State workers protest budget impasse in Oakland

State workers were on Oakland’s streets again today, complaining that the lack of a state budget is leaving them — and all Californians — in the lurch.

They started outside the Caltrans building at Grand Avenue and Harrison Street and marched over to the Elihu Harris State Office Building on Clay Street, where they rallied as drivers-by honked their horns in support.

“Two, four, six, eight, can’t get a budget in this state,” chanted 75 or so employees, most of them wearing Service Employees International Union t-shirts or buttons with a few Operating Engineers mixed in. Many carried signs with slogans such as “No budget, no peace” and “More money, less B.S.”

Charade Curtis of Vallejo, a Caltrans staff service analyst, said she has worked for the agency for almost 24 years. “I cannot survive on $6.55, no way — we’re underpaid as it is,” she said, referring to the governor’s plan to slash thousands of state employees’ pay to the federal minimum wage in the absence of a budget.

Curtis said she blames Schwarzenegger for the deadlock. “They knew this was coming, this happens every single year, but this year he’s taking it to an extreme,” she said, noting he’s a rich movie star who doesn’t have much in common with the workers whose wages he’s willing to cut. “He’s from Hollywood, he’s not a normal person.”

Gloria Wallace of Fairfield has worked for Caltrans for 22 years and for the state Department of Motor Vehicles for two years before that; she said she was at the protest today not only to decry the lack of a budget, but to ask for a fair deal at the negotiating table.

“We’re in bargaining right now and we want to get a good contract,” she said, citing a study she said showed people in her job classification — a right-of-way agent, who acquires property for state transportation projects — and others are 25 percent to 30 percent underpaid compared with peers in cities and other states. “We haven’t had consistent raises in the last seven years, so we fell behind.”

UPDATE @ 4:42 P.M.: “The governor has done everything he can do here… The Legislature is over two months late in doing their job of passing a budget,” Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear told me just now. “It’s the Legislature, both Republicans and Democrats, who have refused to come out of their corners… Neither side is compromising and doing the responsible thing by proposing a bipartisan solution the govenror can sign.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.