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Mich. COs get hazard pay, dispute use of sick time for quarantines

COs will receive $750 per pay period in hazard pay, starting with their May 14 paychecks, and retroactive to April 5

By James David Dickson
The Detroit News

DETROIT — Michigan’s corrections officers, 6,000 people who work in close quarters with colleagues and inmates and cannot work from home during the coronavirus outbreak, will receive $750 per pay period in hazard pay, starting with their May 14 paychecks, and retroactive to April 5.

The virus, which has killed 1,281 people in Michigan since its confirmed arrival on March 10, has killed seven prisoners and two staffers.

As of Friday, 360 of Michigan’s 38,000 prisoners were confirmed to have the virus, along with 151 of about 12,000 corrections department staffers.

One in 4 employees of the state of Michigan works for the corrections department.

A newsletter from the union warns that people who use leave credits during a pay period will have the $750 prorated.

“In order to earn the full $750 amount, all scheduled days in the pay period must be worked,” and overtime doesn’t count.

The hazard pay kicked in on April 5. Byron Osborn, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union representing about 6,000 corrections officers, said the hope was that it would be retroactive to the start of the crisis, but members are happy to be given “additional incentive and recognition” for working despite the risks.

“We can’t all just stop coming to work,” Osborn said. “That’s not our culture.”

Culture or not, corrections officers sometimes aren’t given that choice.

The department requires health screenings before people, including employees, are allowed to proceed. People whose temperatures are high get sent home and can be put on quarantine, and kept out of work for up to two weeks.

When this happens, the employee has to use their own sick time. Right now this means losing some, if not all, of that pay period’s hazard pay bonus. If that person doesn’t have sick time, their quarantine is unpaid, Osborn said.

The union has filed an official grievance on that, Osborn said.

“Staff appreciate knowing they don’t have (a high temperature) and aren’t sick,” said Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The union has no problem with the concept of health checks, Osborn said, but with their timing — employees are required to show up at least 10 minutes early — and their consequence.

The 10 minutes are unpaid, and the union has a problem with that too, considering a wellness check an assessment of an employee’s “fitness” for service. That, the union argues, constitutes a pre-shift meeting, and should be paid.

“When we get forced off on these mandates quarantines, we believe it’s the state’s responsibility to cover that time,” Osborn said, and the union has made that case to the governor’s office.

“That precaution is having a severe, negative impact on the operation of the facility, because then you’re causing mandates (required overtime) on the people who are still there,” Osborn added. “We don’t want to be the union that’s tugging on the governor’s tail all the time, but when the dust settles on this mess, we’re going to be seeking some kind of relief for these folks.”

Paid pre-shift meetings will officially return on Oct. 1. The union considered their return a win when the new contract was announced last November.

The union also does not believe 10 minutes is enough time.

“Some shifts, we have 30, 60, 70 people all starting at once,” Osborn said. “It’s not practical to think many people are going to speedily go through this. A lot of people are showing up well prior to 10 minutes ahead of time, because they want to relieve the person who’s waiting to go home.”

Experts worry about the virus’ contagion in an environment where social distancing is not easily observed.

Both the corrections system and the union representing half its employees have had to make adjustments.

While prisoners in the department’s Michigan State Industries facilities have produced enough masks for every prison facility staffer and inmate to be given three, and all are required to wear them for the time being, the union has purchased 6,000 face shields and will distribute them this week to the state’s 29 prison facilities, to be given to members, Osborn said.

Meanwhile, prisoners who get the virus, those under investigation for having it, and those who are close contacts to someone confirmed to have it are all isolated, according to an April 8 staff memo from Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington, which was obtained by The Detroit News.

Their cells are not searched, and pat-down searches on those groups are suspended.

The prisons have had to stagger food service so as to allow inmates six feet apart in the waiting line, and six feet apart when they sit to dine.


©2020 The Detroit News