Prison guard talks break down–no contract likely until 2007

It has been more than a month since the labor contract between California and the state’s prison guards expired and the union now says it is digging in and preparing to go without a contract until at least 2007. Discussions have stalled as negotiators face a deadline–which could be as soon as today–to hammer out a deal and have it ratified by the Legislature before the end of the year.

The negotiating teams have not met for more than a week after a late July session when tempers flared and both sides walked away displeased. The state and union have yet even to agree on ground rules for the discussions, which began inauspiciously two months ago when the union demanded to videotape the proceedings. In response, the state negotiators walked out.

“We are at a complete and total standstill. The last official meeting was at least a week ago and it did not go well,” said Lance Corcoran, a spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). “The CCPOA doesn’t have any confidence that a deal can be struck this year.”

Between a statutory 10-day window for the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) to write a fiscal analysis and a Senate rule requiring seven days to review any contract, a deal would have to be delivered to the LAO as soon as Friday, August 11.

That seems highly unlikely as the sides last met July 31 and have no future meetings scheduled. “The state has presented an offer to the union, but we have not received a counter-offer from the union,” said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration, which is charged with negotiating the contract.

Added to the mix this week are new television advertisements–paid for by the CCPOA–that rip Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for what the union calls his failures in the prison system.

“Rioting. Overcrowded. Understaffed. Violent. California prisons are in melt down,” the ad begins amid images of inmate riots and assaults. The ads are airing in Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield and San Diego for the next few weeks, as the Schwarzenegger administration tries to negotiate a new contract with the union.

The ads have come as a somewhat of a surprise as top Schwarzenegger officials have reached out to the leadership of the 30,000-strong union throughout 2006. In fact, a recent report by a federal special master charged with overseeing prison reforms criticized the governor’s aides for cozying up to the union too much.

Corcoran says that while the ads might “affect the tenor of the relationship with the administration and union,” things couldn’t get much worse.

“They are miles apart. There have been no honest proposals put on the table by the administration,” he said.

Some political insiders are calling the ads an arm-twisting preview of a potential independent-expenditure campaign in the governor’s race. The CCPOA has already booked $5 million in ad time in the final two weeks before Election Day.

Richard Temple, a political consultant for the union, says that’s simply not true.

“We have a special session for prisons that is going on right now. That is why that ad is there. As they debate theses policies, this ad is out there,” says Temple, referring to a special session called by Schwarzenegger in June to deal with the crisis in California’s prisons. The special session–in which the Legislature is considering Schwarzenegger’s proposals to build two new prisons, open a women-only correctional facility and add 43,000 new beds 2013–began in earnest this week.

The correctional officers union has gone long periods without a contract before. In the mid-1990s, under the administration of then-Gov. Pete Wilson, the CCPOA worked without a contract for 31 months. Under the recently expired contract, union officials say there is little downside to holding out for a better deal.

“There is not a great deal of adversity for us with respect to not having a contact as long as negotiations are ongoing,” says Corcoran. “If the state wants to bring their proposal to our people and pay for everything: printing, postage and tabulations, they are welcome to. But we are not going to invest one-quarter to half-million dollars in a product we believe is sub par.”

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