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Ky. county COs to get wage hike, bonuses as vacancy rate soars

Jail employees will see a $7,365 bump in base pay immediately under an agreement announced Tuesday


Corrections officers pose for a photo outside of the Fayette County Detention Center in Lexington, Kentucky.

By Beth Musgrave
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — After two years of sometimes contentious negotiations, the city of Lexington and the union that represents corrections officers at the Fayette County Detention Center announced Tuesday an agreement on a two-year contract that includes substantial wage hikes and bonuses.

The announcement comes as the Fayette County Detention Center is struggling to keep and retain employees. It has approximately 120 vacancies, according to jail administrators and members of the Fraternal Order of Police Town Branch Lodge 83, the union that represents corrections officers. Fully staffed it has 278 officers.

Staffing has long been an issue at the Old Frankfort Pike facility. But its staffing levels have dipped substantially over the past 12 months. The number of vacant positions has run north of 100 for months. The jail typically has 25 to 30 vacancies.

Since July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, the jail has spent north of $1.3 million on overtime.

The state of Kentucky Department of Corrections and Louisville Metro Corrections are also struggling with high vacancy rates and staff turnover in an increasingly competitive job market.

[Read: More than half of Kentucky’s prison jobs are vacant; the overtime is costing millions]

Starting salaries will be bumped from $15 dollars to $20. If approved by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council as expected, all employees will also get a pay raise. Jail employees will see a $7,365 bump in base pay immediately, said David Barberie, a lawyer with the city who helped negotiate the contract.

Up to $3,000 lump sum payment per member depending on how many years correction officers have been there.

Those pay increases and lump sum payments are to make up for a lack of salary adjustments over the past two years. The current contract expired in 2019, stagnating wage increases.

Come Jan. 1, all employees will also receive a 3 percent raise.

Instead of a four-year contract, the city agreed to a two-year contract to see if the bumps in pay will help with retention and recruitment, Barberie said.

If the city and union can not come to an agreement on a new contract at the end of the current-year contract, employees will automatically receive a 2 percent increase so employees will not have to go through years with no raises while a contract is negotiated, Barberie said.

In addition, officers can earn a $1,000 incentive for bringing in a new recruit. Officers who work at least 147 hours of overtime in a three-month period will receive an additional $750. Sergeants will receive a $1,200 excessive overtime bonus.

‘The right thing to do for our employees’

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton said raising salaries was critical to public safety.

“It is the right thing to do for our employees,” Gorton said.

The total additional cost will be $10 million over the two years of the contract.

“We hope this contract will help relieve staffing concerns,” Gorton said. “I have heard from corrections officers that staffing is the most critical concern at the jail and that the best way to improve retention and recruitment is to increase pay.”

Union officials have said that many officers were leaving to take jobs at fast food restaurants for better pay and less stress.

Fayette County Detention Center Director Lisa Farmer told the Lexington council last week several employees recently left the jail to take correction jobs in nearby counties for higher pay.

The detention center has also been hit by a wave of retirements and early retirements, Farmer has said.

‘Morale is low’

Michael Harris, president of the FOP Town Branch Lodge, said the raises will hopefully help lure some employees who left for surrounding jails back to Fayette County.

People have had to work overtime shifts to make up for the shortage of employees, Harris said.

Morale is low, he said.

‘We hope this new agreement will help mitigate further devastation of our workforce. However, the new contract is not cause for celebration. FCDC has 100 vacancies which must be filled soon, or more employees will leave, regardless of their bump in hourly compensation,” said Harris.

The contract must be approved by the Lexington council. It is expected to get first and second reading at Thursday’s meeting, said Vice Mayor Steve Kay. The city is expediting the contract so those pay increases can take affect immediately.

The two sides have been in negotiations for nearly two years with talks deteriorating in late December, prompting the union and the city to file complaints with the state Labor Cabinet. Negotiations during that two-year time frame were also interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Barberie said.

City and union officials said those complaints, including a request for a mediator, will be dropped.

Barberie said it wasn’t until after the two sides filed complaints with labor officials that it became clear what both sides’ priorities were.

“Up until that point, it wasn’t clear to us exactly what they wanted,” Barberie said.

FOP Vice President Stephen Parker said time will tell if the salary adjustments will help lure more people to work at the jail.

“The jury is still out about whether this contract will increase recruiting or entice corrections officers to stay,” Parker said.

(c)2022 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)