Courts & Crime

Correctional officers in rivalry with highway patrolman

For years, the unions representing prison officers and California Highway Patrol officers have had a not-so-friendly rivalry.

It boils up whenever The Bee reports on one or the other. This column reignited the flame last week by revealing that the state could sue the California Correctional Peace Officers Association over a $4 million tab run up over nearly five years. The union owes the Corrections and Rehabilitation Department for wages and benefits paid to union staff on leave from their jobs.Online commentator "lab87" aimed fire, not at CCPOA, but at the CHP officers' union: "WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO REPORT ON ALL THE ABUSES GOING ON OVER AT CHP!!!"

Well, if the patrol officers' union or the state bookbinders' union or any other union is threatened with a $4 million lawsuit, The Bee will cover it, we swear.

(By the way, CCPOA paid $81,000 toward its bill the same day The State Worker reported the debt. A Corrections spokesman said the union still must pay $2 million by month's end.)

But lab87 represents a swath of folks, many of them correctional officers, who believe the California Association of Highway Patrolmen gets all the shrimp and leaves the radishes to the "prison guards." Here's why:

CCPOA's members work under imposed terms with no raises after contract talks with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reached impasse in 2007. CHP officers diverted a small raise to prefund retiree health insurance last year. They have the state's only active contract, and their pay is linked by law to what several other police departments pay.

Prison officers' median gross wage in 2008 was $79,868, according to a Bee analysis of state pay data. Since then, they've lost 14 percent of that to furloughs. CHP officers? Their 2008 median gross was $100,139, and they're furlough-free.

CCPOA's wages were based on a formula that kept its members' monthly pay $666 below the CHP's. The patrol union didn't like that because CCPOA's contract was a negotiating ball and chain. An arbitrator squashed the policy about the same time CCPOA and the governor hit an impasse.

But the real basis of the anger toward CHP officers is a sense that they're "the golden boys," as CCPOA spokesman Lance Corcoran once described them, with the more glamorous jobs, including the governor's security detail.

The CAHP's Jon Hamm says he doesn't have a problem with rank-and-file correctional officers.

"We have no ax to grind with COs," he said Wednesday. "I wish we had a better relationship with them."