Economy

Schwarzenegger's minimum wage plan angers California state workers

Five years ago, the state correctional officers' union paraded a mobile billboard around the Capitol bearing an unflattering picture of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bathing suit.

That demonstration seems mild compared to the frustration state employees feel this year toward the Republican governor. Schwarzenegger has incurred the wrath of rank-and-file employees through efforts to reduce pay and benefits, particularly his latest push to impose minimum wage.

Schwarzenegger was heckled by fairgoers when he toured the State Fair this week. His office has received a flood of e-mails critical of his actions toward state workers, some so colorful they were reviewed by the California Highway Patrol.

"He's the wrong captain on the wrong boat in a bad storm," said Kevin Menager, a Franchise Tax Board employee for roughly 20 years.

Schwarzenegger insists his moves have been dictated by a historic recession and budget crisis, not antipathy.

"When it comes to state employees, let me make one thing clear, that I appreciate very much the hard work that state employees do," he said in January as he unveiled a budget that would cut worker pay by at least 10 percent. "But at the same time, we have had a drop because of the economic crisis worldwide. … People had to take reductions in their salaries and all of those things and so the public sector also has to take a haircut."

In the past two years, Schwarzenegger has imposed furloughs, sought pay reductions and threatened layoffs for state employees. This month, he demanded that Controller John Chiang pay workers minimum wage until a budget is passed. For now, a court has blocked that effort, pending further legal action next month.

The governor says he is seeking minimum wage for state workers as a matter of law. Without a budget, he says, the state should not pay its workers above minimum wage, based on a 2003 court ruling.

With state leaders a long way from resolving a $19.1 billion deficit, the governor's order also serves as leverage in budget talks. Minimum-wage pay could lead to enough outcry to force lawmakers to compromise, particularly Democrats aligned with state employee unions.

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