Deal Gives Guards Millions in Benefits

Times Staff Writer

Even as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger extracted pay concessions from the influential union that represents California’s prison guards, he granted them new powers, protections and benefits worth millions, their revised labor pact and related documents show.

In return for agreeing to delay its full raise, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. won virtual guarantees against layoffs for two years, a healthcare stipend for guards at rural prisons that will cost more than $5 million a year, more control for supervisors over their own work assignments and a shorter week for local union chiefs.

Schwarzenegger had vowed to win back as much as $300 million from the union in pay and benefits to help the cash-strapped state. But the guards, whose contract would have given them a 10.9% increase this year, accepted only a deferral of the raise, saving the state $108 million spread over this fiscal year and next.

The agreement between Schwarzenegger and the union, expected to go to a vote in the Legislature as early as this week, gives members a 5% raise starting this month, another 5% on Jan. 1, and another hike of 5% or more next July. Union supporters likened the deal to trading a dime for three nickels.


The deal, announced two weeks ago, also restricts the Legislature’s authority to block raises for the union for two years. Some lawmakers had threatened to refuse money for the 10.9% raise. The pay increase would have cost the state $200 million.

The amended contract also promises that prison officials will release videotapes of incidents behind prison walls “for the purposes of CCPOA public relations efforts.” The union has sought such tapes for use in ads showing how difficult officers’ jobs can be.

The deal also says that the union’s local chapter presidents may take a day off each week to assist “in maintaining harmonious labor/management relations and grievance issues.” The cost: $632,000 a year.

If lawmakers approve the deal, officers who work at prisons in rural parts of the state not served by health maintenance organizations will receive $125 a month extra to cover their added healthcare costs. The state will determine which prisons are affected.


The Legislature will not vote on a side deal that permits roughly 3,000 sergeants, lieutenants and other supervisors, according to seniority, to dictate to top prison managers which shifts they will work. Veteran rank and file correctional officers already have that power.

The arrangement is detailed in a memo signed by Schwarzenegger’s top prison advisor July 1 -- the same day a panel handpicked by the governor said such practices should be stopped.

“Once again, CCPOA shows they have outmaneuvered the state in negotiating,” said Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), the union’s harshest critic in the Legislature.

One of the new deal’s most significant provisions guarantees that there will be no layoffs of union members unless the prison population of 163,000 falls 6%, which would be a drop of about 10,000 prisoners. Such a decline appears unlikely, though several thousand inmates could be freed if voters approve an initiative on the November ballot to modify the state’s three-strikes sentencing law. Schwarzenegger is opposing the initiative.


The agreement would amend the contract struck by Gov. Gray Davis and the guards union in 2002. It promised a pay hike of as much as 37% over its five-year life, boosting veteran officers’ annual pay to $73,000 a year. Although part of the raise would be deferred, the governor’s new deal appears ultimately to give officers most if not all of the 37% hike.

Schwarzenegger could have vetoed the guards’ raises from the state budget. But the union had a binding contract and made clear that it would sue if the state unilaterally tried to withhold any portion of its raise. The union has won major lawsuits against the state in the past.

And although lawmakers could have refused to fund the raises, the union, which spends about $2 million per election on legislative races, has considerable clout in the Legislature.

Lance Corcoran, the union’s executive vice president, brushed aside criticism, saying, “It is unfortunate that some legislators believe that there should have been simply concessions, but that is not reality. The state got a significant amount of money -- $108 million. I know of no other unit that has given up $108 million.”


Some lawmakers lauded the union for forgoing some of its raise. “These are real dollars from real people’s pockets,” said Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk), a guards union member.

Noting that the officers’ contract remains in effect until June 30, 2006, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary Margita Thompson said the administration needed to give the union some incentive to defer the raise and save the state money.

“They had to have some sort of enticement to come to the table,” Thompson said. “We got as good an agreement as we could.”

No other state union stood to receive a 10.9% raise this year. The guards’ raise was based on a formula in the 2002 contract that links their raises to those granted to California Highway Patrol officers. CHP raises, in turn, are based on increases for police and sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland. The Schwarzenegger deal leaves that formula intact.


One incentive was the supervisors’ new control over their assignments. Roderick Hickman, Schwarzenegger’s secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, outlined the policy as the prison reform panel, led by former Gov. George Deukmejian, issued a report saying the practice should be abolished.

“It is crucial that management have the ability to post its best employees in the most critical situations,” the report said. “The union should have no say in this matter.”

J.P. Tremblay, chief spokesman for the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said Hickman’s memo should not be read as “an endorsement” of the practice. Rather, Hickman was “trying to be fair” by giving supervisors the same rights as officers.