As California lawmakers rush to approve budget details for the fiscal year that begins Thursday, the Senate has rubberstamped Gov. Gavin Newsom’s sweetheart deal for the politically powerful prison guard union despite a lack of salary data to support it.
Under their new contract, with two successive 2.5% annual increases, guards will receive a top base pay of $98,600 in the fiscal year that starts Thursday and $101,000 annually the following year. When benefits and perks are added in, by 2022-23, the total state cost for a senior prison guard will be close to $200,000 a year.
The only hope for restoration of fiscal sanity lies with the state Assembly, which is likely to vote on the contract later this week. But there’s little chance the Democratic majority in the lower house will buck their party’s governor, and risk angering the union, as Newsom is facing a recall.
Nor are Republicans likely to poke the union’s wrath. Despite all their protestations about fiscal responsibility, not a single Republican in the Senate voiced opposition to the prison guard contract when it was up for a vote on Monday.
As it has for decades, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association will almost certainly once again have its way with the Legislature and governor. Their members will receive yet another salary increase without a legally required compensation study.
This needs to stop. Salary and benefit surveys are critical for determining whether public employees are properly paid and taxpayers are getting a fair deal. The surveys are a standard part of other state employee contract reviews.
While California law requires such surveys comparing the compensation of state employees to that of comparable jobs in private industry and other governmental entities, it allows the administration and labor unions to jointly waive the requirement.
That’s how the prison guards have gotten a pass since 2013, when the last survey showed that state correctional officers received total compensation that was 40 percent higher than their local government counterparts. Forty percent.
Newsom deserves the blame for negotiating this latest unjustified payoff to the prison guards. But legislators are to blame for allowing him to get away with it.
The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, in a scathing review of the contract for the prison guards, said it could not find evidence to justify the pay increases.
And, without a salary and benefit survey, “The Legislature has no way to assess whether the (salary increases) established under the proposed agreement are appropriate and how the pay increases might affect the state’s position in the labor market and its ability to recruit and retain employees.”
The sad part is that 35 of the 40 state senators OK’d the deal without a peep of discussion. Credit state Sens. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, for voting no. Democratic Sens. Benjamin Allen of Redondo Beach, Josh Becker of San Mateo and Susan Eggman of Stockton didn’t vote.
In addition to the pay increases in the latest contract that will push base salaries over $100,000 a year, pension payments are expected to add about another 50% to the state’s cost by the second year.
Then add pay differentials of up to 9% for seniority, fitness incentive pay of $130 per pay period, night and weekend pay differentials, health care benefits covered at 80%, uniform allowances and overtime, which averages about $15,000 a year.
Not bad for a job that requires only a high school education. Little wonder the state’s prison costs continue to soar.
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