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California Unions Take Pay Protest to Movies

State workers across the country have long complained about budget-cutting by way of furloughs and pay cuts. Now California’s state employee unions are taking the fight to the wellspring of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity: the big screen.

The workers, scheduled by the governor to be on unpaid leave on Friday, say they will demonstrate outside theaters across the state showing the new action thriller “The Expendables,” which features a rare cameo by the actor turned governor, who is likely to become an actor again when his term expires early next year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the premier of The Expendables.
Getty Images
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the premier of The Expendables.

“While state workers are being asked to do their job with less money, he is restoring his movie star status,” said Jim Zamora, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 1000. “It’s another slap in the face.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger and about 150,000 state workers are at loggerheads: he wants them to continue taking furloughs to help close the state’s huge budget gap, while they are declining the honor of making such a sacrifice.

The service workers, the Association of California State Supervisors, the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association and other unions are suing to stop the furloughs. The cuts amount to a 15 percent reduction in pay.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick said Monday that the unions had raised “serious questions” about the governor’s ability to order the unpaid vacations. Pending a resolution of the court case, Judge Brick canceled the furloughs.

Lawyers for the governor appealed the decision on Tuesday.

Whatever the outcome, state workers are trying to raise a little havoc with “The Expendables.” The title alone is a gift from Hollywood, allowing the unions to post such declarations on their Web sites as, “Tell Arnold We’re Not Expendable.”

A demonstration on Aug. 3 during the premiere of “The Expendables” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood forced Mr. Schwarzenegger to skip the red carpet and enter the building from the back, the service workers said.

The governor’s spokesman, Aaron McLear, said Mr. Schwarzenegger often enters buildings from the back as a security measure. Mr. McLear said he had not heard of any demonstrations against the movie, but said that the state workers “are certainly free to do whatever they want.”

From the evidence of its trailer, the Sylvester Stallone comeback vehicle employs every action movie cliché (“A job no one wanted is becoming a mission no one expected”) and every aging action movie hero this side of Steven Seagal (Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li and Jason Statham, and Mr. Stallone himself).

The movie is expected to be a big commercial hit, not because of the governor. His role is uncredited.