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A Nonprofit Got Jobs for Disabled Workers in California Prisons. A Union Dispute Could End Them
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By CalMatters
Published 3 weeks ago on
June 26, 2024

Workers hired through a nonprofit could lose their jobs at a California state prison this fall. The State Personnel Board found their contract violated state outsourcing rules. (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

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A long-simmering dispute between California’s largest state employee union and a nonprofit organization that hires disabled workers is coming to a head this summer, and dozens of people could lose their jobs.

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Shaanth Nanguneri

CalMatters

SEIU Local 1000 for several years has been trying to push the state’s correctional health care system to terminate its contracts with nonprofit PRIDE Industries at two state prisons where it employs dozens of disabled workers and others who are recovering from addictions.

The union contends that those contracts violate protections against outsourcing in civil service, and that the state has not made a good-faith effort to fill the positions with state employees.

Time is running out on PRIDE’s contract for the California Medical Facility in Vacaville and its 74 custodial workers. Last year, the state agency that enforces contracts and personnel decisions found that the prison system had not given a compelling reason to outsource the jobs to PRIDE, setting in motion the dissolution of the nonprofit’s work at that site.

“The evidence submitted by the parties show that the contracted work is essentially janitorial and custodial services in a medical environment that are and can be capably performed by civil service custodians,” wrote Suzanne Ambrose, executive officer of the board, in the May 2023 ruling. She gave the facility six months to terminate the contract.

That deadline has since been extended twice, until November 2024. As it approaches, many PRIDE workers will have to compete for about 45 positions to replace the PRIDE workers next year. The prisons also could hire inmate workers, a plan that PRIDE argues won’t guarantee the facility remains at necessary hygienic standards.

PRIDE for nine years has held onto its contracts providing janitorial services at state prisons in Stockton and Vacaville despite pressure by Local 1000. It won the work through California Correctional Health Care Services, which oversees prison health care. The agency argued it could not fill custodial jobs on its own, and it relied on PRIDE to do the work.

“The reason our contract is being challenged by the union is to put pressure on (state prisons) to hire and retain civil service workers,” PRIDE spokeswoman Kat Maudru wrote in a statement to CalMatters. Prison officials “should first be required to focus on maintaining services for the positions that are already allocated to civil service, contracted disabled workforce should not be forced into losing their jobs.”

The nonprofit brought workers to the Legislature in 2018, when they shared their success stories and helped persuade lawmakers from both parties to allow the company to continue doing business. That secured them a reprieve when the Stockton contract was on the line.

The company repeated that strategy earlier this year in appeal to lawmakers for the Vacaville contract.

California Prison Jobs Changed Lives

Chelsea Davis, a PRIDE operations manager, told lawmakers she struggled for years with her mental health — and she never expected to find a steady job. That changed when she joined PRIDE in an entry-level position at the Stockton facility that allowed her to keep her doctor’s appointments and treatment plan for addiction.

“They trained me, they guided me, they gave me hope,” Davis, who’s coming up on her fifth year with PRIDE, told a budget subcommittee.

Stories like Davis’ appeared to resonate with two Assemblymembers, Democrat James Ramos of San Bernardino and Republican Tom Lackey of Palmdale, who grilled state prison officials on their handling of the dispute. They questioned why PRIDE employees could not be directly hired as civil servants.

The two lawmakers later wrote to the State Personnel Board on April 26 in an attempt to protect the PRIDE workers, resulting in the November 2024 extension. The lawmakers asked for an even longer extension.

“PRIDE employees have demonstrated their ability to provide a high level of service to support a critical need for the state,” they wrote to Ambrose, asking for an extension on the PRIDE contract through November 2025 so that “interested stakeholders” could reach a “viable, long-term long-term solution.”

Anti-Nepotism Rules in California Government

State government has strict personnel rules that are intended to prevent nepotism and favoritism from influencing hiring decisions, particularly in rank-and-file jobs. That’s why the prisons can’t simply hire the PRIDE workers into state jobs.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure that there are town halls organized so that we can support PRIDE employees,” Vinay Behl, deputy director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation fiscal services department, said at the April subcommittee hearing. “We value the partnership and we will do an outreach to ensure that the pride employees get all the information necessary for employment”

Duane Reeder, deputy director of the state’s prison health care system, told lawmakers he had no concerns about filling the positions given “the amount of interest”.

Both supporters of PRIDE and Local 1000 say the jobs would be valuable for their workers. The Pride positions are designed to aid those who are reentering the workforce after significant life setbacks. Those workers might need help holding a job, or getting one in the first place.

Custodians represented by Local 1000 are paid 15% more than the market average in total compensation, according to a 2021 state salary survey. They accrue pensions and benefits through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. They tend to enjoy better job security than their counterparts in the private sector. Recent job postings show the state expects to pay salaries of about $48,000 to $60,000 a year for custodial positions at the Vacaville prison.

In a written statement, a leader from Local 1000 said the union has long supported bringing the Pride workers into civil service.

“We’ve continued to encourage the State to make the necessary workplace accessibility improvements to be able to hire the PRIDE Industries workers directly so that they, too, can have access to a career in state service,” said Eric Murray, a bargaining chairperson for the union. “Despite our ongoing efforts since 2016, the State has not taken the necessary actions. This needless reliance on outsourcing must end.”

About the Author

Shaanth Kodialam Nanguneri comes to CalMatters as an intern on the health and justice beat. They are a rising senior at UCLA, studying geography and communication, and they were born and raised in the Bay Area. As a student, they have written for their campus newspaper, The Daily Bruin, as well as The Sacramento Bee, the Orange County Register, and The Nation.

About CalMatters

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

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