Correctional officers get pay raise

DOVER — A new agreement would raise correctional officers’ salaries by more than $7,000 over two years, the state announced Tuesday.

The deal, the product of months of negotiations between the state and the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, comes at a time when officer morale is low, according to a report produced earlier this month. The Department of Correction has about 180 vacancies, and employees are still reeling from the death of Lt. Steven Floyd in an inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February.

“This is a really important step forward to address the compensation that we make available for correctional officers,” Gov. Carney said. “We have a significant challenge in hiring new correctional officers, attracting people to the pool and then getting them hired, and part of it is compensation obviously affects our staffing levels, which affects overtime, which affects morale of existing correctional officers, which affects the administration of the facilities.”

The collective bargaining agreement was approved Monday by the officers’ union.

Currently, starting pay for correctional officers in Delaware is $32,059, with a maximum salary of $43,147. Officers also get hazard pay of $3,120.

The average wage for correctional officers nationwide is $45,320, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Under the bill, starting salaries would rise to $40,000 in the fiscal year starting July 1 and to $43,000 the following fiscal year.

The agreement would eliminate hazard pay as a separate category and fold it into salary. The raise would impact all officers, not just new hires.

It marks “a tremendous first step in the right direction,” the union’s President Geoff Klopp said. “It’s a significant raise for all correctional officers. I can tell you that the atmosphere has changed immediately inside the correctional facilities.”

A report commissioned by the governor and released earlier this month by a former judge and U.S. attorney noted officers often work more than 40 hours and sometimes up to 80 hours a week because of understaffing and an overreliance on overtime.

“Although overtime is voluntary, the overtime requirements are so excessive that correctional officers report routinely missing out on important family events due to being ‘frozen’ at the end of their shift or being denied vacation time even when a request is put in ‘six months in advance,’” the findings reported.

“This level of work intrusion into correctional officers’ personal lives has eliminated any sense of work-life balance with significant impacts on their individual and most probably their family’s mental health and wellness.”

The department spent about $20 million on overtime pay in the fiscal year ended July 1, 2015, according to a report on spending developed by a state committee.

The same report said officers worked more than 14,000 hours of overtime per week.

The deal with COAD includes a labor-management committee that will focus on attracting and keeping officers, as well as reducing the use of mandatory overtime by the Department of Correction.

The agreement carries a cost of $16 million in the next fiscal year and $10 million the following year.

Asked where lawmakers will find the money for the agreement, given the General Assembly still must close a shortfall between projected revenue and expenditures of about $190 million, Gov. Carney pointed to several bills proposed by Democratic leaders to raise taxes on income, cigarettes and alcohol.

“If people support the correctional officers and they support the things that we’re doing … then they’ll support our revenue package,” he said.

Gov. Carney has also proposed creating a temporary special assistant to lead reforms at the Department of Correction and spending $6.8 million on upgrades and new hires.

His recommendations, which must be approved by the General Assembly, include $2 million for new cameras at Vaughn and $2.5 million to hire 50 additional officers at Vaughn and 25 new correctional officer positions at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution.

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