Prison Policy State Government Unions

The Governator Vs. the Union


In the running of California’s prisons,
one would assume that the warden is pretty much the boss of the place. Not so. For instance, the warden doesn’t have the power to select which guards should be assigned to what tasks inside the facility—even critical jobs like checking for contraband, working gang issues, or the transportation of prisoners. Nor does he (or she) decide how many guards should staff various work details, or when inmates are allowed to go to outside hospitals.

Incredibly, all those decisions—and a whole lot more—are left up to the prison guards’ union.

Last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger drew a line in the sand in an effort to change all that—or at least some of it.

Here’s a bit of back story:
In a 2001 contract, then-Governor Gray Davis handed over much of the running over California prisons to the CCPOA—the California Correctional Peace Officers Association—AKA, the union. When Schwarzenegger first was elected to office, he swore he’d stand up to the union leadership and the millions of dollars the CCPOA pours into strategically-placed politicians’ campaign coffers. But guards’ union officials easily outplayed the governor in the game of political poker. And, when the smoke cleared in the renegotiation of the guards’ contract—Schwarzenegger had given the union virtually everything it wanted.

This contract go-round, however, the governor is determined to wrench some of the power back into the hands of state prison officials, according to today’s LA Times. How successful he’ll be remains to be seen.

I’m not particularly a fan of Arnold’s
but, on criminal justice issues, philosophically at least, he’s far more sensible and rehabilitation-minded than either Gray Davis or Gray’s law-n’-order predecessor, Pete Wilson. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know it by Arnold’s actions, which have been largely held hostage by the union.

Schwarzenegger’s inability to stand up to the CCPOA has come at a high cost. Here’s how the Times explains it:

On his watch, federal courts have appointed a receiver to oversee prison healthcare and are weighing whether to intervene again with an inmate cap — or even a possible prisoner release — to relieve pressure on the teeming lockups. Hundreds of inmates die each year, and in many cases there have been allegations of abuse or neglect.

The union is a major roadblock
for Schwarzenegger and his aides as they attempt to surmount the crisis, corrections officials say.

“I need some of my management rights back
,” James Tilton, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an interview. “I’ve said, ‘I’m responsible for running the department.’ My goals are to make sure we make decisions as necessary, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Now that his back is really against a wall with the Feds, Arnold has finally gathered the courage to issue take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to the union.

This has meant that the already lengthy contract fight, has become a full-on knock-down-drag-out this past week. The CCOPA has already slammed back at Schwarzenegger, filing a slew of grievances against the state, a tool that the guards have used before to intimidate wardens and state officials. “Don’t get punked,” says the opening pager of the union’s website. “The state’s ‘deal’ is a screw job.”

But before you shed any crocodile tears for the poor abused union,
keep in mind that Schwarzenegger’s proposed a “last, best and final offer” includes a very hefty pay raise, reports the Sacramento Bee.

It’s not as if Schwarzenegger is getting stingy: He offered the officers 5 percent annual raises for three years, plus benefit boosts that would mean a total increase of 20 percent over the life of the contract.

A fully trained beginning officer who now makes about $60,600 a year would be getting $70,221, plus enhancements for physical fitness, language fluency and working in hard-to-fill jobs. A veteran officer would top out with a base salary of more than $85,000 a year.

And that’s before you get to overtime
and other bonus payments that can blow guards’ salaries up into six figures. (Thirty-four prison employees earned more than $100,000 in overtime alone last year, and hundreds more earned than $100,000 in combined salary and overtime, said Seth Unger, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, according to the San Diego Union.)

In reaction to Arnold’s offer
, CCPOA President Mike Jimenez said the state could “shove it.”

There will assuredly be more drama to come.
I don’t know that I’m ready to bet the ranch on Arnold just yet. But I’m certainly rooting for him.


  • Do you think that private enterprise would allow the unions to represent the workers and to control major areas of management at the same time? No, but you can count on government rolling over dead when it comes to unions.

    So, the problems are two of the favorite heros of liberals–government and unions. Yet, neither one can do what’s right for anyone, except the union doing more than what’s right for its leaders and the workers at the expense of the taxpayers and the prisoners.

    But, who is going to fix it? Why the government and unions, of course! Isn’t it great to live in the wonderland of liberalism?

  • Pokey seems to side with the union, and does not trust the legislature.

    As they have stated time and time again, this Administration really does believe that all of us would forsake our profession and forget where we came from for a few pieces of silver to put in our pockets. They are convinced, and use the media to try and convince others, that we are nothing more than selfish, greedy, money-grubbing guards.
    They are certain the only item of concern to us is money. After all, they exchanged raises of 27% to 49% for middle and upper managers for their silence about the problems plaguing our department like critical overcrowding and dangerous staff shortages. Have you ever wondered why the managers aren’t all screaming bloody murder about the crisis conditions in every institution? If so, please ask to see copies of the memos they have sent up the food chain demanding better conditions for the staff to work and the inmates to live. Ask for the memos demanding more staff to carry out the stated mission of rehabilitation.

    Prohibits arbitration of any provision of the state’s “deal,” including arbitration if the state refuses to honor its promised 5% pay raise — meaning no more “pay arbs”

    Has no guarantee that the promised 5% pay raise will be funded by the Legislature— which refused to fund a promised pay raise two years ago. They want us to sell out our rights and protections for 5% — with no guarantee we’ll ever see a penny

    Pays top-step correctional officers $1,959 a month less than the CHP— making it nearly impossible to fill the 4,000 CO vacancies, meaning double shifts and more forced overtime

    Gives managers the right to make their own rules — without restriction

  • I don’t give a damn about the prison guards. There is something really cheesy, to say the least, when a beginning prison guard (Required: HS Diploma) makes more than a beginning teacher (Required: College Degree plus one year post graduate). Yeah I’m an elitist! Wonder how many good teachers you’d get if they could earn 100 grand with overtime?

    Meanwhile a real labor battle is going on over health care with the UAW vs GM. A note: GM says it loses over $1000 per car on “Legacy” costs (retirement bennnies) here in the US. IN CANADA they make a car – same car – for $1400 less. Reason? Health care costs. I’ll leave it to the geniues here to figure out what is different.

  • Ric,
    I believe in Canada, GM does not pay for health care. It is paid by taxes from the workers instead of out of profits.

  • Prison guards – who would want to be a prison guard? I would rather be a teacher at lower pay. Thats why you need to pay more for guards.

    Simple – Supply and demand.

  • Celeste,

    Next time you do a story, don’t piece it together. Do your research. Why don’t you interview the Correctional Officers (not prison guards) who earned those 6 figure OT incomes.

    Most did it because they were ordered over to work an extra 4 shifts per week because the Former Agency Secretary Rod Hickman shut down the academy to new hires. Now, last report I read, said there is still over 3,000 vacant positions that need to be filled in the Department. Would you want to be one of those employees forced to work that many OTs weekly and never see your children or spouse, never be able to attend your childs ball games, plays, etc because you were forced to stay at work.

    As far as the Warden not having the ability to assign jobs, they can for about 30% of the staff. The top 70% of the positions are given out on a seniority basis. Is that much different from other companies who allow senior employees to pick their shifts or positions for which they are qualified.

    And poor old GAS (Governor A. S.) brought this mess on himself when he decided to reorganize the CDC into the CDCR. He even made a statement that the feds could take over the prison system because it was no sweat off his back.

    And for those that do not think that Correctional Officers earn the money that they are paid , come spend a day or two in prison and take a tour. You must be over 18 years of age.

  • Paco, Thanks for giving the Correctional Officers perspective. I’d like to hear more.

    I don’t begrudge the officers their pay. I don’t think anyone does. It looks like a very tough job.

    What you say about Hickman shutting down the academy to new hires is very interesting. Sounds like I need to check that out further.

    HOWEVER, and this is a big however, in protecting the rank and file officers, the union is wielding too much power for the health of the system. As California’s prisons continue to teeter on the edge of Federal takeover, Judge Thelton Henderson, continues to say—as he has for the past three years—that he sees the union as a big part of the problem.

    About that power: Most companies allow senior employees more latitude than those less senior, but they don’t let them call the shots the way the correctional officers are doing.

    I’ve spoken to correctional officers on many occasions. But at 1 am last night, when I was posting this puppy in response to the LA Times story, I admit, I didn’t start dialing.

    If you stick around, which I hope you do, you’ll find that some of the posts are are based on original reporting, some—like this one—are closer to Op Eds, based on my experience as a criminal justice/social justice reporter, but pegged to the timely news available in the moment.

    (By the way, you don’t think there should be an “R” in the CDD? Why not?)

  • Maybe, just maybe, if we spent more on good teachers and schools we wouldn’t need so many prisons or guards.

  • Maybe, just maybe, if we spent more on good teachers and schools we wouldn’t need so many prisons or guards

    and don’t forget police, prosecutors, courts, the never ending war on drugs, welfare and etc, etc, etc, etc,

Leave a Comment