A government civil war continued in a Sacramento appellate court on Monday, setting the stage for a dramatic decision that will dictate whether the state can withhold pay to the federal minimum for more than 200,000 workers.It's pretty clear that the unions are expecting to lose here and are making major concessions in order to prevent this from happening. The problem is, with only a week left before the new fiscal year starts, there's an extremely good chance Arnold will do it anyway.
Attorneys for the Schwarzenegger administration and State Controller John Chiang debated a lower court ruling that said Chiang had overstepped his authority when he refused to issue minimum wage paychecks during a 2008 budget impasse.
The legal tussle has taken on a renewed urgency since there's no budget deal in sight just eight days before the start of the new fiscal year. Without a budget that appropriates money for payroll, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could again order most state workers' wages temporarily withheld to the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.
The case's uncertain outcome has put pressure on state employee unions to revive long-dormant negotiations with the governor. Four unions last week announced tentative agreements that exchanged several concessions for guarantees their members won't be subjected to minimum wage or furlough orders.
"The unions are saying, 'Look, this is better than minimum wage that's coming if you don't agree to a deal,' " said University of California, Los Angeles, state labor expert Daniel J.B. Mitchell.
Other states are paying attention to the legal issues here, I'm sure. Forcing all state employees into minimum wage is something I'm betting Republicans across the country are chomping at the bit to inflict upon millions of American workers.
Hopefully the judge will put a stop to this. I seriously doubt it. The stigmatization of state workers continues in our increasing anti-government society. Balancing the budget on the backs of millions of state workers seems cruel, but that's what Republicans demand.