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 the meta-language of politics, the fluidity 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 a 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.
What’s clear is that negotiations were fast and furious last Tuesday. There were also different motivations for the last-minute push. And questions abounded.
CCPOA had just suffered a legal setback when an arbitrator ruled their pay was no longer linked to the state highway patrol. That mean 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 tried 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 N