850 Calif. prison staffers got layoff notice late, get reprieve

A mailing error gives prison workers an extra month of work but costs CDCR $7 million

By Marisa Lagos
The San Francisco Chronicle

SACRAMENTO — Up to 850 state prison workers who were supposed to be laid off Jan. 31 will receive a one-month reprieve because the state didn't give them adequate notice.

The error will cost the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation up to $7 million, said Mary Fernandez, an undersecretary at the agency.

The envelopes containing the layoff notices were postmarked with a postage meter on Dec. 31. But because of a clerical error, Fernandez said, many had to be redone, and about 900 were not mailed until later that week or the next week. Many workers did not receive the notices until the first or second week of January, and the state is legally required to give 30 days' notice before layoffs.

The problem came to light when a prison worker in Riverside County received a layoff notice Jan. 8, but noticed that it had been metered Dec. 31. The worker, Don Wiley - a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1000- marched down to the local post office. Eventually, the local postmaster determined that the letter had not been sent until Jan. 6.

Wiley, as well as Cindie Fonseca, a vocational printing and graphic arts instructor at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, said the omission appears to be intentional.

"The fact that the department would lie to me and break federal law is disgusting," Fonseca said. "Why not come to us and say, 'We have a problem.' "

Fernandez said the delay was "absolutely not intentional," adding that the clerical workers and student employees who made the mistake did not realize the importance of the delay and that nobody higher up "was really paying attention."

The department is trying to place as many of the workers as possible in other vacant positions, Fernandez said, adding that the department has promised to absorb the cost of keeping the workers on the state payroll for another month but is not sure how they will do it.

Copyright 2010 San Francisco Chronicle

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