Prison workers protest wage cut
Schwarzenegger’s approach to solving the budget impasse drew the ire of the prison workers at the rally, especially Michael Stepanich, a teacher and examiner at CCC.
“The governor has decided to use us as pawns to somehow leverage the state legislature into making a budget now,” Stepanich said. “He’s a self-made millionaire who can go wherever he wants whenever he wants. He wants to force us to loan the state millions of dollars without interest, and that’s really insulting to us. Most of us live from paycheck to paycheck and have payments to make. Does he think about us? Does he care about us? Does the state legislature even care about what’s going on in the state? It really makes me wonder.”
The rally, held at the Susanville shopping center on Main Street, was only one of several similar rallies held by state correctional workers at locations across the state. According to an information sheet passed out by the prison employees, other rallies were held in Sacramento, Preston, Vacaville, Soledad, Chowchilla, Delano, Corcoran, El Centro, Chino and San Diego.
The prison employees from Susanville dressed in purple T-shirts and carried picket signs designed to draw attention to their plight.
The state workers chanted and yelled and received support from many motorists who waved their arms and honked their horns as they passed the demonstration.
Lt. Scott Porter, administrative assistant at CCC, said he wasn’t sure how the governor’s executive order would affect the state’s correctional officers.
“We are working very hard to follow the direction of the governor,” Porter said. “It’s definitely a topic of conversation, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
In a letter to state employees, dated Friday, Aug. 8, Schwarzenegger told the employees they eventually will receive their entire paycheck.
“ … let me be clear,” the governor wrote, “although you may temporarily be paid less, you are earning your full salary and benefits, and, once a state budget is passed, you will be fully reimbursed.”
The governor also wrote, “Thousands of state employees who are not being paid as a result of the late budget have already sought and received no-cost or low-cost loans from financial institutions that are helping state employees cover the amount of their typical paychecks. I encourage you to contact these institutions for assistance.”
The prison workers’ union has filed three lawsuits over the governor’s executive order, and it claims the wage cut will affect about 150,000 workers statewide.
The union also claims the governor has terminated more than 10,000 workers and “teachers and instructors at state prisons and juvenile facilities will see their salaries cut to zero until a budget is passed.”
As of Aug. 13, union officials said John Chiang, the state’s controller, continues his “David versus Goliath” battle with the governor. Chiang has said the state has the money to pay the workers, and he has pledged to keep the paychecks coming despite the governor’s executive order.
According to the governor’s letter:
•In absence of a state budget, employees who are protected under the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Acts must be paid the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour if no overtime is worked.
•Most supervisors and all managers fall under a different FLSA category and must be paid $455 per week.
•In the case of certain professions like attorneys and doctors, there is no wage requirement under FLSA, so they cannot be paid at all until there is a budget.
The executive order exempts some employees who “provide safety or 24-hour care.”
According to one of the union’s handouts, “We have learned that correctional officers and prison staff will be seriously impacted in the communities where correctional facilities are located. We believe the governor’s executive order to cut wages to the federal minimum wage and terminate 22,000 state employees failed to ensure the safety at their prisons (for the) staff, the 170,000 inmates incarcerated and anyone who lives within a 50-mile radius. The governor has placed law-abiding, tax-paying citizens in proximate physical danger.”
In his letter to the state workers, Schwarzenegger offered his “sincere apologies” and said the administration is working diligently to conclude budget negotiations as quickly as possible.
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