FCC Hazelton employees seek action over staffing shortages, retention bonuses
The Hazelton complex is currently down over 80 correctional officers, which creates risk for both COs and inmates, the union president said
By Erin Cleavenger
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The cries of correctional officers and staff members at the Federal Corrections Complex ( FCC ) Hazelton are getting louder as they fight for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to act on what they describe as dangerous staffing shortages that could potentially put lives at risk.
The Hazelton workers, who are members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 420 union, have been increasingly vocal about regularly being forced to work excessive overtime multiple times a week due to a consistently high number of correctional officer vacancies.
Justin Tarovisky, president of the AFGE local 420, said the Hazelton complex is currently down over 80 correctional officers (COs), which creates risk for both COs and inmates.
Tarovisky said in an effort to keep the officers they currently have, they have asked the BOP to award a 25 % group retention bonus for the officers in good standing.
Last week, Senator Joe Manchin expressed his support of the workers by penning a letter to BOP Director Colette Peters urging her to approve the retention bonus for the Hazelton staff.
Tarovisky said they are working with Senator Capito as well.
This week, Congressman Alex Mooney joined the fight, writing to Peters to add his voice of support for the bonus.
In his letter to Peters, Mooney stated the group retention incentive had already been approved by BOP Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Christopher Gomez . The congressman said he “respectfully requested " Peters approve the 25 % retention incentive “as soon as possible.”
Following Gomez’s go-ahead on the bonus, the request has apparently been waiting for Peters’ approval for several weeks, which has led to the lawmakers’ request for action.
Mooney echoed Manchin’s concerns stating, “the dire staffing shortage has created a volatile situation threatening staff and inmates alike.
“Correctional officers are regularly forced to work 16 plus hour shifts, multiple times a week. New staffers often transfer to other prisons quickly to find relief from the high amount of forced overtime, " he continued.
The congressman pointed out that more will need to be done to improve recruitment and retention, but the 25 % bonus would serve as “a good first step.”
Tarovisky said, “We’re very glad that Congressman Mooney stepped up and helped address the issue that we’re having, specifically with the retention.”
He said the union had a lot of support for law enforcement from the former Congressman McKinley , “so it’s really good to see Congressman Mooney step up at time where we’re more understaffed than ever.
“We need not only the retention but a change in hiring procedures which I know they are looking at, as well, " Tarovisky said. “We’re appreciative of that because we need it in a complex that’s one of the biggest in the country.”
Following Manchin’s letter to Peters last week, The Dominion Post reached out to the BOP for response to the senator’s request.
They responded that they were aware of the request, but the “FBOP responds directly to Members of Congress . Out of respect and deference to Members, we do not share our Congressional correspondence with the media or elaborate on the contents of such correspondence.”
“Across the United States , law enforcement agencies struggle to hire officers, " they continued. “The FBOP has committed significant resources to recruiting and hiring. Our National Recruitment Office has dedicated full-time employees working specifically on recruiting and hiring Correctional Officers and other field positions and they support our local institutions who host a monthly recruitment event at each institution.”
Tarovisky said he did not currently have any facts on what is being done by Peters and the BOP to help correct the problem, but knows that after the Senator and Congressman’s letters, the Hazelton complex is definitely “on their radar.”
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