Californians to watch

By Jon Ortiz
Published: Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 – 7:16 am

Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, says he has three goals next year: “Get a contract. Get a contract. And then there’s get a contract.”

After four years without one, the 32,000-member union might finally get that deal. Gov.-elect Jerry Brown’s incoming administration represents a bargaining do-over for CCPOA, which covers about half of all state workers still without contracts.

The union’s last pact expired in mid-2006. After several rounds of contentious talks, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an impasse and imposed terms in 2007.

Since then, Jimenez has been in the labor equivalent of an isolation cell. CCPOA has historically used its millions in member dues to make or break political careers with targeted spending, but Schwarzenegger has virtually ignored the union. Legislators, sensing CCPOA’s weakened clout, no longer feared it.

One measure: Last October the union tried to stop a pension-rollback bill that Schwarzenegger strongly supported. Lawmakers used a procedural tactic to pass it anyway.

Some union dissidents called for Jimenez’s ouster, upset over everything from the union’s bargaining impasse to its losing a $12 million defamation case and its firing former President Don Novey.

But now it looks as if Jimenez is back. CCPOA backed Brown’s election with $1.8 million in political spending in the fall, mostly attacking GOP candidate Meg Whitman.

“Our organization went all in for Jerry,” Jimenez said during an interview at CCPOA’s West Sacramento headquarters. “We have a little bit of faith that he knows how to treat employees.”

Brown accepted an invitation to speak at the union’s Las Vegas convention earlier this month. A Brown aide said the governor-elect delivered a message about the state’s budget deficit, but the visit highlighted that the next administration is warming up to the union and its leadership.

The big challenge for Jimenez and other union leaders seeking contracts will be persuading members to accept a role in plugging a state budget hole approaching $28 billion.

Presumably Brown will ask for concessions similar to those that several unions bargained with Schwarzenegger, such as unpaid time off and a boost in what employees pay into their pensions.

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