California can't reduce prison guards' salaries by imposing unpaid furloughs upon them without actually giving them time off, an Alameda County Superior Court Judge ruled Thursday.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association had argued that guards have been denied permission to take furlough credit days off, and that there's no feasible way for all the guards to take all their accumulated time before it expires. And even if they could eventually get the time off, they're meanwhile having three days' pay deducted from each paycheck without a proportionate reduction in hours worked, the union argued.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ordered the state Thursday to rescind parts of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2008 and 2009 executive orders imposing the furloughs and to pay the guards for all hours worked for which furlough credits haven't yet been used.

"We're thankful that the judge saw that this administration was clearly violating the wage laws of the state of California by requiring people to work for free," CCPOA spokesman Lance Corcoran said, noting the union's offers.


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Even as the union declared victory in this state-court case, it was filing a similar lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco, alleging the furloughs violate federal labor laws as well. That new lawsuit filed Thursday seeks no damages, just declaratory relief, "which essentially means we're asking the federal court to declare that the administration is violating federal wage and hour laws," Corcoran said. The union could, however, use such a ruling to pursue back pay awards through the U.S. Department of Labor or other venues, he said.

But the governor "does not believe that state workers should be shielded from the same economic realities that every California family and business is facing," spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola said Thursday. "We disagree with today's court ruling and are going to appeal."

That appeal will act as a stay of Roesch's order, she said, noting that while the administration expects to eventually prevail, an elimination of the flexible, self-directed furloughs would force the state to implement a directed three-day-a-month furlough schedule instead.

Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said about 25,000 prison workers fall under the ruling's scope.

Roesch didn't buy the state's argument that "self-directed furloughs are not salary reductions, but instead 'diminution in total compensation' because of a reduction in hours worked.

They argue that there is no change in the hourly rate of compensation and therefore no salary reduction. This argument fails because it mistakenly assumes that employees are able to actually reduce their hours."

Not all guards have been able to reduce their work time, particularly not within the same 28-day pay period in which their pay was reduced by three days' wages, Roesch wrote.

Each guard would accumulate 46 furlough credit days from this past February through next June under the governor's plan, yet guards already work overtime just to accommodate others' vacations.

It's a salary reduction, the judge concluded — and only the Legislature, not the governor, can make salary reductions. Roesch also found the governor's orders violate the state Labor Code by violating the terms of the union's contract, and by withholding pay for hours worked despite the state's minimum-wage law.

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