We spoke this afternoon with Chuck Alexander, acting president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, about the layoffs announced last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So far, CCPOA has been mostly silent about budget matters affecting their members, including the 5,000 layoff notices sent out to state workers. Preliminary reports indicate that up to 3,600 of the letters have gone to Corrections and Rehabilitation Department employees, and most of those went to correctional officers with 15 months or fewer on the job, Alexander said.
(Note: The Department of Personnel Administration has pushed back its release of specific information about the layoff from this afternoon to Wednesday. The reason, we're told, is that the state needs more time to collate the lists of notified employees before presenting them to the unions.)
Read our Q&A with Alexander after the jump.
The State Worker: I keep expecting to hear from CCPOA about the layoff policy and other items in the governor's May revise budget, since they have an impact on your members. Why hasn't the union said anything?
Chuck Alexander: We've been mum on the issue, because I don't know what I'm responding to at this point. We've requested the list, but DPA says we can't get the list until tomorrow.
TSW: Early indications are that your members are taking the biggest layoff hit.
CA: Yes. I have gotten examples of the letter. It looks like they've already screwed it up. We're gearing up on the legal front. I'll have more to say about that later this week.
TSW: How has the state messed up?
CA: I don't know exactly. Our attorneys are looking at it. I'm hearing word that some people assumed they were laid off immediately and didn't show up for work.
TSW: What other problems do you see with the layoff plan?
CA: Well, the layoffs assume you can move 19,000 illegals out of the system. But we've always had the ability to do that. We've advocated for the last three years a look at the undocumented aspect of the prison population and turn them over to the feds, or send back across the border.
TSW: The administration says it will release or transfer low-level offenders.
CA: The problem is that most of those 19,000 have already been rejected (for transfer out of the system) because they're violent offenders. (The plan) is a sham. I would venture to guess that most of those 19,000 -- if there are that many in the prison system -- have an enhancement or serious violent felony.
TSW: So what is the union doing to help its members facing layoff?
CA: We are going to come out with some recommendations of our own that will save a lot more money than the May revise with much less impact to public safety. Probably on Wednesday or Thursday.
TSW: What about the layoff method? What does laying off the least senior workers do to prison operations?
CA: Well, the state just blanketed the notices anybody with less than 15 months in the department. Here's the impact: Some prisons in outlying areas are hard to fill and have high vacancy rates. Sacramento is a desirable area, but places like in the High Desert aren't. So in the last couple of years, new people had to start in those less desirable prisons. So by laying off the newest staff, those prisons will be hit the hardest. What's that going to do to overtime?
TSW: Got an example?
CA: I developed my own list based on the 15 month service cutoff. High Desert State Prison, for example, has at least 135 people in that category. And that's a maximum security prison. You get rid of those people, you create a lot of overtime or you'll need a lot of people to transfer.
TSW: Are illegal immigrant offenders concentrated in a few prisons or are they spread around?
CA: Illegals are spread throughout the system. That's one reason this doesn't appear to be well thought out. Even if they do (layoffs) as envisioned, it will drive up overtime, create mandatory transfers of staff to cover vacancies and force more inmate transfers to even out the bed vacancies. The cost associated with all that isn't readily visible.
TSW: The state says it wants to help displaced employees find other jobs inside or outside the state, but I wonder how many other things can COs do? It seems like a pretty specialized job.
CA: We're a pretty diverse group. Many of us have degrees. But it is hard to translate unless it's another badge job. I do believe there are a lot of other opportunities, like CHP.