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A Spouses View on Furloughs and Minimum Wage

Author: Sally Clark
Created: 16 July, 2010
Updated: 13 September, 2023
3 min read

Governor Schwarzenegger:

   I am writing as just one face of the State of California married to a State worker.  I would like to share my story with you. I follow the budgets talks and negotiations through the Sacramento Bee’s coverage and analysis; I am saddened your employees, your most competitive asset, are so devalued and I’m frustrated by the inertia and politicking that has become synonymous with California.

   The cumulative eighteen months has been very difficult for us. We cut back where we could, planted front and back yard summer and winter vegetable gardens in order to save money at the grocery store. I have been able to get us by on my salary because I work for a great company allowing me to telecommute to save money on gas and allowing me overtime. I have been the primary earner for the past 18 months, the sole person paying the mortgage, property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, and veterinary bills.  

   After the 3rd furlough was instituted, my husband tried to get a part time job to lessen the stress and financial burden on me, but couldn’t. Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wal-mart thought he was over qualified.

   Governor Schwarzenegger, I was able to get us through the furloughs, making up the difference with overtime for my husband’s 14% pay cut. I’m not so sure I can manage with this minimum wage order. I’m stressed and anxious because a heavier financial burden will fall on my shoulders. I am afraid for the first time we will be behind on our bills. After careful calculation, my husband will bring home $309 for the month.

   That’s $9.96/day for the month of August.

   I have a choice to make August 1st: pay all of our bills and have nothing left for emergency spending or fall behind on the bills so there is some money left over for emergency spending. 

   Governor Schwarzenegger you have a choice too. You have cited the White v. Davis (2003) court ruling, mandating you, by law, to lower all State Workers to Federal minimum wage absent a budget. Since 2003, the budget has been late and yet for five years (until 2008) you chose not to enforce this ruling. You mention it’s the law and you must abide by it, but it seems the law is selectively being applied by you to the detriment of 200,000+ employees of the State of California. These people are your competitive advantage, pay minimum wage and you will get minimum performance.

   How does this order save the State money? The wages have to be paid back plus liquidated damages according to the FLSA (Biggs 1990). There is nothing gained in the short term and plenty paid back in the long term. The budget process has been exercise in accounting gimmicks, raids on special funds, and shifting liabilities. This minimum wage order seems to be another accounting gimmick and another way to temporarily shift liability…to your employees. Again, there is no short term or long term gain in lowering your employees to Federal minimum wage.

   I would like to see a budget passed and our finances in order, but I see no value to the State in lowering its employees to Federal minimum wage. Trust me, the majority of your employees do not have luxurious pay and benefits everyone seems to think they do. A simple and straight cost/benefit analysis should show this has impacts that reach farther than the employees of the State of California.

   I am just one face of California who needed to be heard.

   Thank you.