Schwarzenegger's State Worker Order May Face Legal Challenges

The budget standoff has turned into a standoff over whether to cut state workers' pay. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to pay more than 100,000 state workers $6.55 an hour, the federal minimum wage, until a budget is in place. State Controller John Chiang says he won't do it. Now the administration may take Chiang to court. KPCC Morning Edition host Steve Julian talked with State Capitol reporter Julie Small about the latest developments.

Steve Julian: Well the budget standoff in California has turned into a standoff over whether to cut state workers' pay. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to pay about 190,000 state employees $6.55 an hour, the federal minimum wage, until a budget is in place. State Controller John Chiang says no, he won't do it. Well now the administration may take Chiang to court. Julie Small is our state capitol reporter. Julie, how likely is a lawsuit at this point?

Julie Small: Well, it appears very likely, because State Controller Chiang has been saying that he will not comply with the governor's executive order to reduce the pay, and yesterday, the press secretary for the governor, Aaron McLear, told us, well, if that's the answer we get, and they're waiting for a formal answer from the controller, then we will sue.

Julian: What's Chiang's reasoning for not following the order?

Small: Well he says, first of all, it's unnecessary. The governor signed the executive order to save cash, to save the state cash, 'cause he says we're gonna run out of cash. The state controller, whose job it is to manage California's cash fund, you know, is planning to go out and borrow cash to cover any shortfall. He says that right now, we have plenty of cash to get us through September, and it's premature to do this, and it's going to cause a lot of hurt.

Julian: If the court, if it does go to court, and if the court sides with the governor, who will have their pay cut?

Small: Oh, just workers all throughout the state government; we're talking about 180,000 people. It crosses all the departments, and there are some exceptions to the pay cuts for Department of Emergency Services, CHP. Anyone who's involved in public safety, and security, and medical coverage would be exempt most likely, but it's going to be far and wide, and state workers, as you imagine, are not happy about it.

Julian: I understand also that there are some employees of the state who wouldn't get paid at all. That there are thousands of lawyers, and doctors, and engineers who don't have the same federal wage protections.

Small: Yes, that's correct.

Julian: KPCC's Julie Small, reporting from Sacramento. We'll have more on this story during AirTalk at 10 with Larry Mantle.

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