Prison Guards Threaten Schwarzenegger with Recall

By: Don Thompson AP
By: Don Thompson AP

SACRAMENTO (AP) - The union representing California's prison guards on Monday said it was starting a recall attempt against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in part because it is upset its members have gone two years without a new labor contract.

The union also criticized Schwarzenegger for not exempting its members from an executive order intended to reduce pay for tens of
thousands of state employees to deal with the state's budget crisis.

Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said the governor should have allowed overtime pay for prison guards during the budget crisis. Many guards increase their salaries significantly with overtime.

He said Schwarzenegger has been a failure since taking office after the successful recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. This year's record-long budget impasse, with lawmakers at odds over how to close a $15.2 billion deficit, only adds to the union's disillusion over Schwarzenegger, Jimenez said.

"This governor, he stands for nothing," Jimenez told The Associated Press shortly before the start of a union news conference. "He's a dismal failure in every sense of the word. This failure on this budget puts him over the top."

Schwarzenegger's executive order to reduce pay for some 175,000
state workers to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour has not
yet been implemented because the state controller has refused to comply. That means permanent, full-time state employees such as prison guards have not been affected.

Thousands of employees, including state firefighters and California Highway Patrol officers, were exempt from the order because they were considered essential for public safety.

The union said it would file the notice of intent to recall Schwarzenegger with his office and the secretary of state later Monday. It will need to collect more than 1 million signatures to put a recall question on the ballot, a hurdle that can be passed with relative ease by one of the state's most well-funded and influential unions.

Schwarzenegger said the recall attempt is just a tactic to increase wages for the 30,000-member union beyond what the state can afford. Davis was widely criticized for capitulating to union demands when he gave the prison guards a 37 percent pay raise shortly before he was recalled.

"This is a different governor sitting here," Schwarzenegger told reporters outside his office Monday. "I will not get intimidated."

The five-year contract signed by Davis cost the state $2 billion. Besides a hefty raise, it gave the union big increases in overtime, sick leave, fitness pay and pension benefits.

Several hundred prison guards earn more than $100,000 a year in salary and overtime.

Davis negotiated the contract even though he had accepted $2.6 million in campaign contributions from the union between 1998 and 2002. Schwarzenegger has not accepted contributions from the guards union, saying he will not take money from groups with whom he negotiates.

The guards have been operating under their previous contract since 2006. As negotiations with the Schwarzenegger administration have stalled, the union sought to bypass those talks by securing a raise through the Legislature.

Two attempts to persuade lawmakers to approve wage increases have been unsuccessful. Internal politics also could be playing a role in the guard's recall announcement. Jimenez faces a re-election challenge for the union presidency next week.

Schwarzenegger said the state cannot give raises to employee unions beyond what it can afford.

"Their intimidation tactics will not make me change my mind whatsoever because I happen to not represent the CCPOA. I represent the people of California," Schwarzenegger said.

Monday's recall announcement by the union is the latest distraction for the Republican governor.

Schwarzenegger has the distinction of presiding over the longest budget deadlock in state history, as all sides have dug themselves
into positions at opposite corners of the negotiating room.

Democrats have proposed closing California's deficit with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, while Republican
lawmakers have refused to consider tax hikes. Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, has said he will not sign any budget that fails to include long-term steps toward fiscal reform, including boosting the state's rainy day fund and giving him the authority to make midyear cuts when revenues decline.

He also has proposed a temporary 1 cent increase in the state sales tax that has run into stiff opposition from members of his own party.

The ongoing impasse has torpedoed Schwarzenegger's main policy
goal for the year - trying to place a $9.3 billion overhaul of the state's water system before voters in November.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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