On Columbus Day, Workers Challenge N.H., Calif. Governors

Emily Udell

It was an eventful Columbus Day for state workers on both sides of the country. New Hampshire government employees rejected a contract that included 19 (!) furlough days while California state workers disrupted Department of Motor Vehicle offices by staying home from work.

The State Employees Association of New Hampshire (SEIU Local 1984) voted — with the encouragement of union leadership — to reject a tentative agreement with Gov. John Lynn, 2708 to 1875.

The governor has said that pink slips will be handed out by the end of the month even if the two sides continue their negotiation. The Granite State’s budget, adopted this summer, calls for the slashing of $25 million in labor costs.

A statement on the Local 1984’s website reads:

Governor Lynch should come back quickly to the table to negotiate an agreement we can better support. Layoffs can and should be avoided.

The local represents more than 11,000 state workers, and critics of the contract thought the deal struck last month did not do enough to protect job security, amounted to $50 million in lost wages, and affected workers unequally.

As states across the nation have grappled with shrinking budgets, state workers have been forced to accept losses of wages and benefits.

About nine California DMVs had to close for at least part of the day yesterday when about 13 percent of workers stayed home. Other branches suffered with thin staffing because of a disagreement between workers and the state.

SEIU Local 1000 had encouraged workers to stay home and observe Columbus Day even though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the paid holiday (along with Lincoln’s Birthday) in an effort to balance the state budget. But the union said its 95,000 workers do not have a contract that includes the days as work days. Local 1000 reports that state employees who did work are filing grievances for the time-and-a-half they are owed.

Yvonne Walker, president of Local 1000, said:

State law was broken and our contract was violated when thousands of our members were forced to work on Columbus Day. The governor and his managers are not above the law — we will hold them accountable and demand that employees receive the full holiday pay and credit they are guaranteed by our contract.

The Professional Engineers in California Government filed a grievance
(PDF) over the elimination of the two holidays earlier this month.

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Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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