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Teachers at California Men's Colony call state's current pay structure unfair 

The union representing teachers in California’s correctional facilities is negotiating a new contract with the state, but some members worry that their pleas to address salary parity are being ignored.

In particular, some members are pushing the union, SEIU Local 1000, to change the pay structure that applies to educators in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“Really it breaks down to the concept of equal pay and equal work,” said W. Dean Diederich, a teacher at the California Men’s Colony (CMC) who’s been an educator for the state for 11 years.

Since 2007, pay for educators in the state’s prisons and other correctional facilities has been based on seven geographic zones. That pay structure is commonly referred to as “geopay.” The number of facilities within those areas varies. For example, zone 4 includes six prisons in the northernmost part of the state, while zone 6 includes just three.

Pay for the teachers in each zone also varies. According to Diederich’s calculations, teachers in pay zone 6, which includes CMC, make about 89 percent of what those doing the same job in the top-paying zone make under the current contract, making it the second lowest paying area in the state. That means that for every $1,000 that a teacher in the top-paying zone makes, a teacher with the same experience doing the job at CMC makes about $890.

“Unfortunately, while we all do the same work, with the same job description, hiring authority, and duties, we are not paid the same wage,” Diederich wrote in a letter to Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Undersecretary Scott Kernan.

According to another CMC educator, Debbie Smith, the pay equity issues impact far more than paychecks. Smith, who said she’s been teaching at CMC for nine years, said it also means that teachers working in the higher-paid zones are reluctant to push the issue of parity with their union.

“It effectively pits member against member,” she said.

The situation was even more concerning as correctional educators saw Gov. Jerry Brown sign off on legislation strengthening pay equity in the state last year, making the laws some of the strongest in the nation. 

While Diederich is convinced that the current pay system is a violation of federal law and needs to be changed, both he and Smith aren’t confident that the issues will be addressed in negotiations between their union and the state. Diederich and Smith have been vocally pushing the union to address the pay structure, which they said creates a disparity between individuals working the same job based on nothing more than geography. But both say that the union is dragging its feet on including the issues in negotiations with the state.

“They’ve dismissed the issues over the last nine years,” Smith said.

While a common narrative with most labor negotiations pits the union against its employers, it appears that that much of the tension in the SEIU Local 1000’s current negotiations occurr between its own members. According to the union’s website, those negotiations are being handled by SEIU’s Bargaining Unit 3, which represents teachers, specialists, and librarians working in the California Military Department, Department of Rehabilitation, Department of State Hospitals, Department of Developmental Services, California Department of Education, and both the adult and juvenile divisions of the CDCR. Smith and Diederich said they’d pushed their union for months to bring the pay parity issue to the table with little result.

But the tide may be turning. While labor negotiations are carried out between the union and employers in private, there have been some indications in recent SEIU Local 1000 communications that the geopay issue may finally be on the table. According to a June 4 update on the union’s website, Bargaining Unit 3 had presented the state with a proposal that would address pay equity.

“A key priority for the Unit 3 bargaining team, the proposal would place all Unit 3 members in a public-school type range and step salary schedule with no reference to geographical area,” the update read. “Our team will continue to fight to achieve this important pay structure for Unit 3 members.”

Although the union is taking on the concerns of correctional educations like Diederich and Smith, it still needs to get the ambitious proposal approved by its members’ employer, i.e. the state. According to the union’s update, as of June 4, the state “remained silent” on the proposal.  

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com, or on Twitter at @CWMcGuinness.

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