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Dozens of state workers gathered outside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office in San Francisco today to protest his proposal to reduce their pay to federal minimum wage. The governor has drafted legislation that could decrease the approximate 200,000 state workers' salaries to $6.55 per hour within days if the state budget is not approved to "make sure the state can pay its bills," according to Schwarzenegger's spokesman Aaron McLear.

In addition to decreasing the salary of exempt employees, the executive order would -- effective immediately -- introduce a state hiring freeze, end overtime for all employees and lay off 20,000 temporary workers, McLear said.

About two-dozen state workers part of the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 stood outside Schwarzenegger's San Francisco office to protest the proposal.

The workers held up signs that read, "Hey Arnie, was it my mistake? I'm not a pawn!" and "I am worth more than $6.55."

San Leandro resident Erlinda Arrieta, who works at the California Department of Insurance, said that as a single mother with three kids in college, she would not even be able to pay her train ticket to get to work every day if her salary is reduced to the federal minimum wage.

"There's no way we can survive on $6 an hour," Arrieta said.

Another state employee, San Francisco resident Marty Frum, who works for the California Coastal Commission, said the salary decrease would have a "snowball effect," causing workers who make less to spend less and therefore further damage the economy.

"The cutbacks are not going to make things easy," Frum said. "The governor may have caused something that will cost more in litigation."

But McLear explained that once the state has its budget set, employees will get their full salary back.

And even if Schwarzenegger goes ahead with the minimum wage proposal, its implementation would take about three weeks, according to McLear.

"So if we get a budget in the mean time, we don't have to go through with that," McLear said of the salary decrease.

"He knows this would not be a popular decision," McLear said. "He has a duty to make sure the state has enough cash."

McLear added that nothing is final yet. "We haven't announced any date or any decisions, (but) within the next few days we either have to have a budget or executive order to deal with the looming cash crisis," he said.


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