State workers take to SF streets, Capitol steps

After covering a federal court hearing this morning in San Francisco, I was walking through Civic Center and saw several dozen state workers — most of them wearing the distinctive purple t-shirts of the Service Employees International Union — picketing outside the state building.

“We’re taking care of California, don’t hurt our families,” “Don’t balance the budget on our backs,” their signs read. “5 percent don’t pay the rent” and “The party of ‘no’ has got to go,” they chanted.

They were delivering to Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger’s San Francisco office copies of petitions signed by 35,000 state workers, urging the governor to drop his plans to cut another 5 percent from all state workers’ salaries; they’ve already lost more than a month’s worth of wages through the governor’s mandatory furloughs.

Instead, they want the governor to make a 10 percent cut in California’s $34 billion in private vendor contracts. Just since January 2008, the state has entered into more than 15,000 new private vendor contracts worth almost $6 billion; SEIU Local 1000 boasts it has sued to stop about 120 such contracts in the past two years, winning four out of five cases by proving the contracts were more expensive and less efficient than using state employees to do the same work.

“It’s time for the governor and his corporate supporters to begin giving back to help balance the budget by cutting private contracts and closing corporate tax loopholes,” SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said in an e-mailed statement.

SEIU workers were outside Schwarzenegger’s State Capitol office in Sacramento today, too. Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, seemed to misunderstand the union’s intent, issuing a statement saying the union wants all of the state’s private vendor contracts eliminated.

“SEIU and AFSCME’s proposals are out of touch with reality, and they do more harm than good. Big labor’s agenda is clear, protect the bloated bureaucracy that got us into this mess,” Hollingsworth said, noting private vendor contracts represent thousands of private-sector jobs and billions of dollars in future tax revenue that would be lost.

In the last decade, he said, public-sector employment has outpaced private sector employment by 9 percent.

“Something is wrong with our system when the market no longer drives job creation. California’s bureaucracy should never out pace private sector jobs. SEIU is protecting a broken system and putting more hard-working Californians on the street. Budget priorities should be performance based, not based on which bully can shove the hardest,” Hollingsworth said, claiming that increasing the gas tax, instituting an alcohol tax and accelerating tax collection on small businesses would protect labor’s membership while shifting the cost to the general public. “Increasing taxes and proposing new ones is insane. It’s exactly what the voters said no to. We must cut programs that don’t work, end automatic spending formulas, and pursue long-term reforms that will keep us out of this mess for good.”

And California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring had this to say about it:

“Today we see the union campaign of threats and intimidation move from the hearing room to the capitol steps. The venue is different, but the tactics remain the same: bully government officials into making decisions that make sense for their narrow interest instead of the public good.

“Today, SEIU will continue to reject a 5 percent cut in pay for state government bureaucrats while continuing to demand billions in new taxes to be paid by California families who are already struggling to make ends meet. The Governor and lawmakers should continue to stand strong in the face of this continued bullying and intimidation by union officials.”

UPDATE @ 3:13 P.M.: Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear notes the governor issued an executive order earlier this month to eliminate funding “for contracts entered into by state agencies and departments after March 1, 2009 for all goods and services excluding those necessary for public safety and to prohibit entering into any new contracts.” The order also directed all state departments to develop and submit to the Finance Department plans to reduce their future spending on contracts and purchases by at least 15 percent no later than 30 days after the adoption of the revised 2009-10 budget.

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.

  • RR

    Were the protesting workers on their morning break? Maybe they are on the staff of the Blueberry Promotion board.