CCPOA contract: Intrigue, money, power roil Capitol at the 11th hour

The story of the last-minute push for a new contract for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is a sordid and twisted tale that remains mired in a legislative fog one week later. It dramatically illustrates of the meta-language of politics, the fluidity of the last-minute deal and the fine line between clerical “mistakes” and a vast conspiracy.

Were amendments switched? Were promises reneged? Was the bill’s demise the result of a deliberate legislative maneuver or simple blunders–or both?

What is clear is this: In the closing hours of the legislative session, California politics was turned on its head. The conservative Senate Republican caucus, which had held out on the budget for more than a month to reign in frivolous spending, was promoting a $300 million pay increase for one of the state’s most powerful labor unions, amid skepticism from the liberal Republican governor and union-friendly Democratic leaders.

Negotiations were fast and furious last Tuesday. CCPOA had just suffered a legal setback when an arbitrator ruled their pay was no longer linked to the state Highway Patrol. That meant the union would not receive the generous pay-hike that highway patrol officers had just received from the state. Political payback, the ghost of Gray Davis, veto override threats, Capitol relationships, and the fate of legislative term limits all played supporting roles in last week’s drama.

Negotiations between the union and the Schwarzenegger administration have been acrimonious at best, and have erupted into a full-scale labor war.

This week, the state began implementation of their official “last, best and final offer” to the union. The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the administration with the Public Employee Relations Board.

CCPOA has strong allies in both political parties. And both Democrats and Republicans have shown an eagerness to see peace restored between the administration and union.

But these contract negotiations have taken place in a very politically charged environment. And the principal players in the drama all bring their own baggage into the conversation. Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, has been intimately involved in the administration’s bargaining position with the union.

Kennedy watched first-hand as Gov. Gray Davis made a deal with the union that was described by many Capitol observers as a sweetheart deal. The Davis contract came after the union backed Davis with a large independent expenditure campaign in the 1998 governor’s race. The union’s deal with Davis was the true beginning of the pay-to-play narrative that stuck to the governor and led to his eventual recall.

Kennedy did not play a role in those negotiations, but was clearly marked by the experience. And as the gatekeeper to Gov. Schwarzenegger, she remains determined not to allow her current boss to repeat what she sees as the mistakes of the Davis administration.

Kennedy personally engaged on the final day of session, scrambling to help kill the CCPOA’s last-minute contract bid. Kennedy monitored the legislative machinations, and to try to ensure that the pay raise bill did not land on the governor’s desk.

“It was not a difficult argument to go out and explain why negotiating union contracts during the last hour of session is totally inappropriate,” says Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. “I think you would have a very difficult time finding anyone who was willing to justify that.”

But many of the supporters of the last-minute pay raise bill said they were simply hoping to kickstart stalled negotiations between the union and the administration.

Legislative leaders, particularly Speaker Fabian Nunez, had their own vested interest in maintaining good relations with the governor’s office. The speaker is taking the lead on health care negotiations with the governor, and would love to have the governor’s support on a change in the state term-limits law that would allow Nunez to keep his job for up to six more years.

So, the Speaker’s office was watching the fate of the contract in the Senate very closely. When the deal finally fell apart sometime after 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning, members of the speaker’s senior staff were all keeping a watchful eye in the back of the Senate Appropriations Committee

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, were eager to pass the pay raise. The union has many allies inside the Senate GOP caucus, perhaps none as strong as Sens. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta, and George Runner, R-Lancaster. But members of the caucus, which has seen its relationship with the governor deteriorate, were also eager to dump something on the governor’s desk that Schwarzenegger didn’t want. And they were hoping to do so with enough votes to let Schwarzenegger know they might override his veto, if the governor threatened to sign the contract.

“You would be hard pressed to find a more egregious example of hypocrisy in Sacramento,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn, referring to the Senate Republican caucus. “Even if you’re doing it to embarrass the governor, how do you justify extending one of the most lucrative union contracts ever rewarded when they criticized Gray Davis for the same thing?”

Sen. Dick Ackerman originally told CCPOA lobbyists that he would not allow the necessary rule waivers to take up the pay raise bill. But Ackerman faced a mini revolt when he gave the news to his caucus, with 10 of the Senate’s 15 Republicans voting in a closed-door meeting to waive the Senate rules and allow the CCPOA bill to come to the floor.

In short motivations for passing or not passing the bill were many, and the coalitions on both sides were fractured and desperate. Add to that the late hour, and the pressure of the close of a legislative session, and the confusion that ensued begins to make sense.

Battin and Runner were frantically trying to hammer out a deal with CCPOA lobbyist Craig Brown, and top lobbyists for the highway patrol. Some time after midnight, in Battin’s office, all parties came to an agreement that would have unlinked CCPOA’s pay from any CHP contract. It would have given prison guards a 3.5 percent raise retroactive to April 1 of this year, and an additional 6.1 percent increase, retroactive to July 1.

In all, the package was worth more than $300 million to the union in the current budget year alone.

Battin told Perata there was a deal in place, with at least 10 Republicans in support. Perata called his members into caucus to discuss the pay raise plan.

By this time, there were a number of different sets of amendments proposed. There were rumors going around the building that Perata’s office had put amendments across the Senate desk. Battin and Runner tried frantically to locate Perata staffer Shelley Curran, who was doing the leg work on the bill, but to no avail. Nobody could find the amendments that were in print.

Finally, frustrated with a lack of information from Perata or legislative counsel, Battin submitted his own amendments which included the two-step pay raise.

The Democratic caucus adjourned, and the bill was amended on the Senate floor, even though no members had copy of the amendments in front of them. In short, CCPOA allies say, they had no real idea what they were voting for when they voted to amend the bill, though they assumed it was the double pay raise.

Perata called an ad-hoc meeting of Senate Appropriations to vote on the amended bill, and bring it back to the floor. That’s where all hell broke loose.

Republican Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, and Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, presented the bill, but it soon became clear there was a problem. The two thought they were presenting a bill that had both pay raises. As it turns out, the amendments that had been approved by the Senate, without paperwork, only
had the 6.1 percent increase.

A recess was called by Appropriations Chairman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch. Perata was approached to discuss the confusion. When it became clear that Perata was not willing to reamend the bill to add the additional 3.5 percent increase, worth an estimated $105 million annually, CCPOA pulled its support for the deal, and the bill died.

Perata quickly gaveled down the Senate session before the Appropriations Committee was even finished wrapping up its hearing.

There is no shortage of theories about what exactly happened that night. But at least publicly, CCPOA leaders say they are reserving judgement. “We are not prepared to blame anybody,” says CCPOA executive vice president Chuck Alexander. “We’d hate to make allegations about who’s to blame without having all the facts.”

Perata spokeswoman Alicia Trost dismisses any theory that implicates her boss in deliberately derailing the bill. She says Perata consulted members on the 6.1 percent pay increase, and that the Senate appeared ready to approve that raise.

“The caucus as a whole decided those were the amendments that would be put across the desk,” she said. “All members of the Senate voted on what was put across the desk.”

Battin, while obviously frustrated at the end-of-session shenanigans, also stopped short of pointing fingers in discussing the bill’s demise. But he did discuss what he says is the dire need for a pay raise for CCPOA members.

“Correctional officers certainly do deserve a pay raise. They have a very difficult, dangerous job. There is 10 percent vacancy rate, and we’re having federal judges taking a hard look at the prison system. If we don’t do something to fix that, a judge will step in and mandate a pay raise,” Battin said.

“The governor needs to go back to the table in a good-faith manner and negotiate a deal both parties can deal with.”

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