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Phil Matier: Deal Lifts Vacation Cap For California Prison Guards

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SACRAMENTO (KCBS / CBS SF) – Governor Jerry Brown’s administration has negotiated a contract with a powerful prison guards’ union that could prove costly to taxpayers because it lets guards bank unlimited vacation time that must be paid out when they retire.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said Tuesday that the average correctional officer already has nearly 19 weeks of accumulated leave time, valued at $600 million.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier:

“When you take a look at how many days off they get, it’s an eye-popper,” suggested KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier. “First year guards would be getting, between paid holidays, vacation time and such, about 8 weeks. And if you’ve been around for a while you get up to 10 weeks.”

<P<“The bottom line is, its virtually impossible given the nature of the work, to take that much time off. So you are going to wind up banking it,” said Matier.

The contract concession is seen as an effort by Brown, a Democrat, to strengthen ties with the 30,000-member union that backed his election campaign last year.

“Now, the prison guards were very helpful to him when he was running against Meg Whitman,” Matier pointed out. “They contributed millions of dollars to his drive to become governor and you know, he’s friends with them. As a matter of fact, he showed up at their convention in Las Vegas to talk to them.”

Administration spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley says the cap was lifted because the state can’t adequately staff its prisons if it gives guards all their time off.

“Prisons run around the clock, it’s not like you can take the day off and let San Quentin run itself, you’ve got to be there,” Matier acknowledged. “But you know, what we’re looking at here is one of the classic contract deals where initially this saves money with wage concessions and such but then it’s that the big payout is at the back end. It’s down the line, it’s in the fine print and that’s what (Gov. Brown) negotiated here.”

Analyst Nick Schroeder says the change will add to the state’s long-term cost.

“What’s also interesting is what does this do for the gloom and doom that the governor is saying to everybody, hey, we have got a real financial problem. Is this going to be like, hey, after we cut a deal like this you’re still going to come back and say we’re broke and cut education?” pondered Matier. “That’s going to be interesting.”

The contract now goes to the Legislature for approval.

“Now, the prison guard union is very big (in the Legislature), first of all with Democrats because it’s union and they grease a lot of wheels in campaign contributions on that side,” Matier pointed out, “and a lot of these prisons are in Republican districts where prisons are big business and employ a lot of people so the Republicans tend to be big on them as well.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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