California Wage Cut Plan Could Affect U. California Employees

This story was written by Nee-sa Lossing, Daily Californian

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has caught the attention of state employees by considering a wage cut plan that would reduce salaries to the federal minimum wage in order to offset the statewide budget crisis.

State employees would receive a reduced wage of $6.55 an hour-$1.45 less than California's minimum wage-until a budget plan is passed by the state legislature. After a budget is agreed upon, those affected would be compensated for lost wages between the time the cut is made and the time the new budget is passed.

"We need to take some immediate steps to realize some cash savings," said Aaron McLear, a spokesperson for the governor. "We either need a budget, or the governor needs to exert his executive power to find ways to save money."

Should the plan go through, McLear said it will take effect in "a matter of days."

Included in the approximately 200,000 state employees affected by the cut are UC employees; Because plans are still tentative, the UC system is unsure of their next step. UC President Mark Yudof wrote a letter to UC employees addressing the possibility of the wage cut.

UC officials said they are intending to deal with the pay cuts the same way they have in similar situations in the past.

"All we know at this point is (that) we're going to do what we can to make sure that employees' salaries continue to be paid at current levels," said UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas.

Firefighters and highway patrol officers, as well as other state employees whose jobs McLear said are not easily replaced, will not be affected by the potential wage cuts.

According to McLear, the governor feels pressure to offset costs to the budget that are resulting from the legislature's failure to pass a new budget five weeks ago.

McLear said the governor is keeping other options in mind, such as halting overtime pay and laying off approximately 20,000 part-time state employees, to prevent the state from deepening its deficit.

The governor has found some options, such as the wage cuts, to be more beneficial in comparison to standard actions usually taken during budget crises, McLear said.

"(The state would) have to go borrow at unbelievably high interest rates," he said. "We'd be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on loans, and we're already in debt."

Despite potential blows to the university, city of Berkeley employees would not be affected by the cuts.

"It won't affect city operations since we have city employees, not state employees," said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. "We are waiting to find out the state budget. That will affect us."

Meanwhile, university employees said they wait in anticipation, hoping that the legislature announces the state budget before the wage cut plan goes through.

"I believe that we won't be affected by it, but we're waiting," said Lakesha Harrison, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, a local union that represents approximately 20,000 patient-care technical and service employees in the university.