Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) workers across the Bay Area held protests outside DMV offices on Monday to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce state worker wages to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 per hour from the California minimum wage of $8 per hour.
SEIU Local 1000, a union that represents DMV workers, Corrections Department workers and emergency personnel, organized the actions in Oakland, San Jose, Concord, San Mateo, Vacaville, Salinas and Capitola in response to an executive order signed by Schwarzenegger last week to reduce pay and terminate 10,000 workers.
The governor said he is basing his decision on a 2003 ruling by the California Supreme Court, White v. Davis, which held that when there is no budget in place, the state is required to pay its workers the federal minimum wage, or, if they work overtime, their full salaries plus minimum wage.
Shortly before noon at the Oakland Claremont office, a dozen DMV workers held signs, chanting slogans such as “We Can’t Survive on $6.55.” Many said they feared home foreclosures and an inability to pay bills.
“They need to give us a fair salary,” said Kathy Shipp, who has worked at the Oakland Claremont DMV branch for three years. “I’m not going to be able to pay my bills. It makes me very angry. There are a lot of hardworking people here, and Arnold just doesn’t care about us. Our hours have been shortened, people are getting laid off, and, most of all, customers are getting upset.”
John Krumm, a DMV field representative who works at the San Francisco office and who is also a member of the bargaining team, says that he has already noticed longer waiting times at the DMV.
“Before these proposed budget cuts and layoff notices took place, the waiting time was an hour or less,” remarked Krumm. “When I went in to work on Friday, the average wait time was over three hours. In addition, we can’t take walk-in appointments after 3 p.m. anymore. This is not good news for the DMV or the public.”
Some DMV workers fear for their health, due to the threat of cuts in medical benefits by the governor’s budget proposal.
“We need to have our medical benefits,” said Barbara Scott, a single mother in Oakland, who has worked at the DMV for five years as a phone operator. “People who have kids need to have a fair salary and health insurance. I want people to know that we really can’t survive on $6.55 an hour.”
Krumm said that the morale of DMV employees is down, and many are venting their frustration toward the governor and the State of California.
“I feel very much used,” Krumm said. “I work very hard for the state. I think Arnold is playing a power game with the state legislature. Every single employee is being affected. There are many in the area who are very angry.”
Michelle Freeman, a four-year employee of the DMV, thinks that the DMV employees should begin a strike.
“We are very limited in the things we can do,” said Freeman. “Right now, we are protesting during our lunch breaks, but we could also strike. I think we should strike, in fact. It is pissing me off that the governor is proposing this. I come all the way from Antioch. The price of gas is up. If I only get $6.55 per hour, I can expect to go into home foreclosure, become bankrupt, and not be able to pay any of my bills … We mean business.”
The governor said his actions are necessary and legal in a statement distributed to the media last week.
“Today I am exercising my executive authority to avoid a full-blown crisis and keep our state moving forward,” Schwar-zenegger said. “This is not an action I take lightly, but we do not have a budget, and as governor, I have a responsibility to make sure our state has enough money to pay its bills.”
Following the governor’s action, SEIU Local 1000 filed three court actions to stop the government’s executive order: one in Sacramento County Superior Court to stop the layoffs, another as an unfair labor practices complaint with the state Public Employee Relations Board regarding the legality of cutting salaries to federal minimum wage, and a third to hold the state accountable for paying 8,000–9,000 laid-off state employees who haven’t been paid yet.
“We feel that we are being jerked around,” said Jim Zamora, media spokesman for SEIU Local 1000. “This is no way to run a state or a business. We want the governor to work with the legislature to pass a budget and keep California running.”