28-Day Work Cycle Raises Concern for Correctional Officers

A proposal to move prison correctional officers to a 28-day work schedule has raised some concern.  A local meeting was recently held to allow officers from the Morgan County Correctional Complex to voice opinions.  Currently, officers are forced to work overtime, but also have the option to work over.  The institution then has the rest of the work week to make up those hours before having to pay time-and-a-half.  With the new proposal, officers would be allowed to work 171 hours over a 28-day period without overtime pay, and the institution would have that 28-day period to make the up the time without having to pay an overtime wage.  Using this method would save the state money budgeted for time-and-a-half overtime pay.  This plan would also require officers to work six straight days and take three straight days off, instead of the normal five day work week with set days off, which Warden David Sexton acknowledges is a concern for the officers, in a job that already reportedly has a high turnover rate.

“I think if you hire folks knowing that they’re going into a 28-day work cycle, I don’t think that would affect your turnover,” Sexton said.

“Folks that are already here, they have extra jobs and things that this may affect,” he said.

We spoke with Tommy Francis, a member of the Tennessee State Employee’s Association (TSEA), who says the state should find other ways to save money.

“Their end result is they want to save on overtime, and I believe that there’s ways to do that,” Francis said.

“One is to staff your prisons fully.  If they can’t for whatever reason that might be, then maybe they should look at the reasons why people don’t want to work at the prison.”

Sexton believes that ultimately, the new work schedule could work out better for the prison as a whole.

“It will provide a lot of opportunity for folks to work a lot of different areas through cross-training to become familiar with different areas of the prison if you work on a schedule that allows you to work different posts.”

Francis, however, disagrees.

“If you work in a housing unit five days a week, you know your inmates.  You know who is supposed to live there.  You know who’s not supposed to be there,” Francis said.

“If I’m moving around from place-to-place-to-place all the time, where TDOC (Tennessee Department of Corrections) says that’s an opportunity for cross-training, what it does is it lacks continuity and consistency.”

Both parties do, however, agree that switching to a schedule where officers work six days to receive three days off is tough on the current employees.

“So they’re saying they’re going to implement this plan that will alleviate some of the pay you’re receiving for overtime.  So, it’s going to take some of the pay out of your pocket,” Francis began.  “But what we’re going to do instead is give you a schedule so you can’t work a second job that you’re currently working. ”

“We know that the base starting pay for correctional officers in Tennessee is just above the poverty line.”

Another concern from the TSEA is that experienced officers that are close to retirement might leave early.  Warden Sexton sees the concern, but says the new rotation won’t affect most of those seasoned employees.

“[It will] to some extent but not really, because everybody won’t go to a shift rotation or a post rotation,” Sexton said.  “You will still have your 8-4 shift that most of your 25-30-year employees are on now that will stay in 8-4.”

The plan is currently being implemented at the Northeast Correctional Facility, and is expected to be fully implemented statewide by next year.

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