Report Blasts Contract

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Report blasts labor contract

By VIC POLLARD, Californian Sacramento Bureau


Tuesday July 30, 2002, 10:28:00 PM

SACRAMENTO -- A new labor contract between Gov. Gray Davis' administration and the prison guards' union will likely cost taxpayers an additional $518 million over the next four years, far more than the $300 million estimated by the administration

That's the major conclusion of a report issued Tuesday by the state auditor's office, the first independent analysis of the contract that has stirred controversy since it was approved by the governor and ratified by the state Legislature earlier this year.

The highly critical report by the office of Auditor Elaine M. Howle also said the California Department of Corrections is spending about $220 million a year in extra overtime pay largely because of its inability to recruit correctional officers to fill some 3,000 vacant positions. That's because wardens often must staff fill-in shifts with guards on overtime.

"It's a difficult department to run. It's the largest corrections department in the United States," Howle said. "But you've got to manage your resources more effectively and efficiently."

The report said the state is not likely to solve the overtime problem by filling the vacant positions until late 2005 under the best of circumstances, and it will likely take longer.

Top administration officials held a conference call with reporters to defend the contract. They insisted that the audit overestimated the costs of the new agreement.

Marty Morgenstern, director of the Department of Personnel Administration, said the audit did not account for reductions in overtime costs he believes will come because the higher wages and benefits in the contract will allow the prison system to hire guards to fill most of its vacant positions sooner.

Officials of the politically powerful union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, one of the biggest contributors to Davis' campaign fund, could not be reached for comment.

The chief critic of the union and the Department of Corrections, state Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, hailed the report's conclusions.

He said the soaring overtime costs are "a huge hit caused by a collective bargaining contract with the state getting no known benefits such as improved public safety, lower prison recidivism or greater state fiscal savings."

Polanco requested the audit through the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

The audit report noted that most of the additional costs of the new contract, such as the first in a series of pay increases for guards, won't begin kicking in until next year.

Officials said the union agreed to the delay in light of the state's dire fiscal situation, with a current budget gap of $23.6 billion and permanent deficits of about $10 million a year for the next five years.

Politically, the delay puts off most of the cost increases until after Davis faces voters in his campaign for re-election this November.

The audit estimated the contract will provide raises of about 37 percent for correctional officers by the year 2006. That is higher than the 30 percent to 34 percent predicted by administration officials.

Precise predictions are not possible because the contract pegs correctional officer raises to future raises granted to California Highway Patrol officers and big-city police.

The report also said the Department of Personnel Administration refused to release much of the information the auditor's office requested that would show whether the Department of Corrections or the union achieved or failed to get the things they requested in the contract.

Morgenstern said that information is confidential under state law designed to protect the privacy of labor negotiations. However, he told the auditor in a letter that his department refused to support six top-priority requests by the department, largely because they would have been "take backs" of pay and benefits, which would have been resisted by the union, resulting in protracted negotiations.

Howle said the department has addressed some of the problems her staff identified in this and prior reports, but she said she was frustrated because some suggestions have been dismissed out of hand. Last November, for instance, she said her staff recommended a better system to track expenditures throughout the year so the department doesn't overspend its budget.

"They said they couldn't do that because they were too busy," she said. "Well, don't just throw your hands up in the air. Try it."
 
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