Court Halts Practice of California Prison Guards Getting Unlimited Paid Time to Conduct Union Busine
In a recent expose, the Sacramento Bee revealed that the California prison guards union (CCPOA) cut a side deal two months after its last five-year contract was negotiated in 2001 that removed a cap of 10,000 union member-donated hours available to CCPOA representatives to use for paid leave to conduct union business on the job. As a result, over 120,000 such hours have been billed since 2001.
At issue was a side letter" outside the main contract that removed the 10,000-hour cap in one part of the 300-page contract, but left the cap in another part. Only recently learning of this, the Department of Personnel Administration tried to block further allocations of release time" to save an estimated $3 million cost overrun. But in June 2005, an arbitrator determined that since both the state and the CCPOA had verbally" agreed to this unwritten contract change, the open-ended agreement would be enforced.
In practice, any union member may donate hours of his or her personal vacation or holiday leave to the release time bank," which union reps can draw upon to pay their own salaries for union business. Union commentators noted that if those hours were not used by the donors, they would become payable to them nonetheless; thus, no loss to the state would accrue. However, as a result of this vacation/holiday relief, other employees might need to be called in to work at costly overtime rates. The contract attempts to depreciate this by permitting the state to refuse a donation" if the coverage would require overtime. But the fatal flaw in this scheme is that those in control of approving any such overtime are CCPOA members, whose pecuniary interest lies with the union.
Both state Senator Jackie Speier and state contract negotiator Linda Buzzini wrote responsive letters to the Bee's excoriating editorial. Senator Speier introduced Senate Bill 621 to require full disclosure and pre-finality review of any ratified state labor contract for at least 25 days to add sunshine to the darkness of late-hour labor negotiations.
Senator Speier noted candidly that historically, the CCPOA has outmaneuvered ... CDC [California Department of Corrections], at times due to pressure from various governors to give the CCPOA what it wanted.
Senator Speier went on to characterize the union contract as so ill-structured as to guarantee mistakes, honest or otherwise." Among the policy enigmas" Speier noted was the contract provision requiring CDC to spend $245,332 to cover the salaries of guards who attended the CCPOA's 2004 convention in Las Vegas. Ms. Buzzini commented, A deal is a deal.
Following the arbitration decision in favor of the CCPOA, the state filed suit to halt the use of unlimited union member-donated hours to offset union costs. On November 29, 2005, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang found the arbitrator had overstepped her authority, and held the contract itself was the only relevant document. CCPOA officials denounced the decision, saying the suit was an effort by Gov. Schwarzenegger to cripple the union, which helped defeat the governor's ballot agenda in a November, 2005 special election. The only reason they are making this an issue is to shut us up because we are critical of them," said CCPOA spokesman Chuck Alexander.
The union announced it would appeal Chang's decision. The CCPOA has an annual budget of $25 million, not including the leave-time expenses at issue. If all of the donated leave was valued at the top pay rate for CDC guards of $34 per hour, the 120,000 accumulated hours of time would be worth about $4 million.
Sources: Sacramento Bee, San Mateo County Times
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