Public safety employee contract may not convince skeptics

Daniel Weintraub
Journalist and Political Blogger at HealthyCal.org

If you’re already skeptical about the state’s ability to cut billions of dollars from projected spending levels, the new contract Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has negotiated with public safety employees will not do much to win your confidence.

A review of the deal by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s office shows how far it will likely come from achieving the 10 percent savings that Brown and lawmakers pledged to make it the next round of state employee contracts. The analyst believes the contract will actually increase costs this year, save just 2.8 percent next year and then start adding to the state’s payroll costs again the year after next.

The contract is for Unit 7, the public safety workers who protect state lands and buildings, issue licenses and permits, and conduct investigations. They include California Highway Patrol dispatchers, DMV examiners, Department of Justice agents, park rangers, and Department of Mental Health police. They also include fraud investigators for the automotive repair program.

The details of the contract are intriguing, to say the least. While the proposed contract includes a handful of concessions by the union, including an increase in employee pension contributions, it is chock-full of concessions by the state.

The deal would require the state to increase its contribution to the employees health insurance plan and it includes a modest pay raise in its third year. But the big costs are somewhat hidden in several changes to employees’ time off and holiday pay.

The biggest of these changes is the end of a three-day-per-month furlough program, which would be replaced by one day of unpaid leave per month for each employee. The furloughs would have saved the state $12.2 million through the remainder of this fiscal year, and $3.7 million in the general fund. But the one-day off rule will save only $5 million over all and $1.3 million in the general fund. So the state loses money on that one.

The increase in what employees will have to pay for their pension plan, meanwhile, would be wiped out by the state’s greater contribution to the health plan. In the first full year, for example, employees would pay $8.2 million more into the pension plan while the state would pay $11 million more into the health plan. Another losing proposition.

The contract also grants employees two more paid days off, which are called “personal development days.” In reality, these days compensate for the elimination of two holidays last year, Lincoln’s birthday and Columbus Day, which was supposed to save the state money on payroll. But instead of getting those holidays off, employees get to designate their own paid days off, and while the days are supposed to lead to be used for some sort of enrichment that helps a worker improve his or her performance, there is no accounting for that activity and in fact none is required. The contract grants two of these days before the end of this fiscal year in Juen and two more next year.

Overall the contract provides an extraordinary amount of paid and unpaid leave time. A new employee hired under this contract this year would get 38 days off, nearly 8 weeks, in his or her first year on the job. To be fair, 12 of those days would be the floating furlough days described above. But the other 26 would be paid days off. The rest are vacation (10 days), “personal development,” (4 days), a personal day, (1 day), and 11 paid holidays.

Because it is unlikely that any new employee could take that much time off, the Legislative Analyst believes that much of this time would be banked and paid later, or when an employee quits or retires. Neither that cost nor the likely cost of overtime to cover high-priority shifts left vacant by all this time off is included in the estimated cost of the contract.

Because of the cost of this contract and another already negotiated, the remaining contracts would have to save an average of more than 11 percent to meet the state’s overall goal of reducing payroll costs by 10 percent.

Given the recent trend, the LAO said, “we have serious doubts” about the state’s ability to achieve that level of savings.

The new contracts were supposed to save money that could be spent instead providing services to the state’s needy and infirm. If this trends hold, it looks like the safety net is in for a few more snips.


Daniel Weintraub is editor of the California Health Report at www.healthycal.org.

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