Californians upset prison guards head to Las Vegas

August 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
We know that California's budget cuts are hitting every county hard and now we're learning that this cash-strapped state is going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to prison guards, while they attend their annual union convention in Las Vegas.

Hundreds of California prison guards are heading to Las Vegas this month for their union's annual convention, where they'll elect new leaders and get collective bargaining training. They'll receive their full state pay with taxpayers footing as much as $350,000.

"This is one of those things that makes no sense whatsoever, and why I think taxpayers are outraged at these sweetheart deals," said Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association usually reimburses the state for pay involving union activities, but about a decade ago, instead of taking a 1-percent pay hike like most other public employee unions, prison guards opted for other benefits instead, including what's called "activist release time".

For taxpayers, it was far cheaper than pay raises.

"We chose to ensure that our union activists who attend our annual convention do so while still receiving their pay," said Gregg Adams, a union attorney.

In their latest contract this year negotiated by the Brown administration, the convention benefit continued, the union points out members gave $150 million in concessions.

But at a time when families on welfare are seeing smaller checks, social services are being eliminated and public schools are doing away with teachers and PE classes, some Californians are scratching their heads.

"I do kind of question the wisdom of making a trip like that," said Dave DeLange, a public school teacher.

"If you're sending Californians out of state for conventions, that needs to be reassessed and the money needs to stay in California," said Tina DeLange, a concerned mother.

The union says this convention site wasn't chosen just so what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

"It is 65 to 80 percent cheaper, unfortunately, to hold conventions in Las Vegas," said Adams.

The state believes some prison guards did union activity while on state time and is suing to get back $4 million in pay.


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