For most of the voting public, public safety pensions for police officers, state troopers, and deputy sheriffs is not really the core problem.
In California, as with other states and jurisdictions, other groups who were not front line law enforcement saw that police officers were getting generous pensions and wanted in on the action. Prison guards, probation officers and others wanted the same deal that the police got, and they pushed for it even though they didn’t fit in the same category.
Whether or not they were successful was largely a measure of how much of their salaries they were willing to give up on the front end to pay politicians who would reward them on the back end.
It always comes down to quid pro quo – pay to play.
California was particularly beat up by this situation since the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the prison guard’s union is very powerful. Again, the members figured out early on that if they wanted better pay and benefits, the only way to do it was to legally pay off legislators in Sacramento. There are over 31,000 prison guards in California and they all contributed generously to their political action committees. The result was that they received the same generous pension arrangement that the California Highway Patrol/State Police received. Even though the public wouldn’t have gone along with it, their representatives in the legislature passed it into law because they were paid by the union to do so.
Lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the CCPOA have helped secure passage of many legislative bills favorable to union members, including bills that increase prison terms, member pay, and enforce current drug laws. The CCPOA takes the position that correctional officers perform an essential public service that puts in great danger, and strives for a safer California. The flip side is that the more people are in prison, the more secure the jobs are for the prison guards. I’m not being a cynic. This is the source of behind the scenes money pushing the effort to enact many tougher laws in California. Is it really better for California? The guards don’t care. And yes, the tail wags the dog.
The only solution to out-of-control unions is to create legislation that curbs the ability of politicians to receive contributions from people upon whose salaries they vote. This problem will end when politicians are not able to vote in conflict of interest. For example: If you want to build a freeway off-ramp somewhere and pay your politician to vote public funds to do that so that your company gets the contract, that is a felony. It’s a bribe. It’s wrong. The same standard needs to be applied to politicians who vote on employee pay and benefits. The solution is not complicated.