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Legislature Approves Contracts For Six State Unions

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The state Assembly approved labor contracts Monday for more than 50,000 prison guards, attorneys, engineers and other state workers that would save more than $300 million a year.

The 54-17 vote was the minimum needed for approval of SB151 and came despite objections from Republican lawmakers that the contracts should have saved even more money.

Supporters say the contracts boost the amount state workers pay toward their retirement benefits, and that any salary increases are meant to offset those higher contributions. The contracts contain “significant employee concessions that will immediately save the state millions of dollars” and continue to do so in future years, said Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Lakewood.

Opponents said the contracts should have included even stronger pension reforms and not increased salaries. Raising salaries when the state faces a continuing budget gap and has not imposed major changes to reduce unfunded pension obligations is irresponsible, said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.

The contracts, particularly the possibility of lump-sum payouts for unused vacation pay in the prison guards contract, demonstrate that Gov. Jerry Brown is making policy decisions based on what’s best for state employees, not what’s best for California taxpayers, said Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa.

Furutani said the vacation payments were necessary because prisons must be staffed around the clock and the state would have to hire more guards to allow employees to take all the vacation time they earn.

The new contracts would increase the employee contributions to their pensions by anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent of their total salary. That’s in line with increases in other contracts negotiated last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration.

The deals also effectively lower employee salaries through one unpaid day off per month for the next year, and make it harder for workers to “spike” their pensions with inflated compensation in their last year on the job. Pension amounts that previously were determined by the highest single year of compensation are now based on the average of their top three years.

While the pension changes in the contracts may not go as far as some want, Furutani said during debate on the Assembly floor that the bill “does some pension reform and that pension reform was done at the bargaining table.”

Because the bill was enacted as an urgency measure that could take effect immediately, it needed a two-thirds majority for approval, requiring support from two Republican lawmakers in each house. The bill drew exactly the number of votes needed, with Republican lawmakers Katcho Achadjian of San Luis Obispo and Paul Cook of Yucca Valley backing it in the Assembly.

The bill was approved previously in the Senate by a similarly slim margin. It now goes to the governor’s desk.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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