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Employees at Centinela raise stipends issue

April 17, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — A group of Centinela State Prison employees want to know why workers at other nearby prisons and correctional officers at their own prison receive stipends they do not.

Employees from bargaining units one, three, four and 17, including clerical employees, teachers, skilled administrators and nurses at Centinela, are asking their employer, the state of California, to pay them the recruitment and retention stipends given to similar employees at similar prisons.

"The dispute centers around the recruitment and retention pay," said Chuck Olsen, a union representative for California State Employees Association and a teacher at Centinela.

R and R, as it's called, has been used for years in many professions around the state to lure prospective employees to less-desirable locations and professions and keep them there once they've been hired.

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R and R has been given to Salinas Valley State Prison employees to offset the exorbitant cost of living in that area.

The money can amount to a couple hundred dollars each month, which can be up to 10 percent of some lower-paid employees' salaries, Olsen said.

Employees at Chuckawalla Valley, Ironwood and Calipatria state prisons receive R and R, as do correctional officers at Centinela.

The reason some Centinela employees don't receive R and R is simple if you ask Bob Cosik, a labor relations officer with the state Department of Personnel Administration.

"The employer has not been able to validate a recruitment and retention problem," Cosik said.

The state "is not going to pay for something they don't need," Cosik said.

Cosik said the state found recruitment and retention problems at Ironwood, Chuckawalla and Calipatria prisons and offered R and R pay to remedy the situations.

Though Cosik said he "hasn't seen any data cross his desk saying" there were recruitment and retention problems at Centinela, Jeanie Arnett laughs at statements that it's not an issue.

Arnett, vice president and chief steward for the District Labor Council and an academic teacher at Centinela prison, recently finished compiling data indicating, at least within bargaining unit three, which is teachers and librarians, there is "tremendous turnover" in personnel at Centinela.

By talking with employees and employee rosters, Arnett traced the tenures of every teacher at Centinela since the prison opened in 1993.

Through observation and conversations with other employees, Arnett is convinced other bargaining units at Centinela have recruitment and retention problems.

Arnett said she sent her findings, completed a few months ago, to the state.

"They have not paid attention to the evidence that we've sent," Arnett said.

"That's the most ludicrous thing to say there's no basis for that (recruitment and retention pay)," Arnett said.

Cosik said giving employees R and R pay isn't the problem. During negotiations, union representatives can separate some moneys given for salary increases and use it for R and R stipends or other compensation.

For Olsen and Arnett, that's exactly the problem.

They, along with other Centinela employees, don't want to take smaller salary increases to compensate for R and R.

Arnett wonders what the trade-off will be come negotiating time and said she is resentful that employees at other prisons were given R and R without having to negotiate it out of their other compensation.

Cosik said, in the case of correctional officers and some other employees under the same union that now have R and R at Centinela, the California Correctional and Peace Officer Association union chose to include their Centinela employees when their Calipatria employees were offered R and R.

Though the R and R was given to Calipatria CCPOA employees because of a determined recruitment and retention problem there, the CCPOA didn't want its members from Centinela going over to Calipatria for the extra money, Cosik said.

To prevent that exodus, the CCPOA agreed to reduce its members' salary increase by 1 percent to spread the R and R to its employees at Centinela, Cosik said.

Though the Centinela employees without R and R have acting Warden George Giurbino's endorsement in asking for it, they're not sure the state is hearing them.

"We're 600 miles away from the seat of power," Olsen said.

In addition to last week's informational picket line at Centinela, some employees are talking about chartering a bus to Sacramento to make themselves heard.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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