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Prison Guards May Get Raise Windfall

Times Staff Writer

California prison officers stand to receive a raise of as much as 7% on July 1, twice what negotiators for Gov. Gray Davis estimated when the governor agreed to a new contract last year.

The cost -- $67 million more than anticipated -- comes as the state struggles with a budget shortfall of as much as $35 billion, and as Davis calls on all state workers to accept deep pay cuts.

The contract, struck as Davis entered his reelection campaign, has stirred criticism in part because the prison guards union is one of the state’s largest campaign contributors, and because some contract provisions have already shown unintended and expensive consequences.

For example, state negotiators agreed to liberalize prison sick leave policy in a way that prompted officers to call in ill 500,000 more hours in 2002 than in 2001, a 27% increase that brought an extra cost of $36 million this year and next. The increased sick leave, in turn, helped drive up prison overtime costs, as officers logged 100,000 more overtime hours in 2002 than in 2001.

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The overall raise in the five-year contract that ends in 2006 has been estimated at 34% to 37%.

Davis administration officials say the exact size of the July raise won’t be known for some time, but they hope to head off some of the increase by renegotiating with union leaders. Union officials, however, say they don’t intend to budge.

“Union leaders who advocate pay cuts don’t last long,” said Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. Noting that prison officers have a contract and the state is obligated to abide by it, Jimenez said: “The state negotiated in good faith, and, yes, the state could pay for it.”

The union initially expected its roughly 26,000 members to receive a scheduled July 1 raise of about 4%. The Department of Personnel Administration, which negotiated the deal on behalf of the governor, estimated the raise would be 3.53%.

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But union leaders note that the formula agreed to in the labor pact is pegged to pay rates granted to police officers in five large California cities. One is San Diego, where officers earlier this year won an 11% raise.

In interviews this week, union leaders said the formula suggests that prison officers, sergeants and lieutenants are entitled to raises of roughly 7%. That would amount to $120 million, more than twice the $56-million price tag placed on the 2003 raise by state budget experts. Instead of receiving raises of $160 a month, individual officers could be receiving $320 more per month, pushing the annual base for veteran officers to $59,000.

“The number that I’m hearing consistently is 7%,” said union executive Lance Corcoran.

Davis administration officials caution, however, that the number could change because some of the local police departments are still negotiating with their unions.

As he struggles to close the state budget gap, Davis is calling on state employees to accept pay cuts amounting to $850 million. Noting that prison officers are not exempt, Davis earlier this week said: “Clearly, correctional guards are well-compensated.”

Marty Morgenstern, Davis’ chief labor negotiator and head of the Department of Personnel Administration, intends to begin negotiations with the correctional officers union over the potential pay cuts later this month.

During the last state budget crisis in 1991, the prison officers union agreed to a 5% pay cut. But the concessions came at a price. The union persuaded then-Gov. Pete Wilson to give officers an extra eight hours a month of paid vacation for every 18 months of service. Jimenez estimated the cost to the state was roughly $150 million.

Under their new contract, prison officers’ pay is tied to the pay of California Highway Patrol officers. In turn, the Davis administration contract with CHP officers guarantees that the CHP will attain pay parity with police in five local jurisdictions: the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and police in San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco.

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Veteran police officers’ pay ranges from $6,537 a month in San Francisco to $5,523 for Los Angeles police and $5,164 for Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. Highway Patrol officers’ base monthly pay is $4,487. Prison officers’ base pay is $4,574, but their overall compensation, including various benefits, is $666 less than Highway Patrol officers.

The first pay increase aimed at closing that gap between Highway Patrol and local police officers -- and by extension prison officers -- is scheduled to take effect July 1.

“It is going to be close” to 7.5%, said Jon Hamm, head of the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen, the union that represents about 6,500 CHP officers and supervisors. Because prison guards received a slight increase last year, their 2003 raise would be slightly smaller than that of Highway Patrol officers

Asked whether Highway Patrol officers will agree to the pay cut that Davis is demanding state employees accept, Hamm replied: “No.”

“We have an agreement negotiated in good faith and we expect that both sides will live up to it,” he said.

While the Highway Patrol union is influential in Sacramento -- it gave $221,000 to Davis during his first term -- few groups hold as much sway in state government as the prison guards union.

The union gave $1.4 million to Davis during his first term, and spent $2 million to help him win election in 1998.

Before the new contract, prison guards had gone two years without a raise.

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Morgenstern said the administration is conducting a survey to determine the difference in pay between state and local police. Morgenstern said that although the administration tried to come up with a cost for the contract in the first year, it did not make concerted efforts to score the cost of the contract in its later years. The state, he noted, doesn’t “have control over what the local jurisdictions do.”

“What we agreed is that law and good faith indicates that they should have parity with local government,” Morgenstern said.


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