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California and the West

Davis Win Gives Labor High Hopes

Government: Array of issues, from overtime rules to raises for state workers, are expected to be treated more favorably under Democratic administration.


SACRAMENTO — From the symbolic to the bottom line, Gov.-elect Gray Davis can be expected to change labor relations significantly in California, or so labor leaders and their advocates hope.

Davis has declared that the improvement of public schools is his top priority. He has already announced that he will convene a special session of the Legislature to deal with education.

But the Democrat, who won a landslide victory Tuesday, owes much of his success to organized labor. Unions pumped more than $7 million into his campaign against Republican state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, and union members overwhelmingly voted for Davis.

"The point Gray Davis emphasizes is that we are all in this together," Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante said Thursday. "We have to make sure that janitors and CEOs succeed, that laborers and middle managers succeed. It cannot be either / or. It must be both."

Davis has vowed that he will be a moderate. But organized labor leaders, many of whom have spent their careers battling Republican governors during the last 16 years, trust that Davis will take labor positions far different than those of outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson.

"To say labor's relationship with Wilson was frosty would be to understate the case," said professor Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at UC Berkeley. "The governor sets the tone in so many ways. If the governor is hostile to labor, employers pick up the cue. It's not like there will be a sea change. But there will be a different tone."

As governor, Davis will be able to affect an array of labor issues. Some moves he might make would be arcane and cost individual workers and employers relatively small sums. Others could translate into huge and very visible costs.

"The first thing we have to do is make up for 16 years of abuse and neglect from Republican governors," said Tom Rankin of the California Labor Federation-AFL-CIO.

Most immediately, Davis is expected to consider a raise for state employees, who have not had an increase since 1995.

"That should be one of the first orders of business," said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), long an ally of organized labor. "It's got nothing to do with labor. It has to do with treating these people right."

A raise for the 157,000 state employees covered by collective bargaining would cost $95 million for each percentage point increase they receive. A 6% raise would cost the state $570 million. The money is there; Wilson will leave office in early January with a budget surplus of $1.3 billion.

Any contract for state workers would require approval of two-thirds of the Legislature. But a raise has support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike.

Davis has promised to work to roll back one of Wilson's more controversial labor actions by repealing a standard imposed last year that says workers are not entitled to receive overtime if they work more than eight hours in a day. Under the Wilson regulation, workers are entitled to overtime pay only if they put in more that 40 hours during a week.

Davis can move to repeal the regulation by asking people he will appoint to the Industrial Welfare Commission to reverse it. Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles), one of the most vocal critics of Wilson's overtime rule, said he is thinking about introducing legislation to ensure that future governors cannot repeal the overtime rule.

Businesses, especially manufacturers, will fight such an effort. But their chance of success is slim.

"To the winner of an election go the spoils. I understand that," said Jack Stewart, president of the California Manufacturers Assn., one of the strongest business lobbies in Sacramento. "Labor supported him. But he got a lot of business support too. I take Gray Davis at his word. He is going to be a moderate governor."

Even if Republicans want to try to block a change in the overtime rule, or any other part of Davis' legislative agenda, they will have a hard time, given that Democrats will hold 25 of 40 seats in the state Senate, and 48 of 80 seats in the Assembly.

Beyond a raise for state workers and repeal of Wilson's overtime rule, Davis will be pressured to reverse many more policies established during the 16 years of Wilson and Gov. George Deukmejian.

Among them, labor leaders and many Democratic lawmakers will be pushing for pro-labor appointees to boards and agencies that oversee farm-labor relations, worker safety, wage violations and job discrimination.

Unions representing individual groups of workers have their own issues. Building trades unions have battled Wilson's efforts to roll back the so-called prevailing wage standard, which requires that government pay union rates for its construction programs.

Police and firefighter unions will pressure Davis to grant them the right to outside arbitration to resolve contract disputes. Davis' support of binding arbitration was one reason he won support from such unions. Groups representing state engineers, lawyers and other government workers, meanwhile, are counting on Davis to limit the use of private firms for such services.

Rankin of the Labor Federation is counting on Davis to boost benefits for unemployment insurance, Workers' Compensation, and state disability for workers who are hurt off the job. Some of the costs fall to employers, others to workers.

Rankin also hopes for an increase in the minimum wage, now $5.75 an hour. A bill died last year that would have raised the wage to $6.50. Rankin also wants the minimum tied to inflation.

Davis has said he will set up a commission to study minimum-wage increases regularly.

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