The State Worker: Extra jobs could complicate chain of command

jortiz@sacbee.comJanuary 31, 2013 

If you're looking for another reason to criticize a state policy (suspended, for now) that allows employees who can't earn overtime to take a second hourly job with their same department, here it is.

No, it's not that "additional appointments" may violate federal labor law. Or that it blurs the notion that state managers work for a fixed wage. Or even that the policy gives state work to employees who already draw a paycheck.

To those observations add this one: The policy weakens accountability.

Let's say a lieutenant at Pelican Bay State Prison takes work Thanksgiving Day as a line-walking correctional officer. He's filling in – and taking less money – because the facility has a staffing problem and the lieutenant wants to ease the workload on correctional officers who are already logging heavy OT.

Now let's say that while the lieutenant is working the line job, he's accused of abusing an inmate or starting work late, whatever.

To whom is the moonlighting correctional officer accountable? The sergeant? Himself?

CDCR Deputy Director Terri McDonald, whose 24-year state career started as a correctional officer, said a lieutenant working in the lower position would answer to his or her sergeant that day.

The jobs are structured and the employees are highly disciplined, she said. They understand the chain of command.

"We're trained to follow orders. We're a paramilitary organization with professional staff," McDonald said Wednesday. "I've never heard in all my years that there's ever been a problem" with additional appointments.

Officials with the prison officers' union said they've never heard of a conflict either, but they're concerned that practice invites trouble.

"The potential for conflict is there," said JeVaughn Baker, spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

The union sees additional appointments as a Band-Aid over staffing shortages created by years of attrition. It's particularly true at some of the worst places to work, such as Pelican Bay. "Our position is that the department needs to hire enough employees from the outset to ensure that the secondary appointments aren't necessary," Baker said.

New state data this week revealed that about half of the 571 nonunion state workers with two job titles worked in Corrections, but the accountability question extends beyond the penal system's employees.

So let's say the managers involved are honest, hard workers. Let's say the dual jobs save money, a calculation CalPERS made when managers and other nonunion employees took rank-and-file computer project jobs. It still moves workers up and down the org chart and tangles the chain of command, said Todd Dewett, a management professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

"It leaves room for odd temptations and horse trading," Dewett said. "It's a reason for people to assume the worst."

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