Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Flickr
California is shrinking retirement benefits for the managers who oversee corrections officers at state prisons, saving $9.6 million next fiscal year.
The rank-and-file officers guarding inmates negotiated away the extra pension contribution they'd received for more than a decade. In exchange, the officers will receive a larger salary increase in 2013 and maintain their vacation and sick leave system.
Their bosses did not fare as well.
California’s Department of Finance will stop depositing money into supplementary pension accounts held by roughly 5,000 corrections supervisors. Those higher-ranking employees receive nothing in return.
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Their union, the California Correctional Supervisors Organization, contends that the corrections supervisors are the only state workers suffering such a cut.
And, in a lawsuit filed this month in Sacramento County Superior Court, the union argues that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state Department of Personnel Administration and the state Department of Finance violated the employees’ rights while shaving prison costs.
Corrections supervisors did not know about the reduction until well after the state had taken action, said Kelley Martinez, an attorney representing the supervisors.
“There are some due process rights that we have, and one is meet-and-confer before any of these kinds of changes are made,” Martinez said, “which the state did not do.”
The supervisors asked the court to block the change. Judge Timothy Frawley denied the motion.
While the lawsuit remains active, Martinez said the corrections supervisors have not decided whether to pursue it further.
Supervisors are “excluded” employees in California agencies, which means they are excluded from collective bargaining for their pay and benefits. That is a significant difference from the rank-and-file officers, whose union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, negotiates compensation directly with state officials.
It was during such an exchange that the pension cut came to be, according to The Sacramento Bee. The corrections officers struck a deal with the Department of Personnel Administration, then finished talks with California’s top official. The Bee’s story continued:
Meanwhile the union went directly to Gov. Jerry Brown's office and proposed ending POFF II (the Peace Officers’ and Firefighters’ Defined Contribution Plan) contributions for good. It also agreed to increase the employee pension contribution 3 percentage points instead of the 2 percentage points bargained and closed that morning, meaning that members would pay 11 percent instead of 10 percent into their retirement accounts.
Pat Le Sage, operations and finance chief for the supervisors union, said her organization lacks the political might to win budget battles.
“The public only hears about the officers,” Le Sage said. “They’re the large group and very powerful.”
Eliminating this retirement benefit does not affect the corrections supervisors’ primary pensions. Rather, it effectively cost them an old pay raise.
The deposits, equal to 2 percent of each paycheck, have been collecting in the supplementary accounts since 1999, when correctional officers accepted extra retirement money instead of higher salaries.