California lawmakers ratify state worker contracts, but senators criticize last-minute deals

Most of California’s state workers are on track to see raises in their paychecks soon, after legislators in the California Assembly and Senate gave their stamp of approval to new union contracts that govern pay and working conditions.

The contracts still require Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature before they can take effect, though the governor’s approval is all but guaranteed given that CalHR represented him at the bargaining table.

Thirteen of the state’s 21 bargaining units engaged in negotiations with the state this summer. All but one of those unions reached a deal with the Department of Human Resources and had their new contracts approved by both union members within the last few weeks and the Legislature on Monday.

Senate Bill 148, which contained proposed contracts for the nine units represented by SEIU Local 1000, as well as those for the operating engineers, state law enforcement and public safety employees, social workers and prison physicians and dentists, passed the Senate with all eight Republicans voting no on the measure.

Senate Bill 151, which included the proposed contract for correctional officers in state service, sailed through the Senate with opposition from five Democratic lawmakers.

The California Association of Professional Scientists is still in bargaining with the state and will likely not reach an agreement in time for the Legislature to approve the contract before they adjourn for the year on Thursday. All bills must be in print for at least 72 hours prior to a vote, and that final deadline passed Monday night. The union approved a strike authorization vote earlier this month.

Senators voice frustration with short timeline on contracts

Both Democratic and Republican senators voiced concern about how some of the contracts were rushed at the last minute into SB 148.

Sen. Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, bemoaned how two contracts — one for physicians and dentists in California state prisons, and one representing state law enforcement employees — were added at the last minute.

“This is an alarming lack of transparency and accountability,” Niello said on the floor. “This means we’ll be voting on spending hundreds of millions of dollars without even one hearing at which we can take public testimony, hear the (Legislative Analyst’s Office)‘s evaluation and ask questions.”

Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, also expressed concern about how quickly the contracts were being rushed through the Legislature.

“I want to really express my frustration as a legislator at the way in which I feel like we’re being kept in the dark,” Min said in his speech.

Min clarified that he had “no problems” with the substance of the contracts and indicated that it was important to give raises to state workers.

No one raised objections to SB 151 and the state’s tentative contract with the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association. Notably, the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office questioned the use of a flawed CalHR salary study in the bargaining process and recommended “serious and extensive deliberation” over the choice to give guards access to a state-funded 401(k) plan.

“Union members are pleased with the deal, and we expect it to be ratified by September 14,” wrote Glen Stailey, CCPOA president, in a statement to The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday.

SEIU Local 1000 members ultimately approve deal

The largest contract up for negotiation this year was between the state and SEIU Local 1000, the largest public employee union in state service representing 96,000 workers across positions that include analysts, custodians, information technology professionals and prison librarians.

The contract offers raises of at least 3% per year for three years, with several classifications eligible for additional compensation through special salary adjustments and one-time bonuses.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract despite opposition from a vocal minority of members who wanted to see higher raises. Bargaining Unit 1, the largest group, approved the contract with 76% voting in favor. Registered nurses in Unit 17 showed the least amount of support, with only 66% of voting members casting “yes” votes.

“We set a goal for a contract that respects us, protects us, and pays us,” said Irene Green, the union’s vice president for bargaining, in a statement after the vote was tallied. “We didn’t get everything we wanted and we still have more work to do, but through the work of our negotiating team and the support of state workers and our allies, we achieved our goals.”