Jail union threatens to sue Metro Corrections over forced overtime

FOP jail grievances

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Up to 40 hours of forced overtime is illegal, but union leaders claim it’s happening every week at Metro Corrections. The long hours adding up and even becoming dangerous with one officer falling asleep on the road and crashing her car after working seven of the last ten days.

In response, union leaders have filed a grievance, asking for immediate action.

"We're seeing 30-40 hours a week of forced overtime, on security members and we can't do it anymore,” FOP President Tracy Dotson said.

Dotson said the forced overtime has been going on for months. This is the thirteenth complaint he has filed with the department so far this year. 

"Outside of the safety issue, of dog-tired officers running the jail, which they're doing. They are keeping it afloat. You've got the family issues, the off-duty issues. You've got time to do nothing,” Dotson said.

Dotson filed the grievance with jail leaders earlier this week. The document cites labor law violations and threatens to take legal action. He said jail officials have been inattentive and unresponsive to his members' concerns.

"We have the potential for people to die or get seriously hurt here,” Dotson said.

Jail leaders told WHAS11 the problem stems from overcrowding within the jail.

They claim they're actively searching for solutions including meeting with the Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner about an emergency regulation to remove state prisoners from the jail.

Assistant Director Steve Durham sent WHAS11 this statement:

“The primary driver of overtime is public safety.   Louisville Metro Department of Corrections holds more inmates in custody than anticipated as a result of an increase in the number of convicted felons in the jail that are awaiting transfer to a state facility.  Louisville Metro Department of Corrections is a jail designed to hold pretrial detainees awaiting trial.  The Kentucky Department of Corrections prisons are long term holding facilities for convicted felons.

Director Bolton told this community in a press conference about a year ago, in May 2016, that the jail population increased dramatically primarily as a result of the inability of State Corrections to move convicted felons and probation and parole violators out of jail. State Corrections has an obligation to move convicted felons to a state prison and out of this local jail within a set time period.  Metro Corrections will continue to seek strategies, in full transparency, on moving inmates into state custody.

In his initial press conference Dir. Bolton warned that to safely house a growing number of inmates in the Metro jail he would have to open a shuttered facility built in the 1950's and the operation of that unit, for three shifts per day, was going to require over time.  That facility was not a budgeted part of the operation the decision was made in the interest of public safety.  Failing to open that aged facility would have increased the risk of harm to staff and inmates because of crowding in existing dorms. He told that all officers assigned to post for that shuttered facility would be working overtime.  Yes, Dir. Bolton was concerned about the financial impact, but more concerning was how overtime would impact Corrections Officers because although there would be more inmates over the long term, at that time there was no funding to hire additional officers.  Metro Corrections awaits Mayor Fischer's upcoming 2017-2018 budget address on any additional positions.

This week Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Director Mark Bolton had a conversation with Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner Rodney Ballard about a proposed Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Emergency Regulation just published.  Commissioner Ballard conveyed that the regulation would have the effect of creating an expedited inmate movement process to allow convicted felons to be removed from beds in county jails directly to a prison bed.  Director Bolton was told that the regulation meant that up to 180 state prisoners would be moved from Metro Corrections into state custody before the end of April 2017.
 
Metro Corrections, with the support of Metro Criminal Justice stake holders; and the dedicated help of Mike O'Connell, the Jefferson County Attorney, have been exploring all options to ensure long term compliance with state statutes and case law regarding the movement of state prisoners from Metro Corrections to state custody. 
We have an operational capacity of 1793 inmate beds.  Today's an inmate count pushed up against 2400.  In recent week, because of the growing state prisoner population we reached an inmate population as high as 2500. 

Metro Corrections Officers are committed to providing proper care, custody and control of an inmate admitted to our custody.  Over population of our jail with state prisoners puts a strain on Metro Corrections staff and impacts officer and inmate safety.  That strain is a deep concern for Director Bolton. As of April 2017 there are twenty-four Corrections Officer vacancies and a current academy with twenty-two recruits.  Plus for the first time ever, Dir. Bolton has directed that recruitment and initiation of a second academy to begin concurrently before the end of May, 2017.  Dir. Bolton has committed to enroll as many academies as needed.

Well before the union sent this letter about overtime, Dir. Bolton proposed an initiative that would mirror what Louisville Metro Police Department had done – hire recent retires to lessen the impact of overtime on current staff.  Union representative Officer Dotson, rejected that solution and offered no alternative. Dir. Bolton recently re-offered that option and again that offer has been rejected.

However, just this afternoon, Corrections and FOP leadership met and agreed upon a temporary provision to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that both parties feel will reduce force overtime on the membership. We hope to continue to find reasonable approaches to work with available resources for safe and orderly operation of the Metro jail.  Along with that hope, we know that management and the union will not always agree and that is why a Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for a multi-level grievance process. “

"Jails get overcrowded, it’s a fact of life. It’s what you do once that overcrowding takes place that really tends toward what your predilections are as far as how you're going to run that jail,” Dotson said. "Right now, the only solution is more officers."

Jail leaders argue there is no money for that.

Both sides claim they're eager to find a solution.

 

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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