SACRAMENTO — A unified band of Assembly Republicans on Monday blocked a labor contract for 95,000 state government workers that would have restored half of the monthly pay cut they absorbed in recent months as the state scrambled to bridge a $42-billion budget deficit.
Assembly GOP leaders said approval of the contract would have been irresponsible given the state's continuing financial problems, the potential for voters to reject several budget-related measures on the May 19 special election ballot and the likelihood of another big deficit by summer.
The labor deal is just one "piece of the budgetary puzzle, and not all the pieces have yet to land," said Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks). "It makes sense to wait until after the election."
All 29 Republicans in the Assembly either voted no or abstained, preventing the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the contract with Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union.
As Democrats and labor leaders redoubled their efforts to coax the needed handful of votes from GOP lawmakers, Monday's move drew a sharp rebuke from union officials who said they negotiated in good faith with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office. And the union began urging its members to mount a phone-call campaign in nine Republican Assembly districts, including Niello's.
Yvonne Walker, Local 1000 president, said the contract would save the state about $340 million. If it is applied to about 100,000 other state workers represented by other bargaining units, it could save nearly $1 billion, she said.
"How could 29 Republican legislators refuse to support a bill that saves the state so much money?" Walker asked. "We negotiated this contract with the governor in good faith to help close the budget shortfall. More than 90% of our members voted to ratify this agreement.
"Once again, Republicans failed to do their jobs."
The governor's spokesman, Aaron McLear, expressed dismay at fellow Republicans.
"While we understand the Legislature's concerns, we stand behind the contract," McLear said. "It is a fair contract for state employees and saves the state hundreds of millions of dollars."
McLear said the labor agreement would not tie the state's hands if voters reject the May 19 ballot measures, which would cut an even deeper hole in the budget.
Even if the contract is ratified, McLear said, the governor could again use his emergency authority to order worker furloughs, further cutting payroll costs to help balance California's books.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said the state and the SEIU both made concessions in the contract.
"I am disappointed that not even a single Republican Assembly member voted to support this cost-saving deal the governor cut with the state workforce," she said in a statement.
Most state workers are required to take two unpaid furlough days per month, which reduces their salary by about 9.2%.
Local 1000's contract would impose a 4.6% pay cut in lieu of the two furlough days. The pact also would eliminate Columbus Day and Lincoln's birthday as paid state holidays; instead, workers would be able to choose two paid days off.
The contract also would prohibit mass layoffs unless entire state programs are eliminated.
Local 1000 represents clerical workers, auditors, information technology professionals, teachers, printers, librarians, custodians, nurses and other healthcare professionals.