California Democrats urge Gavin Newsom to give state worker union a contract and raises

As contract bargaining heats up across the state, the chairs of California’s statehouse committees on labor and public employment have called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to bargain fairly with the largest public employee union in state government.

Assembly Labor and Employment Committee Chair Ash Kalra, along with the chairs of the Assembly and Senate committees on public employment and retirement, wrote to Newsom urging his administration to reach a contract agreement with SEIU Local 1000 this week.

The union represents more than 96,000 state employees in positions as diverse as business analysts, nursing home evaluators, prison librarians and teachers at the state schools for the deaf and the blind. They’ve been bargaining with the state since April, and their previous contract expired at the end of June.

“It is unacceptable that the state workers who make up the backbone of our departments, providing crucial public services to millions of Californians, are struggling to pay their bills as they are offered pre-pandemic wages in contract negotiations,” said Kalra in a statement Monday. The San Jose Democrat criticized the state for “needless delays” and said the lengthy bargaining timeline could increase the risk of workers “falling into dire financial situations.”

The California Department of Human Resources, which represents Newsom’s administration at the bargaining table, cannot comment on contract negotiations while talks are still underway, said department spokesperson Camille Travis.

“CalHR is working in good faith with SEIU Local 1000 at the bargaining table to reach an agreement that meets both the union’s interests and the State’s priorities,” Travis wrote in an emailed statement.

The letter was co-authored by Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, an Inglewood Democrat who chairs the Assembly committee on public employment and retirement, and Sen. Dave Cortese, a Santa Clara Democrat who chairs the same committee in the Senate. It urged Newsom to quickly reach a deal that would give adequate raises to public workers who play crucial roles in implementing his administration’s goals, such as combating climate change, providing health care and improving transportation infrastructure.

The union originally asked for a 30% raise over a three-year contract. State negotiators initially countered with 6% over that same time frame, which union leaders called “offensive” and “disrespectful” to members. Late last week, the state bumped the offer up to 8%, according to a Local 1000 update.

State workers have repeatedly said that stagnant wages are eroding the sense of security and stability that used to come with careers in state civil service. A recent study commissioned by Local 1000 and conducted by the UC Berkeley Labor Center showed many members were struggling financially, particularly women, Black and Latino employees. Workers also say they’re worried about how they’ll cover the planned increase in CalPERS health premiums next year.

“The small cost of living adjustments your Administration has offered as a salary increase per year fails to cover workers’ basic needs and would roll back wages to pre-pandemic status,” the letter stated.

Lawmakers have until early September to approve deal

The call to action, co-signed by 21 assemblymembers and five senators, came as lawmakers returned from recess for the last stretch of the legislative session.

The authors argue that if the administration doesn’t deliver a deal before the Legislature’s Sept. 1 deadline for fiscal committees to meet and report bills to the floor, then union members could be left without raises until lawmakers reconvene in January and vote to fund the contract.

In 2019, the last time Local 1000 negotiated a contract, the union and the state reached an agreement on Aug. 29 — two days before the fiscal committee deadline on Aug. 31. Negotiations in 2016 extended well into the fall and led to a planned one-day strike in December. The work stoppage was eventually called off after union leaders reached a deal that workers approved in mid-January.