State Workers Protest over Proposed Pay Cut

July 24, 2008 7:59:23 PM PDT
Thousands of state employees could be working for minimum wage next month because the governor is threatening to cut their pay. It's a bold move in the state budget battle this year. The governor is making a lot of people very nervous about their financial future, but the man who signs the pay-checks is vowing to defy any order to slash salaries.

An executive order was drafted that the Governor could sign as early as Monday. It freezes hiring and orders the immediate layoff of 22,000 temporary, seasonal, and student workers. The controversial part of the order is in regards to cutting wages from the six-figure doctors and attorneys, to lower wage janitors.

"We can't survive on $6.55!"

It was inevitable. The Governor's plan to slash the pay of more than 200,000 state workers to the Federal minimum wage until a budget is passed, drew angry protests.

"I'm mad! I'm very mad! I'm hurt he would even think about that. How can I live on $6.55 an hour?" said Yolanda Villanueva, a state vehicle inspector.

The proposed pay cut would take state worker wages well below the state minimum wage of $8.00 an hour. While the draft plan exempts people considered in critical jobs, it would apply to such positions as bridge inspectors, unemployment check processors and DMV clerks. The protestors think the Governor's move is a political ploy to force lawmakers to agree on a state budget, which is now almost a month late.

"We're just pawn pieces to him. This is shameful that he can't get his job done without using us as chess pieces. He should be really ashamed," said Claudia Gambaro, a state biologist.

Regardless, the Governor's office says this is no game. The state is running out of cash, and the pay cut would allow the state to defer paying about a billion dollars a month.

"It's not something that's popular. It's not something he wants to do. But he has a duty to make sure we don't run out of cash. And that's why we're looking at a number of different options for the state to stay solvent," said Aaron McLear, the Governor's Press Secretary.

"How many of you can pay your mortgage eventually?" said a protester.

State workers cry they can't put off paying their own bills while the state pays them minimum wage. That's why State Controller John Chiang is ready to defy the Governor's executive order and cut those pay checks anyway.

"There is no court case that indicates that I need to pay minimum wage. And I will not subject the employees, the public servants of California to partial wages," said John Chiang (D), the State Controller.

This fight could ultimately be over who has control of the state's money. The Governor says a 2003 Supreme Court decision allows him to take this action when there is no state budget in place, but it is John Chiang's signature at the bottom of those checks.


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