- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) | Thousands of state workers were told to stay home Friday under an order by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger aimed at cutting expenses for California’s cash-strapped government, but a lawsuit filed by a union claims the governor is overstepping his authority.

Mr. Schwarzenegger’s order, signed Thursday as he struggled with a budget stalemate, eliminated 10,300 seasonal, contract and part-time positions. It also ordered that up to 200,000 permanent, full-time state workers will receive the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour in their paychecks until the budget is passed. They would then be reimbursed.

The lawsuit by the Service Employees International Union - California’s largest state-employee union - said laying off workers without notice violates the state constitution and numerous laws, including those governing seniority.

Mr. Schwarzenegger cannot decide such sweeping employment actions by “executive fiat,” according to the lawsuit filed in Sacramento County Superior Court.

“The governor did an end run around the labor process and the government code,” union attorney Paul Harris said.

The SEIU and another union representing state attorneys also filed an unfair labor practices suit that says the administration is trying to illegally influence ongoing contract talks.

The governor’s biggest headache, however, is coming from another state elected official, Controller John Chiang. His office cuts the paychecks for state employees and he is refusing to comply with the part of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s order related to wages, which would save the state far more money than the layoffs.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor will do whatever is necessary to make sure the state can pay its bills.

“The state constitution and a Supreme Court decision clearly support the governor’s action,” he said. “He is prepared to defend this in court if necessary to protect the state’s ability to meet its obligations.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger said his order was needed to avoid a financial crisis until the legislature passes a budget. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are divided on how to deal with a $15.2 billion deficit for the fiscal year that began a month ago.

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