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State Senate approves union contracts over GOP objections

May 2, 2011 |  5:29 pm

Despite complaints by GOP lawmakers that Gov. Jerry Brown did a poor job of negotiating labor contracts with 51,000 public employees, the state Senate approved the agreements Monday.

Brown had vowed to save the state $500 million in the course of negotiating the contracts. But he came up $200 million short, prompting several Republicans to call for a return to the negotiating table.

Among the workers covered by the contracts are prison guards, who are now positioned for a potential windfall when they retire. In the contract, the Brown administration removed a decades-old limit on the number of vacation days they can save up during their careers. Those days can then be cashed out upon retirement, at their final salary, which is typically higher than the pay rate at which the days were accrued.

"There's no excuse for this," Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga said just before lawmakers nonetheless approved the contracts by a vote of 27 to 13. They now go to the Assembly.

Democrats argued that the governor forced the employees, who also include administrative law judges, state attorneys, engineers and scientists, to make tough concessions in the six contracts approved Monday. They pointed to a new requirement that the state workers provide from 2% to 5% additional salary toward their pensions.

Employees would also be required to take 12 days of personal leave during the next 12 months to help save the state money.

The contracts "save money and help reduce the deficit,'' said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

But Republicans said the pension and other concessions fell far short of what voters are demanding. They said that at a time when the governor wants Californians to pay higher taxes, he needs to further trim the salaries and benefits of state workers.

-- Patrick McGreevy and Jack Dolan in Sacramento