Jerry Brown's Vacation Gift to Prison Guards


If you want to pinpoint the exact moment when the extremely faint hope that California Gov. Jerry Brown might be a Nixon-in-China-style reformer was shot down by a sniper in a guard tower, look no further than the contract he signed a while back with the state's all-powerful prison guards union. 

The L.A. Times' Jack Dolan reads through the fine print in the 200-page contract and finds that it restores a mind-numbing vacation time provision that will make the state's $25 billion structural deficit even worse. California Correctional Peace Officers Association managed to throw out a limitation on vacation time accruals that will allow prison guards to rack up more unused days off and cash them in before retirement at even higher pay rates: 

The deal also would give the members 18 more days off over the life of the two-year contract, according to [Legislative Analyst's Office spokesman Nick] Schroeder, bringing the typical prison guard's time off to more than eight weeks in the first year.

Also in the proposed contract is a change in a provision that encouraged corrections officers to remain physically fit. In the past, they could get up to $130 extra each month if they met certain fitness standards. In the new contract, they would be eligible for the money if they simply go to the doctor for an annual physical, Schroeder said.

The contract still must be approved by the Legislature, which is dominated by Brown's fellow Democrats, and ratified by union members. After feuding bitterly with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the union has been working without a formal contract since 2006.

This is disappointing news for a number of reasons. We can now throw unlimited vacation time onto the Santa Ana-fueled bonfire with pension spiking, placement agency, air time, and countless other perqs, freebies, giveaways and unconscionable favors public employees have squirreled away. Getting rid of crap like this is the minimum baseline for seriousness about solving the pension crisis. 

More disheartening than any of that, however, is the recipient of the benefit in this case. CCPOA is a uniquely powerful lobby, even more influential than the state teacher unions. It is certainly the most powerful government employee union in California, possibly in the whole country. (Further reading [pdf] on that matter.) I'll be covering how CCPOA works its magic in the July issue of Reason, but one of the strangest angles in all this is that Jerry Brown, who in 1999 was included in one of the prison guards union's regularly updated enemies lists, has in the past decade become a hand-in-glove confederate with CCPOA. There is some reason to believe that improved relationship might provide some actual advantages in terms of getting the prison guards to go along with changes to sentencing and incarceration policies. But this is an ominous indication that the real advantages of this new friendship will end up going where they have always gone: to the unions.

It's all enough to make me break my no-more-Dead-Kennedys-Jerry-Brown references pledge. Take it away, Jello: