The State Worker

California prison guards can’t sue state for time spent walking to their posts, court rules

The California Supreme Court on Monday rejected most of an 11-year-old lawsuit in which tens of thousands of California state prison guards sought additional pay for work-related tasks they performed before and after their shifts.

The decision greatly reduces the number of correctional officers who can pursue overtime claims against the state for work they carry out before reaching their posts inside California state prisons, such as retrieving weapons and moving through controlled check points.

The state Supreme Court’s 5-2 decision held that rank-and-file prison guards represented by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association cannot sue the state for additional compensation.

Their contract already provides them some pay – four hours a month – to compensate them for time they spend inside prisons with their gear moving to and from their posts.

The court, however, is allowing correctional supervisors who are not represented by a union to proceed with their part of the lawsuit.

The court says correctional sergeants and lieutenants can sue to argue they should be compensated for “duty-integrated walk time,” which refers to the time they spend in the prison after they retrieve equipment.

That leaves about 5,000 current and former correctional officers in the case, down from about 40,000, according to attorneys for the correctional officers.

The decision disappointed union advocates who contended that prison guards are effectively under the state’s control as soon as they enter a facility and should be paid for the time they spend on site.

“They’re doing a whole series of things that ordinary people don’t have to do as they walk to their workplace and they’re doing it in the most controlled environment in the state,” said Gregg McLean Adam, the lead attorney in the class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit dates to 2007, when the state imposed working conditions on CCPOA in a contract impasse. Correctional officers in a 2008 lawsuit argued the state had breached its contract, and they were compelled to work “off the clock.”

Similar lawsuits followed in 2009 and 2010 before a 2013 trial in San Francisco Superior Court.

The CCPOA contract calls for correctional officers to work 168 hours a month, four hours of which are meant to compensate them for time they spend in prisons preparing for their shifts, according to the court decision.

Sergeants and supervisors do not get that compensation. If they win it through the lawsuit, thousands of sergeants and lieutenants could receive wages dating back to 2007, said Gary Goyette, an attorney who is representing correctional supervisors.

He said witnesses during the trial said correctional supervisors typically go unpaid for some time each shift after they retrieve gear but before they check into their posts.

“We’re in strong position to recover” wages for that time, Goyette said.

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Adam Ashton is The Bee’s Capitol Bureau Chief. He leads a team of reporters covering California politics and government. His assignments for The Bee and its sister papers have taken him from Merced to Baghdad since joining McClatchy in 2004.
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