Court denies Schwarzenegger’s motion to force state workers’ pay cut

A superior court judge denied Governor Schwarznegger’s motion to order California’s controller to cut state workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette denied the Governor’s request for a temporary restraining order to force California’s controller to cut most state workers pay to $7.25 cents an hour. Marlette said the order would unduly harm state workers

The Governor issued the order to be able to defer payment on more than $1 billion in wages each month—until lawmakers pass a budget.

But the state’s controller John Chiang had refused to comply. Chiang said the state’s payroll system can’t properly manage pay cuts for 200 thousand workers. That’s because it would take California months to pay back the deferred wages and that could violate federal and state labor laws.

Marlette said he had to weight the harm such a pay cut would inflict on hundreds of thousands of state workers against the harm the state would endure by failing to hold onto the cash. Marlette said state workers would suffer more and denied the Governor’s motion to immediately cut their pay.

The judge’s decision means that state workers will get paid full wages in July and August. But that’s not the end of the matter.

The Schwarzenegger’s administration has asked the judge to resolve the issue for future budget years. The judge set a July 26 hearing on the merits of that motion.

Marlette made it clear that while the Controller may currently lack the proper payroll system to implement the paycuts legally, the Governor has the authority to order them during a budget impasse.

“The law has to be given some weight” Marlette said.

Steve Rosenthal, an attorney for the Controller conceded that “It would be wrong for this to continue year after year.”

The Controller’s office plans to upgrade the payroll system by 2012.