California's prison agency on Friday began issuing 26,000 layoff warning notices as it begins a massive, slow-motion transfer of some of its work to local governments.
The mailing by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is going to employees with less than 10 years of state service from case record technicians and cooks to correctional officers and groundskeepers.
The department, however, won't wind up laying off that many workers.
Usually the state issues three warning notices for every position it intends to cut. This time the department cast the net even wider across a broad swath of job classifications. That will give it the flexibility it needs to observe its employees' contractual and civil service protections while officials fine-tune downsizing plans.
"Timing was an issue," said Judy Gelein, the CDCR's deputy director of human resources. "Certainly not everyone (who is receiving a notice) will be impacted."
The letters will start hitting mailboxes today and continue into next week, since the department can process only 6,000 notices per day for mailing.
The notices represent the first wave of a complex re-engineering of the 63,000-employee, $10 billion-per-year prison system the nation's largest that currently houses about 144,000 inmates in 33 facilities from Crescent City to San Diego, San Rafael to Susanville.
Union officials were in layoff talks with corrections department officials on Friday and could not be reached for comment.
Late in the day, SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker issued a memo to members that acknowledged the cost-saving goals of the state's prison realignment plan, but said it "will also mean transfers, demotions and layoffs for some employees."
Local 1000 and several other unions recently negotiated contract amendments they hope will save jobs by giving the state more flexibility in the layoff process.
Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the realignment of some state prison and parole duties to counties to help address a $19 billion 2011-12 budget deficit and fulfill a federal court order to relieve prison overcrowding.
The state estimates shifting responsibility for some newly sentenced criminals to counties will save the corrections department about $453 million in this fiscal year and progressively more in subsequent years as the state prison and parole population dwindles.
Given the department's steady growth over the last 30 years, the realignment is "momentous," said Joshua Page, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied the history of California's penal system.
"Staffing costs get a huge part of the Corrections budget," Page said, noting that the number of state correctional officers between 1980 and 2000 rose from 5,000 to about 30,000. "So if this really happens, if the department lays off staff and starts to downsize, it's truly remarkable, given California's history."
The 26,000 layoff warnings are the most ever issued by the corrections department, approaching the 28,000 that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued statewide in February 2009.
The Republican governor, citing deadlocked budget talks with Democrats at the time, said the state needed to cut 10,000 jobs. Once lawmakers came to a budget deal, Schwarzenegger backed off his layoff threat.
The process at the corrections department will take years, Gelein said, requiring officials to lay off more employees as the prison population shrinks.
State law and labor agreements require state workers to receive at least 120 days warning before they're terminated. The notices going out now start that clock on Nov. 1 for employees in positions that will be axed. They have until the end of February to transfer, be demoted to other jobs, leave state service on their own or face termination.
"Then we'll start the next wave (of layoffs) from March 1 through the end of August," Gelein said. The cycle will continue every six months, tracking with the declining number of inmates.
As part of the layoff process, the state is running a second program that offers incentives for employees to transfer from overstaffed to understaffed facilities. Those needs will probably change, Gelein said, because the state will reorganize its 33 adult prisons as the inmate population drops.
The transfer program started earlier this month when at least 200 correctional officers volunteered to transfer to one of five understaffed facilities in Crescent City, Folsom, Soledad, Susanville and Vacaville. In exchange, they will receive transfer incentive pay of up to $7,500, time off to move and layoff protections.
Now the department has begun making offers to 7,000 workers other than correctional officers, nearly all of them represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1000. Those workers have until Nov. 2 or Nov. 4 to accept, depending on the date of their letter. Otherwise, they're on the 120-day clock and at risk of layoff.