The new contract Governor Jerry Brown negotiated with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has come under intense scrutiny over the past week. Why? Pundits, editorialists, and policy makers are trying to figure out exactly where this governor stands in relation to one of California’s most powerful interest groups.
Each governor’s relationship with the CCPOA comes into focus at some point–and a narrative eventually develops to explain to what degree the politician is influenced by the group. During Brown’s first stint as governor in the 1970s, according to Joshua Page’s book, “The Toughest Beat,” Brown famously irked the union by appointing liberal Supreme Court justices, opposing the death penalty, and signing in laws like the now-defunct bill that gave prison inmates 50 percent off their sentence for good behavior.
Subsequent governors had fairly good relationships with the CCPOA. Governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis both signed correctional officers to lucrative contracts that linked their pay to that of the well-compensated California Highway Patrol officers. And as a result, both governors were routinely accused of being “in the pocket” of the union–an accusation that bore particularly heavily on Davis. A 2007 piece in Capitol Weekly opined that the “union’s deal with Davis was the true beginning of the pay-to-play narrative that stuck to the governor and led to his eventual recall.” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, through instituting furloughs, busted contract negotiations that resulted in officers working without a contract for years, attempts to reform parole, and an expansion of good-time credits, developed a reputation in the press as a union “enemy”–an independence that the media gave the governor credit for, even as his popularity declined.
What will Brown’s narrative be when it comes to the union? Brown started courting the CCPOA during his campaigns for attorney general and won their support. During his bid for the governorship, the CCPOA ran anti-Meg-Whitman commercials and contributed to his victory. The new contract, then, is the first opportunity to evaluate how much Brown will be willing to do for the CCPOA in return.
Initial verdicts coming out of outlets that cover these issues doggedly–like the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times, and others–have not been favorable to Brown.
The Sacramento Bee said that if negotiations were turned into a movie, they’d call it, “Contract Giveaway: The Return of Gray,” a reference to a contract signed by Davis “that effectively gave the California Correctional Peace Officers Association management control over the state’s prison system.”
An editorial, “Brown is back to business as usual” by the Pasadena Star opined the governor is “handing the prison guards the state store during a budget crisis,” thereby letting down ” the majority of Californians who thought they were getting a new kind of power broker who could cut costs and balance the budget.”
An LA Times piece, which pointed to a vacation-day-saving clause in the contract, quotes policy-watchers saying Brown has “caved” to the union that spent $2 million on his election.
Naturally, Brown has hit back at this criticism, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that “collective bargaining is about give and take”–and that’s what this contract represents. Brown says the CCPOA received a deal similar to what other unions received under Schwarzenegger–the sort of deal that the union would not have taken from Brown’s predecessor. Part of that “give and take” is the union’s public acceptance of Brown’s realignment plan that’s likely to cost some jobs in parole and the Division of Juvenile Justice. Corrections Secretary Matt Cate points out other concessions in an editorial in the Sacramento Bee, including changes that will enhance Sacramento’s management powers over a notoriously unwieldy set of scattered prisons.
So what does the contract tell us about Brown’s relationship with the CCPOA? Mostly, that it’s not time to write the narrative yet. The new contract is a big deal, a big issue, but it’s not the only issue. The question is whether Brown will use his current good will with the union to push through reforms he’s supported in the past–like realignment, closing the youth prison system, or sentencing reform–and whether the union will help him along the way.