Calif. CO: Pay equity concerns to supervisors 'fell on deaf ears'

"I probably have 75% of the officers that I train leave the department for better pay," CO Gustavo Leon said


By Yesenia Amaro
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. — Many correctional officers are disappointed with the inaction from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors over ongoing negotiations to address equity gaps in their pay, one correctional officer said Tuesday.

Two correctional officers and a union representative for Unit 2, which includes correctional officers, spoke during the public comment portion of the supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Gustavo Leon, who works as a correctional officer IV at the Fresno County jail, said he felt the need to speak up on Tuesday, but noted other correctional officers already raised their concerns to the board.

“They pleaded with you to help us out,” he told supervisors. “In my opinion, I feel like it fell on deaf ears. A lot of officers feel like there was a disappointment in action from the board members ... because we asked for help, and what we were met with was an injunction to delay the strike.”

None of the five supervisors immediately returned a request for comment from The Bee on Tuesday. But the county later provided a statement through its spokeswoman Sonja Dosti.

“The County values and appreciates our Correctional Officers and is committed to maintaining open channels of communication with the Fresno County Public Safety Association,” the statement reads. “We are equally committed to upholding public safety.”

Tony Botti, spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, said Sheriff Margaret Mims won’t comment at this time as negotiations continue.

correctional officers’ strike was planned for late May, but the union representing them informed Fresno County on May 20 of its plan to delay the strike to June 20. The notification came a day after a Fresno County Superior Court judge issued a temporary injunction and limited the number of correctional officers who could go on strike to protect public health and safety.

As it currently stands, a total of 145 correctional officers needed to stay behind during the strike. The county is being “disingenuous” when officials say deputies can’t fill-in during the strike, Tony Silva, a labor representative for the union, told The Bee on Tuesday.

Court hearing next week

The next court hearing is scheduled for June 16, and the union plans to try to convince the judge to decrease the number of officers who would need to continue to work during the strike down to 50, Silva said.

But the county plans to object to that, according to the statement.

“The Fresno County Public Safety Association disputed the injunction, and a follow up hearing is scheduled for June 16th, but the County expects to be successful maintaining the injunction and minimum staffing,” the statement reads.

Leon said there’s still time to prevent or reconsider the strike, altogether.

“If the strike happens, it’s going to have a severe impact. We don’t want that. We know you guys don’t want that. The public doesn’t want that,” he told supervisors. “It’s something that has to be reconsidered very closely.”

Leon gave examples of the types of issues correctional officers encounter on a daily basis at the county jail.

“Medical emergencies, we have people that have suicide attempts, individuals with mental health disabilities, verbal-physical altercations that occur, we do that all the time,” he told supervisors. “We do it as best as we can and we are scrutinized for it, but we still get through our day.”

A correctional officer who identified herself as J. Jimenez said since the last supervisors meeting, correctional officers “have been issued sanctions.”

“More mandatory overtime,” she told supervisors. “They’re telling us, you know, if we do anything to try to better ourselves, we will be punished.”

Jimenez said it’s not easy “to try to work and survive.”

“And now you are going to try to punish me for trying to work and survive?” she asked.

She pointed out to supervisors that she noticed in the meeting agenda that Unit 10 was getting their contracts approved. Unit 10 is getting a 19% increase, she said, in addition to five different steps that could result in an even higher pay increase.

“And you want to give us top change?” she asked. “Are we the slime of the Earth? I thought we were good employees keeping Fresno County safe. But you want to treat us like we are slime, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Leon said he trains other correctional officers, and he enjoys seeing them do the right thing, but many leave for better opportunities.

Comparing salaries

“I don’t have an exact number, but I probably have 75% of the officers that I train leave the department for better pay, for a place that they can have a better retirement — various different reasons,” he said. “It’s very disheartening to me to see that, and then we ask for help, try to go through negotiations — it’s not there.”

Silva said equity adjustments are necessary because this group fell behind over the last 12 years. Today, correctional officers are behind 41% when compared to a deputy sheriff III. In 2010, that difference was 19%.

“The entire bargaining unit has received in salary increases since 2010 an average of 7.5%,” Silva told supervisors. “The correctional officers have received 8%.”

During the same 12 years, he said, correctional sergeants have received a 27.5% increase, correctional lieutenants have received a 23.5% increase, and deputy sheriffs have received a 28% increase.

Silva told The Bee he “would be very surprised” if there was another labor group in California that has only seen a 7.5% increase since 2010.

“We only want to show them how far behind we were going into negotiations,” he said, adding union representatives want correctional officers to be treated in a more equitable way.

Fresno County says it’s “hopeful for a resolution soon.”

“The County’s offer would make Fresno County’s Correctional officers among the highest paid in the Valley,” according to the statement.

©2022 The Fresno Bee. Visit fresnobee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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