Corrections officers set for sizable salary boost in five-year tentative pact

By Don Thompson The Associated Press
Tuesday December 18, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Corrections officers could see salary boosts of 20-30 percent in the final years of a tentative five-year state contract, officials said Monday. 

The proposal also cuts guards to a 40-hour work week, down from 42 hours in which the extra two hours are spent on training. It also boosts pension benefits to the level enjoyed by California Highway Patrol officers. 

“It’s about time that officers in our profession are compensated adequately,” said Lance Corcoran, vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. 

The contract also calls for the state to cut the number of guard vacancies, which a sharply critical audit last month blamed for costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in overtime and sick leave. Up to 12 percent of prison jobs can remain vacant currently, but that would fall to 5 percent under the pending contract. 

“We’ve got the same problems as law enforcement, but a (negative) stereotype that makes it even tougher to recruit and retain officers,” Corcoran said. 

The proposal delays pay increases for the powerful, politically connected union’s nearly 29,000 members until after next year’s election, and, state officials hope, after the state’s current budget crunch. 

The state agreed to pay 2 1/5 percent of officers’ pension contributions this year and an additional 5 percent at the July 1 start of the next fiscal year in lieu of standard pay increases. 

“To them it’s the equivalent of a 2 1/2 percent pay raise, almost, and to us it gives us a little more breathing room on when we have to pay it,” said Marty Morgenstern, director of the state Department of Personnel Administration. 

The state has similar deals with 14 other bargaining units that have reached tentative agreements.  

Contracts with six other unions remain unresolved, though their contracts all expired last July. 

The final three years of the officers’ contract, however, calls for increases to keep pace with salary boosts negotiated with the California Highway Patrol in September. 

By law, CHP salaries are supposed to match those in major metropolitan police departments in California, but currently lag 8 percent behind. CHP’s new contract calls for the state to catch up with those local salaries over the next five years, and for guards to receive equal increases that would still leave them trailing CHP officers’ base pay. 

Morgenstern estimated those increases could approximate 20-30 percent, depending on raises negotiated with local police. 

Correctional officers’ pay currently averages just under $50,000 annually, Morgenstern said. A guard’s highest base pay brings $54,900 a year, but there are additional payments for longevity, education and physical fitness. 

The contract, like all the tentative agreements, still must be ratified by the union and the state Legislature.