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Unions rally against proposed cuts to retention bonuses at USP Thomson amid staffing concerns

One union called the potential action a “slap in the face for the heroes who put their lives on the line every day”

USP Thomson prison

By Gretchen Teske
Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa

THOMSON, Ill. — Retention bonuses are expected to be cut at the end of the year at Thomson Federal Prison, and a number of local unions are showing their opposition to the plan.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest union that represents federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) correctional officers. Thursday morning the union released a statement, calling on BOP Director Colette Peters to retain the retention pay incentive at Thomson Federal Prison in Illinois.

“Our members at Thomson prison protect their communities and our nation every day while dealing with some of the most dangerous criminals in the country,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “They perform difficult, necessary work, which is one reason why recruiting is so difficult for these positions at Thomson prison. The Bureau of Prisons’ attempt to cut retention pay will only end up leading to more difficulties in hiring, a loss of existing staff and will gravely insult the staff members who currently put their safety and health on the line to serve their country.”

The BOP Public Affairs office said in an email to the Quad-City Times/Dispatch-Argus on Thursday the 25% group retention incentive was still in place at USP Thomson but set to expire on Dec. 31, 2023. No further comment was provided.

Members of AFGE Local 4070, which represents 450 correctional officers at Thomson, said in a news release that the proposed cuts would endanger prison workers, inmates and the communities surrounding the prison.

“Over 33% of our current staff have already written to the union stating that they will have to leave Thomson Federal Prison if Director Peters’ cuts are implemented,” said Jon Zumkher, president of AFGE 4070.

Speaking to a reporter in August, Zumkher said this retention bonus comes out to about $16,000 annually. Part of the reason for putting it in place, he said, was that Thomson is in a remote location and factory jobs in the area pay higher. The goal of the retention bonus was to make the job more appealing.

Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea echoed Zumkher’s sentiment, saying ensuring USP Thomson was set up for success should be paramount and removing retention bonuses would cause an adverse reaction.

Staffing shortages at Thomson prison have been noted for years. In early 2022, with the support of then-U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos and Dave Loebstack and Senators Tammy Duckwork and Dick Durbin, AFGE Local 4070 was able to work with management to achieve a 25% increase in retention pay.

AFGE District 7 National Vice President Jason Anderson vowed the union would stand united in its, “commitment to protect the welfare of the dedicated staff of USP Thomson” and called on Peters to stop any action that would reduce pay. Other unions weighed in as well, such as the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Corrections Lodge 263, which called the potential action, a “slap in the face for the heroes who put their lives on the line every day.”

“The Illinois FOP Corrections Lodge 263 unequivocally stands with AFGE Local 4070 members and strongly urges Director Peters to leave intact the pay for Thomson workers, who earn every penny of their hard-fought-for wages while doing a task that very few others could handle,” President Scott Ward said.

In August, Thomson was permanently converted to a low-security prison, and Brian Lammer was named the new warden. This followed after it was confirmed in February that inmates were being moved out of the prison with no explanation. In March, the motive became clear when the BOP announced Thomson would temporarily be converted into a low-security prison.


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