The aftermath of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to temporarily cut the pay of nearly 200,000 state employees and lay off 10,000 of their part-time co-workers has created more hurdles for residents already struggling in a weak economy.
State workers are now being paid the minimum wage of $6.55 an hour and are forced to compensate for those who no longer work beside them. It’s a decision that has angered everyone from employees to union leaders and elected officials.
“These workers deserve the right to go into work each day and know that their wages will be sufficient to support their families,” Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo said.
State controller John Chiang, who manages the state payroll, has refused to comply with the cuts, saying that Gov. Schwarzenegger lacked the authority to make that decision unilaterally and would continue to pay employees what they are owed.
But at a time when jobs are scarce, those who were laid off have to figure out where their next paycheck will come from and how to feed their families with food prices rising.
Gov. Schwarzenegger said the decision would be reversed when lawmakers in Sacramento approve a state budget but admitted this was the only course of action with the state in a $15 billion deficit. The pay cuts would save the state $1.2 billion a month but the effects of the decision have forced employees to rearrange their lives on short notice.
The most notable changes have been at the Department of Motor Vehicles where losing eight percent of its workforce has had a severe impact on not just the staff but visitors as well.
At the Inglewood DMV, the waiting areas were heavily crowded, with some seeking refuge on the floor, and the line to join them stretched outside the door. Most of who tried to make appointments over the phone were unable to since some operators were part of the temporary layoff.
Annette Wright, who came to renew her driver’s license, had been waiting two hours and expected to wait another half-hour.
“It’s like hell, but I have to be here,” she said, adding that she wanted to be an example for her son recently getting his license.
Some waiting in line thought it was an ordinary day at the DMV but the atmosphere suggested otherwise as several employees wore purple shirts in solidarity with the Service Employees International Union.
Scenes like this have no doubt been repeated around the state as employees have to cover for part-time workers who were let go and as a result, the wait times have increased and the lines have grown longer.
At the Los Angeles DMV on Hope Street, the average wait time was 48 minutes on Tuesday while the ones in Hawthorne and Inglewood approached nearly two hours during its peak.
What wasn’t visible in all of this was the pain of former workers who sat at home wondering how they were going to feed their families or find employment when jobs are scarce around the city.
In addition to the DMV, institutions such as public schools, community colleges and hospitals have been affected by depleted staffs and as a result, they have not been able to give adequate service.
However, those who are exempt from the pay cut include state police, highway workers, firefighters, mental health workers “due to the critical nature of the work performed” according to the Department of Personnel Administration.
Elected officials have also been affected by the state’s inability to come up with a budget, having not been paid since July 1. But their concern lay with their constituents as they have voiced their disapproval with the governor’s decision.
“In light of the increase in gas prices, the number of foreclosures and the increase in the cost of living, this is not the time to continue this game of ‘chicken’ at the expense of state employees,” L.A. City Councilmember Bernard Parks said
Parks authored a resolution against the decision that was passed by the City Council on August 1.
With most employees faced with the option of taking out loans and those laid off figuring out how to survive without a job, the effects of the governor’s decision could have a wider impact on their standard of living long after the cuts have been reversed.