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Non-Partisan Political Consultant Discusses California’s Minimum Wage For Federal Workers

Audio

Aired 7/13/10

The federal minimum wage for state workers is still a hot issue at the state capital.
We're joined on Morning Edition by nonpartisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy.

DWANE BROWN (Host): A proposal to pay state workers in California the federal minimum wage is still a hot topic at the state capital. We’re joined on Morning Edition by non-partisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy. What are the warnings about the potential impact on local coffers if you would Leo?

LEO MCELROY (Non-partisan political consultant): Well, Dwane it’s rather interesting. It varies a bit by locations. Some of the smaller counties especially are going to be hard hit, as is Sacramento County, which has a lot of state workers. But the indications are that not only at a local level, but statewide, if you suddenly take 200,000 families or 200,000 state employees, cut them to minimum wage, there’s going to be a pretty good momentary shock wave going through the economy. There are a couple of quick fixes for it of course. One would be the court hearing that’s coming up Friday. If the controller John Chiang prevails in that and gets a court to say no he doesn’t have to do it, that would remove the threat. But he’s lost two court bids already. The other would be if the two largest union groups come to agreement with Governor Schwarzenegger on pension reform then their members would be exempted from that, and that would remove virtually all of the threat to California. But those groups are pretty militant. They’re the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards, and Service Employees International Union, SEIU. They’re big and they’re strong and they’re angry and up to this point they’re showing very little sign of settling. So, we could be in for an economic shock wave once that drop to minimum wage happens, if it happens.

BROWN: Yeah, the governor’s order would potentially affect about 200,000 California state workers. How does the minimum wage issue relate to pension reform?

MCELROY: Well, the governor is using it as a whip. And using it fairly effectively. He’s actually gotten about six bargaining units that represent groups of state employees – highway patrolmen, professional scientists – groups like that, to agree to pension reforms, which would save the state some money on down the line. It would have members contributing more money toward their own health care, toward their own retirement, and it would lower benefits for new hires who come under those jurisdictions. But the problem is, it’s the big unions, the ones that represent the bulk of the state workers, like SEIU and Correctional Peace Officers, that are holding up and they don’t fold quite so easily. CCPO has been at war Governor Schwarzenegger for a long time. They display signs attacking him. They don’t like him very much. And SEIU did not get where it is by being a go-along union. They’re pretty militant. The likelihood of either of them caving in instantly in time to prevent this problem is probably pretty small.

BROWN: And it looks like Friday we will hear the hopefully results about this battle in court over minimum wage?

MCELROY: Friday is the day. Of course, we always could go on to another appeal from there. John Chiang seems determined to keep fighting this thing on a number of levels. That it’s not fair. That it violates state law. And besides that the state computer equipment is so antiquated, and the state program is so difficult to revise that he isn’t at all capable of changing the payroll to adapt it to minimum wage. It’s kind of tough for a guy whose been running an office for four years to say gee my equipment is so bad that I can’t do this. But that’s one of his arguments.

BROWN: Well, we’ve got about 30 seconds here Leo. Tell us about some of the polls or anything that stands out from the latest polls on the statewide races.

MCELROY: Couple of interesting things. In a lot of the factors for instance, in the governor’s race they’re pretty even. But the two things that jump out at you in minor races are the standing of the Republican nominees. Abel Maldonado for lieutenant governor and Steve Cooley, for attorney general, when their positive and negative race shows are measured, come up positive, not just among Republicans, but two-to-one positive among Democrats. They’re both pretty even. Maldonado is a little behind Gavin Newsom in his race. And Cooley slightly ahead of Kamala Harris in his. But the amazing thing this early is that both of them have positive standing among Democrats.

BROWN: Alright we’ll leave it there Leo. Thank you. Non-partisan Sacramento political consultant Leo McElroy.

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