The State Worker

California’s prison department offers leave cash outs to employees

California prison department officials have invited thousands of employees to cash out up to 20 hours of accrued leave, but correctional officers, who generally have much higher leave balances than most state workers, didn’t get the memo.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made the offer last week to about 9,000 staff, according to department spokesman Bill Sessa. Eligible employees fell into three groups: unionized workers represented by Professional Engineers in California Government or the International Union of Operating Engineers (Unit 12) and excluded employees such as managers and supervisors.

Three unions last year negotiated contracts that allow their members to cash out up to 20 hours of leave if their departments can pull the money from existing resources. The state later extended the deal to all management employees, even if they manage union workers who can’t participate in the program.

Corrections’ leave cashout offer, for example, didn’t go to any of the 27,000 or so employees covered by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association that comprise about half of the department’s 53,000-employee workforce.

As a group, rank-and-file correctional officers last year had a collective $60 million in leave time above the state’s 16-week cap, according to a state analysis. Their union has long complained that the prisons are so short-staffed that officers can’t take time off.

Despite that, CCPOA officials have said, leave cash outs never came up during last year’s contract talks with the Brown administration. The union didn’t think that the department, which was in the throes of downsizing and budget cuts, could find the money. Instead, it bargained to eliminate the leave cap for its members, a move that will undoubtedly inflate prison officers’ leave banks even more.

CCPOA Executive Vice President Chuck Alexander declined to comment on news of Correction’s leave cash out offer.

“He’s seeking some clarification from the department,” union spokesman JeVaughn Baker said.

If every eligible corrections employee cashed out the 20-hour maximum, the department would have to pay out an estimated $7.2 million, Sessa said, “but we don’t expect that will happen.”

There are several reasons. Some workers will want to keep the hours on the books in case they need the time off. The cash out’s heavy tax burden will discourage others. And some employees prefer to build up their hours and cash them out later, since leave credits gain value when an employee’s salary increases.

Although the prison department has been running on a tight budget the last few years, officials found money to pay for leave cashouts from one-time savings this year, Sessa said, and decided it made sense to pay down some of its leave liability.

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