California State Worker Crisis (x-posted at DKos)

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Re:  California

Dear President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama:

Good evening, I’m sure you get hundreds of these per day, pleas to intervene via policy and politically to mitigate horrible situations.  Especially from those who live on the gulf.  I grew up in that region myself and feel terribly for those who live there still.  

Now I live in Sacramento and work as a state employee – general counsel to an agency within California state government.  I just learned that Governor Schwarzenegger and his staff decided to order pay cut to the minimum wage for all California state employees.  Which, because of the FLSA, means no payment whatsoever to attorneys.

I am in my fourth year of practice and graduated with $150,000 in undergraduate and law school debt.  I put myself through UC Berkeley and Pacific McGeorge School of Law, working part-time through all seven years of school.

My wife is a third-grade teacher at a charter school in Natomas, an ethnically diverse school district within the City of Sacramento.  Her students have improved during each of the four years she has taught there and the parent board decided she should be certified as a teacher for the gifted and talented.  Abigail is in her fifth year of teaching – the first was spent in a moribund, bureaucracy-bound school district that is now on the verge of bankruptcy.   She didn’t fit in.  

She graduated with only about $15,000 in educational debt because of the generosity of her father, a long-time employee of the City of Los Angeles who was able to buy a house for his family of four in Los Feliz, near Chavez Ravine.  They were also able to buy another house in Santa Rosa in the North Bay Area in which they are now retired.  Howard and his wife DJohn Jr.tha live on one pension and one social security check along with some income derived from savings during his career.

I contrast that with the situation my wife and I now face.  Two salaries barely make ends meet.  And, unlike many of my co-workers, our salaries are well within the definition of “middle class.”  

But our house is 54% underwater ($160K upside down).  Yet, we pay our mortgage every month although now I suspect we may file for bankruptcy.  State workers exhausted any savings cushions they may have had during the last 18 months of furloughs.  Even with the 15% percent furlough wage cut ($1,000 per month) that the Governor has improperly withheld from my checks for the last 18 months.  

We also have a 14-month-old baby boy.  Well, a toddler really which means we get to incur another $900 per month bill for daycare on top of the lost furlough money.  

Moreover, I’m not sure that California is a state in which I want John Jr. to grow up.  But my mother grew up in San Diego and my wife is a California native.  And my law license lacks reciprocity with any other state so I’m invested in trying to help California (or studying for another bar exam).  And by helping California, helping my family (and avoiding the aforementioned bar exam).  I forgot to mention the school district Abigail works for, like many school districts across the state, faces near term bankruptcy.

You likely know that Meg Whitman, a corporate shill who wants to abolish government, is the Republican Candidate for Governor.  And that our party is running ex-Governor Brown.   Ms. Whitman has already spent approximately $91 million dollars trying to buy the office in which a political notice who has wreaked havoc on the state trying to bully his way into a legacy rather than work with the diverse stakeholders who make up the state.

Ms. Whitman would be, in the parlance of your last campaign, “more of the same.”  California cannot afford another 4 years of political posturing and angry ranting from an ego-maniacal, unethical, individual.  Governor Brown, although certainly not the shining star of our party we were hoping for, is inestimably better than the alternative as he knows how government works, its place in the scheme of our society and is ethically beyond reproach.  I’ll take that after more than 7 years of dysfunction.  The state is broken; but not beyond repair.

But we are tired.  Tired of fighting to keep our heads above water financially.  Fighting to keep our student loans current.  And our mortgages.  We’d love to replace my wife’s 1990’s era Civic with a newer car but we can’t afford a monthly payment on a used car, even with a low rate from our credit union.  The safety advances alone make it a worthwhile purchase but one long-deferred.

Struggling to find time, with two parents working in public service, both with graduate-level educations, to raise our child and to volunteer in our community.  Wishing that we had the money to take a vacation or to enjoy the many three-day weekends of the last 18 months, the sole benefit of the Governor’s illegal furlough program.  

And we fight on.  To satisfy our financial obligations, charging those necessities that our salaries won’t cover.   Eventually we hope the California courts will restore our lost wages with interest, as that would just about offset the debt we’ve accrued.  We now face losing more than half of our combined monthly income due to the Governor’s latest payroll order.  That order will push us over the edge.

You could help in two ways.  One in your capacity as President of the United States and one in your capacity as the leader of the Democratic Party.  

In your official capacity you could assist approximately 240,000 California state workers by asking the Department of Labor to intervene in the litigation pending in several state appellate courts, including the state Supreme Court and to issue an opinion letter on the Governor’s proposal to cut all hourly workers to minimum wage and all exempt workers to either the minimum salary-basis test of $455 week or to zero (for doctors and attorneys as they are not subject to the salary-basis test of federal law).  

In your capacity as the leader of our party, perhaps either yourself or your lovely First Lady could visit our once-Golden state to campaign on behalf of Mr. Brown.  He needs help to beat back Meg’s attempt to make an outright purchase of the Governor’s office and its attendant powers.  Which I’m sure she would use to undermine the nation’s recovery at every opportunity.  Perhaps not intentionally but that would be the certain effect.

All the Best,

John Adams

P.S.  Apropos of absolutely nothing, I volunteered for your campaign as a poll-watcher on election day in Nevada.  Glad we won there.

Cc: Senators Feinstein and Boxer

Congresswoman Matsui