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Prison guard labor contract gives big payouts

April 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new contract for the state's prison guards has come under fire. Some claim Governor Jerry Brown is letting retiring guards get big payouts because the guards union helped him get elected. But others say previous budget-saving plans are adding up to the big payout now.

Brown repeated on the campaign trail last year that he could stand up to public-employee unions. Critics say he did not stand up to the prison guards union.

The new labor contract for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has a cash windfall provision that's raising eyebrows.

The deal lifts the cap on saved vacation, meaning prison guards will be able to stash away an unlimited number of vacation days and get a lump-sum payout when they quit or retire.

Normally state workers can accrue up to 80 days of vacation for payouts.

"Taxpayers in California will be outraged at the extent to which Governor Brown is absolutely caving to the public employee unions, and in this instance, to the CCPOA," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

An analysis by the non-partisan California Legislative Analyst's Office found the average prison guard accumulated 19 weeks of leave time to date, a total cash value of $600 million today.

The union blames the Schwarzenegger administration for imposing furloughs, which guards couldn't take because of personnel shortages in a 24-hour operation.

Labor laws also mandate that furlough days be taken first before vacation days, which makes it difficult to stay within the cap.

"It is actually an example of the previous administration choosing short-term savings over the long-term liability, which is what we see happening today," said JeVaughn Baker, CCPOA spokesman.

State Controller records show the average vacation payout for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employees is $25,000.

But in 2010, a $97,000-per-year parole agent received a lump sum of $269,000 for unused leave. A $119,000-per-year administrator got $243,000; and a $70,000-a-year parole agent got $176,000.

The Brown administration denies accusations the deal is payback for the powerful prison-guard union spending almost $2 million last year to help Brown get elected.

"I'd say balderdash! Go talk to them. They ARE not happy one dang bit with the financial package they got," said Ron Yank, director of the Dept. of Personnel Administration. "We did our job looking out for the interest of citizens, the taxpayers of this state."

The new contract must still be approved by the Legislature. It also includes a 5-percent pay cut.