No doubt, by now, you are all aware of Commissioner Schmidt’s January 4th e-mail. In it he alerts all Correctional Officers to watch for a letter from Deputy Commissioner Sam Edwards that will detail changes that the DOC intends to institute. Commissioner Schmidt’s e-mail did not specifically identify what modifications DOC Management is intending, but as many of you have been hearing from reliable sources for months, we believe they are looking at going to, or will be threatening to go to, eight hour shifts.
While there is good reason for concern, there are also actions we can take, and have already been preparing to take. One of our first actions was to send the above letter to the Commissioner of Administration, who is Alaska’s highest authority for the State’s labor contracts and labor issues. Our letter reminds the State that they have an obligation to negotiate prior to making any changes to your shifts. If the State and Correctional Officers are unable to agree in negotiations, then interest arbitration is the appropriate next step, as per our contract and State statute.
Unfortunately, as you all learned when the State attempted to void your contract arbitration award in 2010, what is right and legal does not prevent adverse actions from being taken against you. However, should the DOC Management persist in moving to 8’s without first negotiating, we will fight back as we did before when they voided the arbitrator’s contract arbitration award. As before, we are resolved to take all necessary actions to defend your contractual and legal rights.
In an attempt to justify whatever changes he intends to make, the Commissioner claims that the Department is “…on track (Fiscal 2012) to exceed 300,000 hours of personal leave used…”. We have slightly less than 780 Correctional Officers. To use 300,000 hours of leave, each of you would have to use an average of 384 hours of leave this fiscal year. That’s the equivalent of taking four and one-half weeks off. The Commissioner also claims this leave usage is nearly triple the amount of leave taken in 2009. That suggests that you all averaged a week and one-half of leave in 2009, but now use an average of four and one-half weeks. How many of you have taken that much leave?
Without giving the data to support it, the Commissioner also references the increased cost in overtime that is paid out to cover for Officers who are on leave. Shift Supervisors tell us that they have been directed to report all overtime as if Officers were on personal leave. That means institutions with vacant positions, with Officers at the Academy for training, with Officers that are ill, and Officers on hospital duty or elsewhere, are recording overtime as if they are on personal leave. If this is being done, it is dishonestly inflating the numbers to support the Commissioner’s contention.
We do know that, if the DOC Management is planning to move to 8 hour shifts, it really has nothing to do with cost cutting or complying with the Legislature’s intent. Eight hour shifts will cost the Department much more money than the current status quo.
This is a continuation of the DOC’s retaliatory actions against you over the last four years because you stood up publically in an attempt to put a stop to their decreasing staffing minimums, while simultaneously increasing the inmate population.
Going to 8’s will be a disaster for the Department in more ways than anyone can count. From the e-mail sent out by the Commissioner, it is clear that when all hell breaks loose, he and his staff will plead ignorance and innocence, while blaming Legislators for any adverse effects to the Corrections’ budget and to the Officers that are the backbone of the Department.
We anticipate that the membership will receive Deputy Commissioner Edward’s e-mail by Monday or Tuesday, unless, as we are hoping, they reconsider this action.
In the past, there have been threats to go to 8’s as a negotiating ploy by the State. But I have to be honest and tell you that if this DOC Management says they are going to 8’s, I do not believe it is an idle threat. Regardless of the damage caused by going to 8’s, they are more than capable of acting against the best interests of the Department, the public, and you. Having said that, we have been here before, and we have come out more than O.K. I ask that if we do temporarily go to 8’s, be supportive of your fellow Officers. It goes without saying that going to 8’s will be disruptive, and in some cases devastating, to your friends and co-workers.