A lot has been written about the struggle that the correctional officers have had attempting to reach a contract with the state. Some of it accurate, much of it flat wrong. CCPOA has repeatedly said the deadlock is not about money, and that is largely true. But money is always an issue in contract talks. Much is made of the overtime that correctional officers work, and the amount that officers earn. But if things are so good and the money so easy why are there roughly 4000 correctional officer vacancies? Shouldn’t people be lining up to take those jobs? The fact is staff vacancies are driving the overtime and the higher salaries. Sure some officers are working all the overtime they can, but hundreds of officers are routinely forced to work countless hours of overtime.
And not just a few hours at a time – double shifts are common. What would it take to get you to be locked in a dangerous, unhealthy, prison with thousands of convicted felons for 16 hours a day walking the toughest beat in the state?
To correctional officers the deadlock is more about working conditions, honesty, and honor, than about money. This administration has sought to dismantle twenty years of negotiated reforms and employee rights for correctional officers. These are rights that are routinely extended to all other peace officers including the Highway Patrol. Rights were openly negotiated with the last three administrations, not only Gov. Davis, and all were approved by the Legislature.
Faced with repeated failures, and increasing criticism from the legislature and the courts, corrections management, decided to scapegoat employees and their union. In a calculated stoke management, along with the administration, planted the seed that there was a widespread “code of silence” amongst the employees.
That seed never grew and bore fruit but instead, left a bitter taste with the brave men and women who walk the tiers. Later, in 2004 this same administration entered into an agreement with the union to improve working conditions for officers. In exchange the greedy prison guards gave up 200 million dollars in compensation. Before the ink was dry on the agreement the administration reneged on it and kept the money.
It is with that background, and the mistrust borne from it, that sets the stage for the current round of negotiations, or lack thereof. From the very beginning of the negotiations, the administration had the goal of breaking the union. If that was not the case why hire an outside negotiator, why refuse to have the negotiations public or be videotaped, Why refuse to explain terms and proposals, answer questions, or during mediation even sign in on a piece of paper so union negotiators knew who was in the next room. Why, without explanation or justification, did the administration go after every provision in the contract that would cause the most angst among the officers? Why demand that officers give up seniority rights, which cost the state nothing, or worse, demand they waive protections that the law gives to all other peace officers in the state. This is not an administration that ever bargained in good faith.
The federal courts, inmate’s rights groups, correctional officers, and perhaps the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, recognize that court mandated Constitutional Health Care for inmates cannot be provided with the current level of correctional officer staff shortages.
The Governor has been the phantom negotiator in this drama, calling the shots and pulling the strings. It’s time for the phantom to come into the light, bargain in good faith, and reach an agreement with the union grounded in trust, honesty, and respect.