The high price of California state worker contracts

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La August 31, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

The high price of California state worker contracts

Despite warnings from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and concerns from some labor-friendly Democrats, the Senate budget committee on Wednesday approved two bills to fund new contracts for three-fourths of the state’s rank-and-file workers.  

The misgivings? Extra goodies in the tentative deal for prison guards, the lack of time to review the contracts negotiated by the Newsom administration, flaws in computing salary comparisons and vacancy rates — and, oh, the bottom-line cost of $5 billion over three years.

That was the overarching apprehension since the state faced a $31.5 billion budget shortfall this year and could face future deficits. By 2025-26, when the contracts would cost $2.2 billion, state revenues could be tens of billions lower, or higher, than current estimates, according to the analyst office’s report that dropped late Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 148 (which covers contracts for 14 of the 21 state’s bargaining units, including the nine represented by the largest union, SEIU Local 1000) and AB 151 (which specifically pertains to state correctional officers) include 80% of the state’s General Fund payroll costs. 

The legislative analyst has repeatedly warned the Legislature against ratifying labor contracts of longer than two fiscal years because of “changing economic situations.” But most of the contracts discussed at Wednesday’s hearing, including the one hammered out with SEIU Local 1000, would be in effect for three years.  

Aside from bigger paychecks and bonuses, the new contract for correctional officers establishes a 401(k) retirement fund on top of the existing state pension, which would increase state costs by an estimated $23 million a year. It’s a provision that made some committee members bristle, especially given the limited amount of time they said they were given to review the contracts and analysis. 

  • Democratic Sen. Josh Becker of Menlo Park: “This is a significant change to our policy, so I’m very concerned about the precedent…. It’s not a (compensation) tool we’ve used before, so it’s a new tool we’re putting in the toolkit, which seems like it’ll be used many times in the future if we put it in here.”

Analysts were also concerned about what they described as flawed methodology used by CalHR and the unions to look at vacancy rates and new compensation rates — a point reiterated by several committee members.

  • Democratic Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside: “Obviously I support public safety pay increases, certainly where appropriate. But it’d be nice to have confidence in the material that’s presented to us to support those increases, particularly in light of some of the criticisms some of us are receiving as legislators.”

(In response, CalHR told CalMatters that its compensation surveys aren’t used to determine salaries, but “serve as a reference document to be used” during the bargaining process.)

And citing a 2022 case of one prison guard assaulting several female inmates at a Chowchilla state prison, Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas raised concerns over greenlighting as much as $5,000 a year in cash bonuses for correctional officers who may be under investigation for disciplinary issues or connected to “any sort of lawlessness.”

  • Smallwood-Cuevas, a Democrat from Los Angeles: “While I understand and recognize how we have a need to recruit and fill vacancies for a number of positions here at the state, why would this particular unit receive a $5,000 cash bonus?”

But the concerns weren’t enough for legislators to hold up the bills, which passed mostly by party-line votes. 

Two Democrats, Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton and Caroline Menjivar of Van Nuys, broke ranks and voted “no” on the prison guard contract. Interestingly, Republican Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, who also supported withholding bonuses from officers under suspension, voted to approve the measure. Besides legislative approval, the contracts still require sign-off from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the unions’ membership.


On the radio: CalMatters investigative reporter Robert Lewis talked Wednesday on KQED about his recent story about California relying on aging sites with safety violations to handle its toxic waste. Listen here.


1 Republicans push on trafficking bill

State Senate Minority Leader Brian W. Jones (R-San Diego) addresses reporters about solutions to issues in the state, during a press conference outside the Third District Court of Appeal building in Sacramento on Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, Sipa USA via Reuters
State Senate Republican leader Brian Jones addresses reporters outside the Third District Court of Appeal building in Sacramento on Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, Sipa USA via Reuters

Speaking of Sen. Grove: A high-profile bill to increase penalties for child sex traffickers has survived the legislative gauntlet so far. But will it make it through Friday’s suspense file?

To make sure, Republicans are trying to amp up public pressure. Wednesday, Grove, who authored SB 14, held an online press event to answer questions. Today, Assembly Republicans plan a rally to support the bill and other anti-crime measures, with backing from some business owners, crime victim advocates and law enforcement officials.

  • Grove: “If you were to ask Californians — Democrat, Republican or independent — if sex trafficking a minor should be a serious felony in the state of California, I could pretty much guarantee that almost everyone would say ‘yes.’ Thousands of Californians have come to our side to stand with us on this piece of legislation.”

The bill made headlines in July when Democrats on the Assembly Public Safety Committee initially voted down the measure, even though it passed the Senate with bipartisan support. After public outcry and protests from Republicans — and after Gov. Newsom and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas got involved — the committee reversed course and passed the bill days later. According to Grove, it now has 64 co-authors, including 38 Democrats, and 46 Assemblymembers, including nine on the 16-member Assembly Appropriations Committee. So its prospects appear favorable.

In other legislative tidbits: 

Small business owners urged lawmakers Wednesday to reject proposals they deem harmful to businesses, including measures that would offer jobless benefits to striking workers, increase paid sick leave and enshrine the right for workers to join a union in the state constitution.

State Sen. Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat who is running for U.S. House, pleaded no contest to driving under the influence near the Capitol in May. He was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and must attend alcohol education and pay $2,050 in fines, Politico reports.

2 Nevertheless, they persist

State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Stockton Democrat join legislators in a hearing to discuss petroleum windfall profits penalties and whether Californians will get relief at the gas pump, at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 22, 2023.
State Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Stockton Democrat, join legislators in a hearing at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

From CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:

It’s well-documented that women have faced more institutional challenges than men when they run for office. But a new survey tries to quantify some of the threats and harassment faced by female candidates, and the impact on their mental health. 

The survey was conducted by California Women’s List, a political action committee, with support from State Controller Malia Cohen, Sen. Talamantes Eggman, other elected officials and several unions. 

In responses from 103 people who ran for various levels of public office in California between 2016 and 2022, 65% of women said they experienced harassment — including stalking and online abuse — compared to 50% of men. 

The women said the hostility was often based on gender, and women of color and LGBTQ candidates experienced harassment in greater numbers, according to the survey. (Those data points are in line with findings on harassment of local officials from Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative and the University of San Diego’s Violence, Inequality and Power Lab).

Marissa Roy, president of California Women’s List, said at a press conference Wednesday that the organization was originally founded on the assumption that women needed help fundraising, but after interviewing candidates, learned the obstacles went beyond money to “invisible barriers” such as mental health impacts that candidates were told was to be expected.

  • Talamantes Eggman: “Sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks… I have certainly experienced all of these things.”

She said she has seen hostility against elected officials increase since she took office in 2006, leading to her holding fewer town halls. That’s something she thinks male colleagues might have a hard time recognizing.

About 80% of all respondents — 56% of them first-time candidates and 98% Democrats — reported experiencing new mental health symptoms that they believed were caused, at least in part, by hostility during their campaigns: 

  • 64% of women surveyed reported frequent fatigue or loss of energy, 65% sleep disturbance and 50% excessive anxiety or worry;
  • About 44% reported recurrent, unexpected panic attacks; 
  • And nearly half of women said they had to change their campaigns due to concerns about safety and well-being.
  • Former Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “I have talked to women who carry knives or pepper spray with them at all times, women who have to check their driveways before they pull out to bring their children to school in the morning, women whose weeks begin with their security details, briefing their children on who has threatened their families that week.”

Despite that, California boasts relatively high percentages of women in office, though representation still falls below parity. California has sent more women to Congress than any other state. It currently ranks 11th in the nation when it comes to women in state legislatures (a record 50), 20th in state legislative leadership, and 9th in the percentage of municipal office holders.

Roy described the report as a call to action. Among the solutions the organization proposes: allowing campaign funds to be used for mental health services, authorizing the Fair Political Practices Commission to crack down on threats and harassment, and holding social media companies accountable for enforcing protection for online abuse.

3 Will removing dams save the Klamath?

Fisheries Technicians Ben Harrison, left, and Aaron Tuttle, right, run a net to collect juvenile coho salmon for PIT tagging in Horse Creek along the Klamath River on July 18, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters
Ben Harrison, left, and Aaron Tuttle with the Karuk Tribal Fisheries Program collect young salmon for tagging in Horse Creek along the Klamath River on July 18, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters

“Once a river is dammed, is it damned forever?”

That’s the big question posed by environmental experts and CalMatters’ Rachel Becker about the four aging hydroelectric dams currently undergoing demolition, in part, to restore the Klamath River.

Many are cautiously optimistic about the world’s largest dam removal project. For decades, the dams have stilled the flow of the river, threatening wildlife such as the chinook salmon, which have been ravaged by a parasite that thrives in the undisturbed waters. 

Built decades ago on the Oregon border to generate electricity for PacifiCorp, the dams produce less than 2% of its customers’ power supply. After years of protests from conservationists and millions of dollars paying federally mandated updates, PacifiCorp agreed to demolish the dams by the end of 2024.

Some Yurok tribal members who have lived in the area for eons and view the river as a lifeblood hope that the dam removal will improve the river’s health.

  • Jamie Holt, a Yurok senior fisheries technician: “It’s just going to harbor far more life… It’s going to hatch all kinds of bugs, which grow bigger fish.”

But not everyone’s happy. Removing 100,000 cubic yards of concrete, 1.3 million cubic yards of earth and 2,000 tons of steel will undoubtedly be disruptive. Local residents and officials worry about the sediment that will be released into the river and losing reservoirs that were once used for firefighting and recreation. 

Members of the Shasta Indian Nation have mixed feelings about the removal. When the dams were first constructed in 1918, it dispossessed the Shasta people. But with their removal, the Shasta people now have to struggle with another setback.

  • Sami Jo Difuntorum, Shasta Indian Nation cultural preservation officer: “There are consequences with the construction of the dams. And now with the dams coming out, we have consequences that are unique to our people — the disruption and disturbance to our sacred sites.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: San Francisco Chronicle columnist (and former CalMatters newsletter writer) Emily Hoeven is right: Domestic abuse should be treated as a violent crime

New power lines could break California’s addiction to natural gas stored at Aliso Canyon, writes V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology.


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Biden cancels $72 million in loans for students who attended CA’s Ashford University // CNN

California expands pandemic mortgage relief program // San Francisco Chronicle

LA council pushes legal action against Texas governor over migrants // Los Angeles Times

State’s broadband plan could leave out East Oakland, south LA // San Francisco Chronicle

LA council backs rules for ‘vanlords’ who rent to homeless people // Los Angeles Times

Dreamforce could leave SF if affected by homelessness // San Francisco Chronicle

Shadowy Bay Area land buyers have strong anti-SF feelings // SFGATE

Fresno mayor wants 10,000 people to live downtown. Here’s the plan // Fresnoland

See you tomorrow


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