CCPOA poised to sue state in federal court over stalled contract talks

The California Highway Patrol is filing for divorce from a contractual marriage to the state prison guards’ union–a marriage that was arranged by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001. Meanwhile, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is preparing a lawsuit of its own, to be filed in federal court as soon as CHP’s new pay increase goes into effect on July 1.

“I think it’s time for us to reach out and become active participants in the federal courts,” said CCPOA president Mike Jimenez.

Though the CHP is expected to get a raise next month, the state has argued any new increase should not automatically apply to the prison guards. “That’s exactly the subject of a pending arbitration,” says Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration. “We argue that contractual provision that tied CCPOA to the CHP expired with their contract” in 2006.
Meanwhile, the Highway Patrol has re-filed a formal unfair labor practice charge against the state with the Public Employee Relations Board. The complaint essentially seeks to sever a deal that links prison-guard salaries to CHP salaries. The Highway Patrol had one such request rejected by PERB earlier this year.

But they refiled their complaint last month after the state Department of Personnel Administration refused to reopen contract talks for fear it would also impact CCPOA. “We must consider the impact of the CCPOA formula,” wrote DPA’s Diane Navarro in a May 24 letter rejected the highway patrol’s request for a 3.1 percent pay hike.

The next day, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen took Navarro’s letter as evidence that the linkage between their unit and CCPOA was impeding the CAHP’s ability to negotiate with the state. CAHP refiled its unfair practice charge on May 25.

“We really feel like it impacts our ability to negotiate freely for our members,” said Jon Hamm, executive director of CAHP. “The bottom line is that the recent arbitration decision makes it clear that anything we negotiate would have to be passed on to CCPOA. Once that decision was rendered, we realized [the linkage] was limitless.”

Hamm is referring to a November 2006 ruling by arbitrator Alexander Combs, which essentially ruled that any additional compensation or benefit given to the CHP must also be extended to the prison guards’ union.

Under the CCPOA’s 2001 contract, prison-guard salaries are linked to the pay of highway-patrol officers. Insiders refer to the deal as “the devil’s deal” because it stipulates prison guards must make no less than $666 below CHP officers.

Hamm says that linkage makes it difficult to negotiate for his 6,000 members. CCPOA has more than 30,000 members in their bargaining unit.

The California Association of Highway Patrolmen filed its official complaint on May 25. PERB has 60 days from the filing date to rule on the unfair practice charge.

The prison guards’ union has been without a contract for more than a year. And state negotiators say the linkage of the prison guards’ contract to the highway patrol has eliminated the incentive for the guards to hold serious contract talks with state negotiators.

“I’ve never heard anything more foolish in my life,” says Jimenez of the charges his union doesn’t want a new deal. “They’ve refused to engage us in good faith. They’re just trying to cover their incompetence.”

The stalled contract talks were enough to delay the confirmation of David Gilb, the head of the state Department of Personnel Administration. After having vote on his confirmation delayed by two weeks by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, in hopes of kickstarting contract talks, Gilb was confirmed by Senate Rules on a 5-0 vote Wednesday.

But state negotiators say the guards’ 2001 contract eliminated any incentive for CCPOA to renegotiate its deal with the state. The guards contract is linked to the CHP. CHP has language in its contract that brings their 6,000 members’ salaries in line with the five-largest police agencies in the state: San Diego, Los Angeles city, Los Angeles County, Oakland and San Francisco.

So, in effect, CHP gets automatic pay raises, based on how local governments compensate their cops. And those pay raises are passed on to CCPOA members, thanks to that 2001 contract.

Gilb has called in a mediator to help break the state’s deadlock with the prison guards’ union “We have been stuck. We have deadlocked. We felt it was appropriate to ask for help,” Gilb told the Rules Committee earlier this month.
CCPOA president Jimenez opposed Gilb’s reconfirmation, and denied that the union had no interest in good-faith contract talks. Jimenez says it is Gilb’s negotiators who are stalling, in hopes that a formal impasse will be declared, and a contract essentially imposed upon the parties.

“They’ve been dishonorable and dishonest with us in all of their dealings,” Jimenez said.

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