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Name: Morgenstern, Marty
Current Position: Former Secretary

When Governor Jerry Brown appointed Marty Morgenstern secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency in January 2011, he was tapping an old friend.

In 1975, Morgenstern was appointed director of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations by Governor Jerry Brown.  He twice served as director of California’s Department of Personnel Administration, once in the first Jerry Brown administration and again for Governor Gray Davis.

But Morgenstern was not just a friend of Brown’s. He was pretty friendly with both sides of the bargaining table after a nearly 50-year career in labor and workplace issues. He retired from his secretary position in November 2013, remaining as an unpaid senior adviser to Brown.

A native New Yorker, Morgenstern attended Hunter College on the GI Bill from 1954-1958 and went to work at age 28 for the welfare department in New York City. Workers went on strike a few weeks later and Morgenstern found himself strike captain. He became a shop steward at the East Harlem Welfare Center in 1964 and rose through union ranks before becoming president of the Social Service Employees Union (SSEU) in April 1968. The SSEU had been formed in 1961 by dissident members of Local 371 within District Council (DC) 37 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO. The SSEU focused on organizing two sectors of welfare workers ignored by Local 371: case workers and welfare centers. After eight years of internal struggles and brutal battles with the city that included a six-week lockout in 1966,  Morgenstern helped engineer a hotly-contested remerger with Local 371.

After coming to California, Morgenstern was California director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In 1972, he went to work as operations administrator for the California State Employees Association, a union that did not have the right of collective bargaining.

He switched sides in 1975 when he had the opportunity to join Brown’s first administration as head of the new Governor’s Office of Employee Relations. He held the position until 1981, when he took over as director of the new Department of Personnel Administration. Morgenstern told the Sacramento Bee that he was lured from the labor side of the table by Brown’s commitment to collective bargaining. He helped shape the pioneering legislation that allowed collective bargaining for state employees. Gray Davis told the Bee that Morgenstern “knows his job better than anyone else. Truth be told, he invented it.”

But the administration was far from bending to the will of organized labor. In attempts to curb state spending in the late 1970s, Brown ran into pay disputes with California Highway Patrol officers and water project employees. Morgenstern told the Sacramento Bee that Brown’s relationship with labor at the time was “up and down.”

In 1978, 2,000 state workers booed Brown at a rally at the Capitol, and three months later East Bay labor leaders refused to let him speak at their Labor Day picnic. The executive secretary of the state AFL-CIO accused Brown of “leading a lynch mob against government workers.” After his re-election in 1978, Brown proposed elimination of 5,000 government jobs (in addition to a billion-dollar tax cut and a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget). In 1979, Brown twice vetoed proposals to give state workers a 14.5% pay hike. The Legislature overrode the vetoes.

Still, most of the major collective bargaining laws in California were passed during Brown’s tenure between 1975-1983, including the Educational Employment Relations Act that established bargaining rights in public schools and community colleges, the Ralph C. Dills Act that gave state government workers bargaining rights and the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act that allowed collective bargaining in the state university system.

Morgenstern told the Sacramento Bee that unions missed him when Republican George Deukmejian took over as governor in 1983. “It is a job that someone had to do and I did it honestly, and the unions were better off with someone that knew that score,” he said.

Morgenstern became a member of the Public Employment Relations Board from 1982-1987, then was named chair of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley from 1987-1994. From 1994-1999, he consulted with various labor organizations.

Morgenstern, who returned to the Department of Personnel Administration as director in 1999 under Davis, said, “We allowed collective bargaining, but then bargained tough.” In Morgenstern’s second stint in the position, he again had to get tough with unions, which anticipated pay raises when the budget was getting tight.

“If they think Gray Davis or Marty Morgenstern are going to give them whatever they want, well, then they are unrealistic people,” Morgenstern told the Bee at the time.

But Morgenstern also negotiated lucrative compensation packages for the prison guard’s union under Davis. Union representatives say Morgenstern is a skilled negotiator whose experience can intimate those across the table from him but that they also respect his experience.

“To me, Marty is not the enemy. He just represents the administration,” Jon Hamm, head of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, told the Bee.  

Don Novey, president of the union representing correctional officers, said: “He is about the best I’ve gone up against. I think he is a pretty fair guy, even though he is on the other side.”

During his confirmation hearing for agency secretary, Morgenstern told a state panel that he thought the Department of Industrial Relations could benefit from some trimming.  He pointed to departments that administer and regulate workers’ comp and Cal/OSHA. 

Morgenstern’s appointment was greeted warmly by the state’s professional contractors, whose leaders support the secretary’s stated goals of improving inter-agency efficiencies and tackling unlicensed—and increasingly, licensed—contractors that violate laws and regulations, including inadequately reporting payroll and not following safety procedures, paying workers’ compensation premiums, and training and certifying employees.

Said Brad Diede, chief operating officer, California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors: “Through efficiency and allocating resources in the manner we have suggested, Secretary Morgenstern can topple the construction underground economy while positively contributing to California’s budget.”  

Morgenstern and his wife reside in Oakland. His job pays $175,000 a year.


Secretary’s Page (LWDA website)

Governor Brown Announces Appointments (Governor’s Office news release)

Industry Leaders Believe Morgenstern Is ‘The Man’ (California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors news release)

As Governor, Brown Had Complex Relationship with Labor (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

State Labor Negotiator Is a Formidable Player (by Ed Fletcher, Sacramento Bee)

Brown Appoints Two with Ties to Prison Guards (by Robert Gammon, East Bay Express)

Reorganize Department of Industrial Relations – New Leader Says (by Bess Shapiro, Workers’ Comp Executive)

Guide to the Social Service Employees Union Records WAG 003 (The Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Library Archives)

Guide to the Social Service Employees Union Photographs PHOTOS 014 (The Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Library Archives)

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