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California prison guards paid to go to Las Vegas union convention

August 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Amid a budget crisis, hundreds of thousands of dollars have reportedly been set aside to pay the Corrections Department officers to attend a union convention in Las Vegas.

According to reports, state officials have set aside $350,000 to pay the officers while they attend that Las Vegas convention despite the ongoing state budget crisis.

Taxpayers won't be picking up travel expenses, but will be picking up the tab for the prison guards' pay as if they were on vacation.

Hundreds of California prison guards are heading to Las Vegas this month for their union's annual convention, where they'll elect new leaders and get collective-bargaining training.

They'll receive their full state pay with taxpayers footing as much as $350,000.

"This is one of those things that makes sense whatsoever, and why I think taxpayers are outraged at these sweetheart deals," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) usually reimburses the state for pay involving union activities, but about a decade ago, instead of taking a 1-percent pay hike like most other public employee unions, prison guards opted for other benefits instead, including what's called "activist release time."

For taxpayers, it's far cheaper than pay raises.

"We chose to use that to ensure that our union activists who attend our annual convention do so while still receiving their pay," said union attorney Gregg Adams.

In their latest contract this year negotiated by Governor Jerry Brown's administration, the convention benefit was continued.

The union points out members gave $150 million in concessions.

But at a time when families on welfare are seeing smaller checks, social services are being eliminated and public schools are doing away with teachers and physical-education classes, some Californians are scratching their heads.

"I do kind of question the wisdom in making a trip like that," said public-school teacher Dave DeLange.

"If you're sending Californians out of state for conventions, that needs to be re-assessed, and the money needs to stay in California," said concerned mother Tina DeLange.

The union says this convention site wasn't chosen just so what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

"It is 65- to 80-percent cheaper, unfortunately, to hold conventions in Las Vegas," said attorney Adams.

The state believes some prison guards did some union activity on state time in years past, and is suing to get back $4 million in pay.

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