Prison Guards Lock Down Perks With Help From Brown

Years ago, during a scandal involving his savings and loan, Charles Keating was asked if he expected his large donations to politicians to protect him from regulators overseeing his "Lincoln Savings."

"You're damn right," was the candid response.

Chances are good that if you asked the same question of the leadership of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association they would respond the same way. Only unlike Mr. Keating, everything they did was legal and by the book.

The CCPOA spent nearly $2 million to help Jerry Brown win the race for governor last year. Now the governor has approved a new 200-page contract for the union that is so filled with benefits that it has apparently alarmed the Legislative Analyst’s Office (pdf), which serves as an independent watchdog group over the state budget.

The contract reduces the amount members pay for health care and grants a pay hike of 4 percent for veteran officers starting in 2013. Base pay will increase to over $76,000 per year.

More importantly, as pointed out by LA Times' Jack Dolan, the contract blows away a previously imposed limit to the amount of vacation time that can be saved and then exchanged for cash once they leave the job. Officers, who get two months of vacation a year, can bank one of those months and trade it in for cash years later. That money is also added to the officers pay which increases his or her retirement.

This is a provision you would never find in the private sector. Most companies that offer vacation insist on a "use it or lose it" policy.

The Times quotes Nick Schroeder of the LAO as estimating the accumulated vacation time’s cash value as representing a $600 million commitment to taxpayers.

The legislature, most of whom have also received money from the CCPOA, is expected to ratify the agreement.

In exchange, the union has not stood in the way of the governor’s effort to send some low level inmates to county jails (part of Brown's "realignment" plan) which could result in the need for fewer prison guards. The union may be assuming that unhappy local sheriffs will doom that plan.

Also expect them to help finance the expected ballot measure for tax hike extensions. Or tax hikes, period. The governor needs help with the current budget crisis, and he may calculate that a sweet package for 30,000 prison guard workers is worth the money if they can help get voters to retire the state's  $24 billion deficit.

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