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Ill. federal prison employees to receive 25% retention pay increase

“This is a big win for the workers at USP Thomson,” said union president Jonathan Zumkehr

USP Thomson prison

USP Thomson has been struggling with a shortage of correctional officers and staff due to low pay, low morale and a lack of affordable housing in the small community.

By Sarah Hayden
Quad City Times

THOMSON, Ill. — Employees at Thomson Federal Prison will soon have added incentive to remain on the job.

After pressure from Illinois Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, the Federal Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) approved a 25% retention pay increase for all officers and staff at USP Thomson in an effort to keep the prison from losing employees.

The high-security federal prison has been struggling with a shortage of correctional officers and staff due to low pay, low morale and a lack of affordable housing in the small community. Despite hiring more than 70 new staff members this year, the prison still has 96 open positions.

Jonathan Zumkehr, president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 4070, Council of Prison Locals No. 33, AFL-CIO, welcomed the news after two years of fighting for higher pay to address the staffing shortage.

“This is a big win for the workers at USP Thomson, and we extend our thanks to Senators Durbin and Duckworth and Rep. Bustos for leading this fight and supporting the workers at USP Thomson,” Zumkehr said.

“We have the hardest working staff in the (Bureau of Prisons) and AFGE Local 4070 is doing everything possible to keep them at USP Thomson,” he said. “We have worked with management and have held job fairs every month and have hired over 70 staff this year. Now that we have secured the 25% retention pay, we will retain our experienced staff and be able to recruit additional staff.”

Duckworth met with Zumkehr Friday in Moline at Milltown Coffee, 3800 River Dr.

“Ongoing vacancies at USP Thomson make it more difficult for overworked staff to carry out their duties — presenting significant risk to staff, inmates and the surrounding community,” Duckworth said in a Friday news release. “I was proud to help secure a 25% retention bonus at Thomson, which will provide current employees a much-deserved increase in pay and help improve staff retention and overall safety at the prison.

“Today, I’m glad to meet with President Zumkehr to discuss how Congress can continue helping the union and prison advocate for federal support with staffing and retention needs.”

The pay increase is the third in a string of victories for the lawmakers and their lobbying efforts. In July, the BOP approved an initial 10% retention pay increase for USP Thomson employees, and in August, the prison was granted authority to hire its own employees, bypassing months of bureaucratic red tape that stalled the hiring process.

“Today’s announcement will go a long way toward recognizing Thomson’s staff for their hard work, help keep staff on site and help attract additional staff to make Thomson a safer, more secure location,” Bustos said in a Friday news release. “I’ve been proud to be at the forefront of these efforts with Senators Durbin and Duckworth. Initiatives like this help strengthen the workforce, ensure the facility can compete with others in the region and support the surrounding community’s economy.

“I thank my colleagues for their partnership on this issue and will continue to work alongside them to put forward initiatives to recruit and retain staff.”

(c)2021 Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa