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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 72/No. 32      August 18, 2008

(lead article)
California workers protest layoffs, cuts
Governor orders wages slashed to $6.55

Niaree Hopelian

Members of Service International Employees Union Local 1000 protest at the California State Capitol in Sacramento July 24 against plans by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for massive layoffs of state workers and wage cuts.

San Francisco, August 4—“We can’t survive on $6.55” chanted pickets in Stockton, California, in one of many demonstrations held after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the pay of 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage and laid off 10,300 temporary and part-time workers July 31.

Schwarzenegger claims the cuts are necessary to avoid a “looming cash crisis” because state legislators did not come up with a budget by the July 1 deadline. “I have a responsibility to make sure that our state has enough money to pay its bills,” he said as he sent pink slips effective immediately to thousands of temporary and part-time workers.

There is no guarantee that the laid-off workers will ever be rehired. They include health workers, state park employees, maintenance workers at the light-rail system, workers hired to reduce lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and those processing worker compensation claims.

Schwarzenegger says the workers whose wages are slashed will be repaid when the budget is passed.

At a protest organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in San Francisco, workers explained they need wages now, not later, to pay their bills, mortgages, rent, food, and gas.

“Hey Arnie, was it my mistake? I’m not a pawn!” read a placard at the demonstration, charging Schwarzenegger with using the attack on state workers to try to force legislators to come up with a budget.

A lawsuit arguing that layoffs without notice violate the state constitution was filed in Sacramento Superior Court August 1 by the SEIU, which represents 94,000 state employees. The lawsuit challenges the governor’s right to act “by executive fiat” on employment issues. The SEIU filed a second lawsuit charging unfair labor practices with the Public Employment Relations Board.

State Controller John Chaing, who is responsible for cutting the checks, says he will not follow Schwarzenegger’s “improper and illegal” order.

California officials claim the budget shortfall has risen to $17.2 billion in the wake of the deepening economic recession and housing crisis.

Democratic and Republican party legislators have already cut back Medi-Cal, which funds health care for 6.6 million people who cannot otherwise afford it. Fees for the large network of doctors, pharmacists, dentists, and other health-care providers who serve Medi-Cal patients were reduced by 10 percent last week.

Next week, Medi-Cal payments will cease for about 4,700 hospitals, clinics, adult day-care centers, convalescent homes, and other institutions until the deadlock ends.

Campaigning in San Francisco, Lea Sherman, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Congress in the 8th District, said, “The attacks on state workers, on their union contracts, and on Medi-Cal patients should be opposed by all working people.

“Schwarzenegger and the Democratic and Republican legislators who represent the rich will continue to use their budget shortfall to attack us. They will prioritize paying bills to the wealthy bondholders when they come due, while delaying and denying payments for workers comp and other benefits workers need.

“To combat rising prices, workers need cost-of-living raises, not wage cuts! With rising unemployment, we need a massive public works program at union-scale wages to build hospitals, public transportation, housing, schools, and infrastructure, not layoffs!” the socialist said.

“We need to build a labor party, based on a strengthened and fighting union movement, so we can fight for what is in the interests of working people.”

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