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California Prison Guards Lose Unlimited “Time Bank” For On-The Job Union Business

California Prison Guards Lose Unlimited "Time Bank" For On-The Job Union Business

by Marvin Mentor

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) lost its bid to undo a cap on its contract provision permitting rank-and-file members to donate unused leave (minimum of two-hour increments) to fellow prison guards to cover their pay while they instead conducted official union business on the job. Referred to as the "release time bank" (RTB), the account accrued hours of donated paid leave (except sick leave)over the 2001-2006 term of the contract, subject to a 10,000 hour cap.

However, the CCPOA charged a whopping 122,387 hours -- 112,387 (over $3 million worth) in excess of the contract provision. [Some guards reportedly used so much RTB time on union business that for years they never worked their posts.] The Department of Personnel Administration (DPA) failed to catch this overrun until May 20, 2005, when it issued a cease-and-desist letter and ordered any guards doing such union business to instead return to their posts. The CCPOA replied that the 10,000 hour cap had been previously removed in a contract "side-letter," which was properly approved by the state Legislature. They submitted the DPA action to arbitration per their union contract.

The arbitrator found that there were not one, but two paragraphs in the contract that announced the 10,000 hour cap. She further found that one of those two paragraphs had been previously properly amended to eliminate the cap language. However, the arbitrator found that the remaining paragraph nonetheless retained the limitation, and ruled against the CCPOA.

The CCPOA sued in superior court, arguing that the arbitrator had exceeded her authority in ignoring the amendment of the first paragraph. They denominated the failure to include the second paragraph in the amendment a "scrivener's error."

But the CCPOA's tough contract provisions proved to be their own undoing. The court ruled that per the contract, the only legal way to get the now undesired second paragraph's language out of the contract was to utilize the same mechanism they had used to amend the first paragraph: a signed agreement with the express language given to the Legislature to approve.

The Court of Appeal affirmed on the grounds that the controlling state labor act (Dills Act) required legislative oversight of state employee contracts. See: Department of Personnel Administration v. California Correctional Peace Officers Association, 152 Cal.App.4th 1193, 62 Cal. Rptr.3d 110 (2007).

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Related legal case

Department of Personnel Administration v. California Correctional Peace Officers Association