The State Worker

‘No evident justification‘ for California prison guard raises in contract, analyst warns

The 3 percent raise Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to give state prison correctional officers has “no evident justification” based on the state’s hiring and retention needs, according to a new report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The report echoes one the analyst’s office issued a year ago when former Gov. Jerry Brown struck a deal with the 27,000-member California Correctional Peace Officers Association for a one-year-contract with a 5 percent raise.

Now, lawmakers are considering designating $138 million for the new contract as part of the budget process this week. The state human resources department posted the tentative agreement, which includes changes to other benefits including holiday, night and weekend pay, two weeks ago.

The LAO analysis questioned the increase given that state correctional officers make considerably more money than their counterparts in local government, far more people apply each year to the correctional officer academy than are accepted, and most correctional officers stay with the state until they retire.

The last time the state compared state correctional officers’ salaries to their local government counterparts, in 2013, state correctional officers made 40 percent more than officers in county-run jails, according to the LAO analysis.

Since 2013, salary increases for state correctional officers have increased by a compounded 24 percent, according to the LAO. CalHR hasn’t provided a new salary survey to the Legislature despite a state law requiring the surveys be completed by the time new rounds of negotiation start.

CalHR completed a salary survey in six counties in February 2018 and sent a draft to the union. The union raised questions about the report’s methodology, which had been agreed on beforehand, according to the analysis. The questions prevented the Legislature from seeing the survey before approving last year’s 5 percent raise, and the survey still isn’t available for legislators to see, the analysis states.

Pay for local correctional officers probably has gone up since 2013 too, the analysis says, but without the results of the survey the state can’t compare them.

“Based on what the administration has provided, the Legislature has no way to assess whether a 3 percent (general salary increase) is appropriate and how such a pay increase might affect the state’s position in the labor market and its ability to recruit and retain employees,” the analysis states.

The analysis notes that state correctional officers have also started contributing more to their health and retirement benefits in the last six years, a concession that former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration asked of unions to make their benefits more sustainable over time.

“We deserve a fair deal, and Governor Newsom understands that,” CCPOA President Kurt Stoetzl said in an emailed statement. “This modest pay increase helps us to stay competitive with other law enforcement agencies.”

CCPOA spokeswoman Nichol Gomez didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the analysis Monday morning.

The state’s prison population decreased by 25 percent from 2009 to 2019, yet its operational expenditures increased by 19 percent — about $2 billion, according to the analysis. Employee compensation, which makes up about three-fourths of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s budget, are a significant factor in the increase, the analysis states.

A big driver of increased employee compensation is growth in the CDCR’s pension costs. The analysis notes that boosting salaries also costs more down the line in increased pensions.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s tentative contract is the first bargaining agreement reached this year. It is one of six state bargaining units whose contracts will be expired next month.

Newsom won election last year with support from the state’s largest unions, including the California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association contributed $2.8 million toward his campaign, state records show.

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