California pays prisons guards for attending Las Vegas convention

pdave@sacbee.comAugust 4, 2011 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has set aside about $350,000 to pay several hundred corrections officers while they attend their union's annual convention later this month in Las Vegas.

The arrangement with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is unique among the state's collective bargaining agreements.

Up to 10 rank-and-file employees from each of the state's 37 correctional facilities may claim three days of what's called "activist release time" while at the Aug. 16-19 convention. This means the state will pay them for those days without getting reimbursement from the union.

Gregg Adam, an attorney for CCPOA, said the union decided in 1999 to convert a scheduled 1 percent base salary increase into multiple benefits, including activist release time.

"CCPOA paid for this benefit," he said. Others unions that opted to take the straight salary increase continue to benefit from that spike, he said, so there's no reason CCPOA should lose the alternatives it bargained for.

The state generally bears the cost when employees take time off from work to focus on activities directly related to collective bargaining. For other union activities such as conventions and social events, the union typically reimburses the state for salary paid to an employee who wasn't at work.

Between 2006 and 2010, when the union worked without a contract, the activist release time was not in place.

CCPOA's new contract includes both activist release time, which does not require reimbursing the state, and a release time bank, which allows employees to donate unused personal days to a fund that other union members can draw from. The union has told this year's convention attendees to request three days of activist release time and one day from the time bank.

Adam said CCPOA also agreed to a provision that he estimated will save the state $500,000 annually. Three union vice presidents, who previously collected paychecks from the state while working full time for the union, now are paid through the release time bank.

An Office of the Inspector General report issued in 2006 scolded the department for potentially costing the state millions of dollars by not properly monitoring the bank.

The report also said the department's activist release time costs exceeded the annual budget of $368,000 by more than $400,000 from 2002 through 2005. At the time, the department said it had begun establishing policies to better account for union leave time. The state remains in a legal battle with CCPOA about more than $4 million in leave time reimbursements that it says the union owes.

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