State delaying contract talks, probation/parole officers claim

DOVER — The probation and parole officers’ union says state officials are dragging their feet in negotiating salary increases for the 300 or so officers, creating a “very toxic atmosphere.”

Todd Mumford, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10, said the union has been working to gain better pay for its members for almost three years.

Negotiations in 2016 failed to bring about the substantial changes officers were seeking, and despite promises from top executive branch officials in 2017 and 2018, there has been little progress, Mr. Mumford said.

“It just seems like nobody wants to take on the problem,” he said. “Why, I don’t know. I don’t know what we’ve done to make somebody mad.”

Probation and parole officers fall under the Department of Correction, but unlike correctional officers, they cannot negotiate as a unit. Instead, they are grouped with several other law enforcement agencies, such as Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Police and Justice of the Peace Court constables.

While probation and parole officers have different salaries than law enforcement in those other agencies, they all must negotiate new contracts together.

According to the state, probation and parole officers are working under the terms of a contract that originally expired at the end of 2010 but has been renewed.

They received a 2 percent pay increase July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year, and will get a 0.5 percent hike Jan. 1.

Their current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.

Mr. Mumford said his members were initially looking only to make changes to their salary matrix, which essentially governs how much employees at each pay grade earn.

Language in the state spending plan passed over the summer allows budget officials to “make changes to pay matrices for collective bargaining agreements should such changes be required to meet critical shortages in direct service areas of operation.”

However, probation and parole officers were determined not to be in critical need of such changes, Mr. Mumford said.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Jackson said officials are working to define “critical shortages.”

“We have an interest in being able to continue to work with them to address their salary concerns and we’ve been working with them on their turnover, their retention and trying to narrow down where their problems are so we can focus the salary structure to address it over time,” he said.

“So, we’ve met several times but not in a bargaining session.”

The Department of Human Resources, which is primarily handling the salary discussion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Correctional officers recently received long-sought-after salary increases, and a CO at pay grade 13 now earns about $65,000, while a probation and parole officer at the same level makes $50,000, according to Mr. Mumford.

“Everybody seems to agree, yes, there’s a problem, we need to fix this, but nobody actually does anything to do it,” he said. “There’s always some hurdle that needs to be met.”

His complaints are not new. In the summer of 2017, Mr. Mumford went public with his frustrations, saying he felt his officers were being ignored by the state.

Members of Community Corrections & Parole are the only law enforcement officers in the state required to have a bachelor’s degree. Collectively, they make up the fourth largest law enforcement agency in Delaware, behind state, New Castle County and Wilmington police.

They work regularly with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, and deal with dangerous individuals at their homes or in public rather than in controlled situations, Mr. Mumford said.

The first four months of 2017 saw both a correctional officer and state trooper killed in the line of duty, raising concerns for some probation and parole officers, he said last year.

The union hopes to reach a deal in the next few weeks before the governor starts formulating his budget proposal.

While salary increases and structural changes not included in the governor’s recommended budget could still be put in place by lawmakers next year, they’re less likely than if Gov. John Carney calls for modifications.

“If he wants this to happen, it’ll happen. If he doesn’t, it won’t,” Mr. Mumford said of the governor.

A spokesman for Gov. Carney denied the process was deliberately being delayed.

“We’re about to begin bargaining negotiations for Delaware’s probation and parole officers through the Department of Human Resources,” Jonathan Starkey wrote in an email. “Governor Carney understands and appreciates the service that probation and parole officers perform every day. We look forward to hearing their concerns, and reaching an agreement that will result in fair compensation for these officers.”

Mr. Mumford noted Attorney General-elect Kathy Jennings has called for substantial criminal justice reforms, including reducing the prison population.

If those changes are undertaken, some of the people who would otherwise be in jail could be out in the community, where probation and parole officers will be tasked with supervising them. That, in turn, makes salary changes even more important, he said.

Unless officers see pay bumps, morale will continue to suffer, according to the FOP president.

“Nobody is really happy to come to work anymore,” Mr. Mumford said.

 

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