Monday, April 21, 2003
Gov. Davis and the Prison Guards: During last year's election season, California Gov. Gray Davis, in his drive for campaign cash made a deal with the devil, in the form of the state's prison guards union. The union contributed $3.4 million dollars to Davis' re-election campaign, and as the Union-Tribune editorial page reported on Friday, they got their money's worth.
It's not bad enough that California's massive budget deficit is going to cost thousands of jobs; that taxpayers are going to have to dig deeper into their wallets to help get the state back in the black; that countless public services are going to be cut. Meantime, California's prison officers could be in line for a 7.5 percent pay increase come July 1, thanks to a sweetheart deal negotiated by the Davis administration.
That deal, which was consummated as the governor began his re-election campaign last year, could end up costing the state $67 million more than anticipated. Not only are the prison guards in line for a hefty pay hike, their generous fringe benefits are even more galling. A greatly liberalized sick leave policy already has prompted the guards to call in ill some 500,000 hours more than in 2001. The consequent 27 percent increase in sick pay translates to a cool $36 million. That increase in turn helped drive up prison overtime costs.
The sick leave policy is so slack that prison managers cannot even require guards who miss a great deal of work to submit medical excuses to support their absences.
The flustered Davis administration hastens to remind that the contract's exact cost cannot be known just yet since the raise doesn't kick in until July 1. Besides, the governor's office is busily trying to get the prison guard union to renegotiate some of the pay increase. Not surprisingly, the union has so far refused.
Before the election, Davis' dealings with the guards union smacked of a quid pro quo, with the state budget hit with the mother of all fiscal disasters, you'd think that a seasoned politico like Davis would have known better.
Even if Davis manages to renegotiate the guards' contract, that solution may be worse than the problem we're already stuck with.
Davis, who is asking other state employees to take $850 million in pay cuts to avoid massive layoffs, remains optimistic that the prison guards will be reasonable. Twelve years ago, the union agreed to a 5 percent cut in return for additional vacation days that ended up costing the state $150 million. We shudder to think how much it will cost to rejigger this bad deal.
Hold on to your pocketbook.