ground on pay and benefits as deficits continue squeezing government.
At the state level, most labor groups have been willing to work with Brown, a Democratic governor they helped elect and who is promoting a tax increase on the November ballot that they support.
“The unions don’t want to rock the boat,” said Michael Shires, a Pepperdine University political scientist and state budget expert. “They want to maintain a positive relationship with the governor and the Democratic Legislature – and keep a low profile.”
Local 1000 didn’t disclose how many of the 93,000 workers it represents participated in an unusual one-day election that took place on Wednesday at 82 polling stations around the state.
The union usually mails out ratification ballots and allows a few weeks for members to return them. Local 1000 officials said pressure to get a vote on the furlough agreement quickly to coincide with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year prompted the unusual process this time.
When asked by The Bee last week, the local wouldn’t say whether it would abide by the results. The union’s bylaws don’t require members to ratify so-called “side letter” agreements like the furlough deal.
All of that caused members like Local 1000 activist Richard Louis Brown to question the legitimacy of the vote.
“How can I trust the process?” Louis asked, adding that he voted against the agreement largely because he believes the state should honor Local 1000′s current contract.
Still, the momentum for furloughs has gone Brown’s way. As of Tuesday, 19 of 21 bargaining units that represent about 181,000 state workers have agreed to furloughs, from Highway Patrol officers to environmental scientists.
Some local government workers are swallowing cuts, too.
In Sacramento, for example, the city firefighters union last week ratified an agreement that will save 44 jobs by requiring firefighters to pick up their own share of pension contributions.
Teachers at Sacramento City Unified have agreed to 10 furlough days if the school year is shortened because Brown’s tax increases don’t pass, while teachers at San Juan Unified Teachers Association said they would take 11 furlough days.
Other unions have resisted. Sacramento’s police union didn’t reach an agreement for concessions, prompting the city to lay off 16 officers last week.
Unions representing about 12,000 California Department of Transportation engineers and another 900 state building operations and maintenance employees hadn’t agreed to take furloughs as of Monday evening. If the unions don’t reach a deal with Brown, the Legislature has passed a bill that gives the governor authority to impose furloughs on those workers.
Bruce Blanning, executive director of the engineers union, said his group is holding out for guarantees that the state will curtail outsourcing to private firms – work that his members could perform.
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