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Prison guards stay the course

The powerful union reelects its leader, who vows to 'go to the mat' to recall the governor.

September 19, 2008|Michael Rothfeld | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — California's powerful prison guards union overwhelmingly reelected its president here Thursday after a contentious race that became a referendum on the group's decision this month to launch a recall campaign against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Though there had been some dissension among members about the recall, 447 union delegates who voted at the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. convention gave an apparent mandate to Mike Jimenez, 47, their president since 2002, to wage war on the governor.

After his victory, with 70% of the delegates' support, Jimenez described the governor with an obscenity and called him "a clown," and vowed to "go to the mat" to oust him.

"This governor's going to know he's been in a fight," Jimenez said. "When it's said and done, somebody's going to be standing, and somebody's not. It's going to be him that's not standing, and us that is."

The tone was emblematic of the relationship between Schwarzenegger and the union, which spends millions of dollars a year on political campaigns.

The union's contract expired more than two years ago. Schwarzenegger invoked a provision of state law last year that allowed him to unilaterally impose new working conditions, which angered the guards.

He modified contract provisions that prevented state managers from questioning officers about sick leave, and one that required the state to gain the union's agreement on procedural changes inside the prisons.

This summer, Schwarzenegger exempted other law enforcement officers, but not the guards, from an executive order intended to cut workers' pay to the federal minimum wage to keep the state afloat during the budget impasse.

In his response to the notice of a recall petition filed Wednesday with Secretary of State Deborah Bowen, Schwarzenegger said the issue is "not about the people of California; it's an intimidation tactic to force Governor Schwarzenegger into giving them a bigger contract."

The union election, marked by rare infighting for an organization that takes pride in its solidarity, featured nearly 30 candidates but had come down to just three by Thursday morning.

Bobby Webber, 52, a youth correctional counselor in Stockton who earned three votes, had not endorsed the recall of Schwarzenegger but said he would support it now that he had lost his bid for Jimenez's job.

"Personally, I don't think they're going to recall him," Webber said.

"But professionally, I'm for recalling him."

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michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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