Re "Overtime Pays Off at Prisons," Feb. 10: While the surge in overtime expense may have been an unintended consequence of the governor's sweetheart deal with the guards union, it should not have been unexpected. The system was tailor-made to be gamed.
With no proof of real illness required, one should expect guards to agree to take their sick days in the knowledge that they can effectively "swap" for another guard's sick days. In effect, they get paid time and a half for their accumulated sick days.
It's hard to sympathize with a guard needing in excess of $100,000 so he can take early retirement (based upon his final pay, including overtime?) or so he can buy a home in Vermont, where he avoids paying California income taxes, when the unemployed can't get trained for a minimum-wage job because the budget got cut. A modest proposal: Don't pay overtime until a guard has worked more than his annualized regular work schedule.
Richard C. Morse
You failed to tell the whole story. Correctional officers put their lives and well-being at risk every day, not only when on duty in the prisons but anytime they are out in the public. Imagine running across an old inmate you disciplined with additional prison time, while spending time with your family.
Correctional facilities must staff workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. As a result, officers must work weekends and holidays, often missing their kids' games, school plays, birthday parties, holiday and family gatherings. Vacations during summer and kids' time off from school usually go to senior officers. The strain to family life has resulted in a high divorce rate.
Correctional workers are required to work a straight eight-hour shift. This means no morning or afternoon coffee breaks and no meal breaks. They eat their meals on the run, in between job responsibilities. And if they are forced to stay, it makes for a 12-to-16-hour workday with no breaks.
Overtime can also result from employees being injured on the job (altercations with prisoners) or officers quitting due to the stress of working under such conditions. And yes, they use sick time because they are physically exhausted from the stress and work hours.
Try working with a 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound criminal in your face every day. Or going to work the day after an inmate commits suicide on your unit, or inmates create riots or mayhem or injury to officers. Being a correctional officer means you can be called anytime, day or night, and that you can be called back or held over with less than eight hours of sleep.
Correctional officers earn every dollar they make in straight time and overtime, in a job most people could not or would not do. We should be supporting these special men and women for the job they do and not using them to balance the budget.
All Californians will now pay the price for Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature having bought their reelection. Giving prison guards the sick-leave package ensured their union's contributions to the incumbents, cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars that should have gone to education and ensured that prison guards remain better paid than our public school teachers.
Sorry, kids, no new books again this year and more kids in each classroom. The prison guards had more money to buy the election.
Bankruptcies would double or triple if businesses were run the way our corrections system is. That government agency cries out for outsourcing. Outsourcing the corrections system might save us enough to pay our teachers what they should be paid to give our children the education they should be getting. The returns on this trade-off would be enormous.
I am enrolled as a library student and will complete a master's degree so that I can apply for a job at the Los Angeles Public Library. My starting salary (according to the city's Web site) will be in the area of $46,000 per year, or a bit less than ten grand for each year of college completed. Put charitably, the qualifications for prison guards appear to be somewhat less stringent; for this work they receive a starting salary of just over $33,000 and, apparently, the chance to earn quite a bit of nifty overtime pay as well.
I salute the guards for their ability to tweak the system to their benefit. Perhaps they could come around and instruct our librarians on ways to get a decent return for their education and service. Or maybe the answer is that there are only about 400 librarians in this city versus about 23,000 guards working for the state and the librarians' political contributions are a drop in a large, deep bucket.