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Union president says forced overtime destroys morale

Jan. 19, 2013
 

Union leaders at Oshkosh Correctional Institution said employee morale is low over forced overtime in the wake of changes to the state’s collective bargaining law which spurred staff retirements and turnover, worsening the problem.

A Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team analysis found 85 percent of correctional officers and sergeants at Oshkosh Correctional Institution received some overtime pay in 2011. In the past, employees may have worked the extra hours to pad their paychecks. However, union officials said many are now being forced to work the extra shifts in order to address the staff vacancies that have been created due to an increase in retirements and turnover in the wake of Wisconsin Act 10 in 2011.

“Nobody wants to work overtime,” said Trent Ventura, the president of AFSCME Local 3409, the union which represents correctional workers at OSCI. “A lot of the overtime is forced overtime. It’s not an option.”

During fiscal year 2011, which ended in June of that year, $2.87 million was paid out to employees in overtime costs at OSCI. Overtime costs decreased slightly by $185,400 in fiscal year 2012, when $2.69 million was paid out.

Of the 454 correctional officers and sergeants at OSCI who received overtime pay in the 2011 calendar year, 63 finished the year with 20 percent or more of their gross wages coming from overtime. For 188 of the 454 employees, overtime accounted for 10 percent or more of their wages, according to an analysis of salary data.

In the past, overtime was given out based on seniority. As a result, many of the most senior staff members worked the extra hours needed to provide a safe environment at the facility. Due to higher salaries earned by senior employees, overtime costs were higher.

After Act 10 was enacted, the overtime system was changed to a rotational basis in an effort to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of overtime and also an effort to keep overtime costs down.

Ventura said it’s still sometimes difficult to find enough employees to voluntarily accept overtime and therefore more employees are being forced to work the extra shifts. Not only did Act 10 change the way overtime was handled within the correctional system, union officials said it impacted employee morale. Ventura said there was an increase in retirements and vacancies, both of which contributed to the need for additional overtime.

During the 2010 fiscal year, the Department of Corrections had 628 vacancies, which increased to 887 during the 2011 fiscal year before falling slightly to 827 in the 2012 fiscal year. At Oshkosh Correctional Institution, there were 19 correctional officer/sergeant positions vacant at the end of the 2012 fiscal year, according to the Department of Corrections.

“The staff morale is at an all-time low,” said Ventura, a correctional sergeant at OSCI who has worked in the prison system since 1986. “People are just totally frustrated and that’s why they’re retiring.”

Jennifer K. Woldt: (920) 426-6676 or jwoldt@thenorthwestern.com

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