Columbus Day Showdown at the DMV

The governor's latest fight with state workers centers around who will punch a time clock next Monday.

Thursday, Oct 8, 2009  |  Updated 10:32 AM PDT
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CORTE MADERA, CA - JULY 10: A California Department of Motor Vehicles customer peers into the door of a closed DMV branch July 10, 2009 in Corte Madera, California. As California struggles with a $26-billion budget imbalance, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency earlier this month and has ordered three work furlough days per month leaving most state offices closed today. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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State workers are warning the public should be prepared for at least a partial shutdown of the California Department of Motor Vehicles as well as state offices next Monday on Columbus Day.

The closures are still a bit up in the air depending  on how many union members decide to treat it as a paid holiday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office has made it clear workers should go to work as usual Monday.   If workers decide to defy the administration and not show up, it would be viewed as an illegal job action, his office said in a letter to workers.

The labor union doesn't see it that way.  They said workers have every right to treat Columbus Day as a holiday.

At issue is a contract dispute, in which Service Employees International Union 1000 members agreed to give up two holidays in exchange for reducing their furlough days from three to one per month.

The union doesn't see the contract as valid because the Legislature never ratified it.   This week, the Schwarzenegger administration sent a terse letter.

"SEIU is advocating an illegal job action" by telling workers that Monday is a paid holiday, the letter said.

The union fired back, saying, "there is no question that Columbus Day is a holiday for state workers under the law."

Some customers at the DMV expressed little sympathy for the state workers who are vowing to stay home.

"Being it's a recession and all, I figure they have a chance to work, they should go to work just like the rest of us," Sacramento resident Norland Jackson said.

But many state workers say, despite a threat to dock their pay, they intend to take Columbus Day off.

"The governor is trying to manhandle state workers. And with the Legislature and governor not signing the new contract, we go back to the old contract. And I'm tired of being pushed around," DMV worker Paula Hayes said.

DMV employee Angela Ramirez says workers have been put in the middle of a "political game."

It's a touchy situation for pro-labor lawmakers like Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who sympathizes, but has told his own staff to come to work.

"It's a statement of frustration. When you negotiate a contract in good faith, you want that contract to be what governs you," Steinberg said.

Aaron McLear, spokesman for the governor's office, said, "state workers still have 12 state holidays they get paid for, but not this one."

The governor's office said the two holidays removed as part of the budget agreement in February will save the state $13 million.

KCRA.com contributed to this report.

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