As California closes prisons, correctional officers land a $1 billion contract with raises and more

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Thousands of California correctional officers are in line to get $10,000 bonuses through a new contract their union negotiated with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration as the state prepares to close several prisons.

The tentative deal for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is loaded with other incentives that collectively increase compensation for about 26,000 prison guards through a combination of raises, retirement perks and pay differentials for working overnight.

All correctional officers represented by the union known as CCPOA will receive 3% raises this year and next. They’ll also gain bonuses of at least $2,400 for health and wellness. Many new cadets will get $5,000 depending on where they work. The $10,000 bonuses will go to correctional officers at Salinas Valley State Prison; California State Prison, Sacramento; and R. J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

One change would give correctional officers a new state-funded retirement plan in addition to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System pensions they accrue. It calls on the state to deposit $475 in a 401(k) plan for each permanent, full-time employee in November 2024, and then for the state to put a sum equal to 1% of each officer’s base wages into the plan every month beginning in January 2025.

If approved, the agreement is expected to cost more than $1 billion over three years, according to a summary by the state. By law, the agreement must be approved by the union and Legislature and signed by the governor before it goes into effect.

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“The contract discussions are going smoothly, and we have reached a tentative agreement that will first go through our internal process before we comment publicly about the substance of it,” said Glen Stailey, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

The contract comes as the Newsom administration is trying to cut prison spending in other ways. California’s corrections budget runs about $15 billion a year even though the state prison population fell from some 160,000 inmates in 2011 to about 96,000 today. Newsom has closed two prisons and he plans to shut two more by 2025.

The correctional officers union has seen a 6% drop in the number of employees it represents since Newsom took office, according to a CalMatters analysis of summary collective bargaining agreements since July 2019.

CCPOA contract wins in Newsom administration

The correctional officers’ union has scored several bargaining wins with Newsom. During the pandemic, prison guards were able to skirt the state’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements while others were compelled to get the jab.

The California Department of Human Resources recently released a 2022 compensation survey that compared prison guard pay with wages and benefits offered to deputy sheriffs in the state’s six largest counties. The agencies are comparable, according to the survey, because deputy sheriffs hold similar jobs in the state’s county-run jails.

The survey showed experienced California prison guards earn about $110,000 in base pay and salary incentives, which is about 10% less than what jail deputies take home. When benefits are included, the state prison guards’ total compensation is about 23% less than what jail deputies earn.

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A representative for the corrections department said the bonuses are part of the state’s recruitment and retention plans.

“Overall, we are experiencing challenges in recruitment similar to other law enforcement agencies, coupled with the need to fill jobs in every part of the state,” said Mary Xjimenez, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Our recruitment efforts are extensive and ongoing, with retention bonuses being part of our overall efforts.”

Bonuses in California prisons

In recent contracts, retention bonuses for state prison workers have typically hovered between $2,400 and $5,000, according to documents on the California Department of Human Resources’ website.

The $10,000 differential could go to more than 2,300 correctional officers at the three prisons, according to employee vacancy data from the state controller. New workers at those same three prisons would also be eligible for a relocation bonus.

As of July 31, about 10% of the correctional officer positions statewide were vacant.

At California State Prison, Sacramento, the vacancy rate was 22%; while Donovan was at 4%. Salinas Valley, the third prison with the more lucrative bonus, had a vacancy rate of 7%.

Three prisons with a vacancy rate of 10% or more and over-filled with prisoners are not included in the retention differential, according to data from the state controller.

In addition to the retention differential, the agreement calls for a $5,000 location incentive bonus for cadets who accept or choose to work at 13 select prisons after graduating from the academy.

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Employees would also receive $2,400 for mental health and wellness for “engaging in services and activities that have a positive impact on their mental health and wellness” like exercising and mental health counseling, according to the agreement. It’s unclear if members would have to verify their activities.

Bilingual guards will see their pay bonus double to $200 each month, and night shift and weekend pay will increase from $1.50 to $2.50 an hour.

The Newsom administration recently gave additional pay incentives to other state employees working in state prisons. A tentative agreement for about 5,000 state mental health professionals includes $10,000 bonuses for psychologists and clinical social workers, many of whom work in prisons. And a new contract for the union that represents state maintenance workers includes $1,500 bonuses for employees in state prisons.

Last year, as the state prepared to close the Division of Juvenile Justice, the administration agreed to offer hundreds of youth prison workers, including correctional officers, up to $50,000 bonuses to stay on the job. The division closed on July 1, 2023.

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