N.J. cancels New Years time off for COs due to COVID, union says

“The mental health of our staff is in grave danger," the union's president said in a statement


By Josh Solomon
nj.com
        
TRENTON, N.J. — Corrections officers hoping to take time off to celebrate the new year had their plans canceled Thursday due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

The state’s Department of Corrections suspended vacation time, days off, compensatory time and administrative leave over the weekend for officers working inside state prisons, according to the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105, which represents about 5,000 corrections and parole officers.

The policy went into effect Thursday and remains in place until Monday, at which point the department will reevaluate, according to a press release from the union.

East Jersey State Prison in Rahway.
East Jersey State Prison in Rahway. (Patti Sapone)

Department of Corrections officials did not return a request for comment Friday.

New Jersey on Friday broke another daily coronavirus case record, reporting 28,512 new positive tests and 37 additional confirmed deaths. The state has been on a tear, setting case records seven times now since Dec. 22. Before that date, the state’s single-day record was 6,922, set Jan. 13.

The surge has been disrupting services across the region as employers contend with staffing shortages due to the virus. NJ Transit and New York City’s MTA have both been hit with delays and cancellations from staffing shortages. And airlines have had to cancel flights for the same reason. More than 1,500 flights within, into or out of the U.S. on Friday were canceled, according to flightaware.com.

“For years, our union has voiced serious concerns to the state of New Jersey of an already ongoing staffing crisis, it is wholeheartedly disappointing to see our pleas have been ignored,” wrote union President William Sullivan, who noted the weekend policy was in violation of the union’s contract with the state.

“The mental health of our staff is in grave danger. Correctional Police Officers have been tasked heavily since the start of the pandemic, inmate assaults on officers have reached a new high and now staff is being told we cannot use the time we earned to go home and see our families. We understand that COVID-19 levels have been trending upward, but if the Department is in crisis, our prisons would be on lockdown which is not the case. Our hard-working officers paying the price, instead, is not the answer.”

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