PROVIDENCE — The state and the union for correctional officers on Friday announced that they reached an agreement on a new contract, which would provide raises and $3,000 bonuses, but doesn’t include long-sought changes to rules that allow officers to work 32 hours in a row.
“Correctional Officers greatly contribute to public safety, and I am glad we were able to reach an agreement that reflects our appreciation for all their hard work and sacrifice,” Wayne T. Salisbury, acting director for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, said in a news release.
The Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers also welcomed the agreement, a four-year pact that runs until 2024. (The old contract had long expired.)
“It was long overdue, and it’s a good first step to trying to address some of the shortages we’ve had and the impending shortage that’s right around the corner,” union president Richard Ferruccio said.
The new contract has 2.5 percent retroactive raises for July 2020, 2021, and 2022, and a 2.5 percent raise in July 2023. To support efforts to keep people on the job, it reduces the amount of time needed to reach the top pay step from 20 years to 14 years, includes 2.5 percent increases at 25 and 30 years, and has a $3,000 bonus.
But it does nothing to end the use of four-in-a-row “quad” shifts at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston. Previous Department of Corrections Director Patricia Coyne-Fague had repeatedly said that letting correctional officers work for 32 hours straight wasn’t the best way to run a prison system. But the right to choose to work those shifts was guaranteed in the union contract. The Department of Corrections was trying to do away with them through contract negotiations, she had said previously. Coyne-Fague left that job earlier this year to become the public works director in Providence. The new contract finalized after she left does not make any changes to quads.
In the 12 months between July 2021 and the end of June 2022, corrections officers worked more than 5,000 of those shifts, contributing to high overtime bills. That’s not much different from the year before, but it is a marked increase from just a few years ago.
With overtime payments, a handful of correctional officers are among the highest-paid employees in the state. In the 2022 fiscal year, 32 correctional workers made more than $100,000 in overtime alone.
Ferruccio said that the state wouldn’t have been able to get rid of quads or even triples. Officers can choose to work quads, but if they weren’t allowed to, the system would need to find someone to replace them. That would mean involuntarily holding someone else over for overtime, which would contribute to burnout, the union has long argued.
“I don’t think they honestly could have made any of those changes, because we’d have had a serious problem staffing,” Ferruccio said Friday.
The agreement, Ferruccio said, will help start to address the staffing issues that the Department of Corrections is seeing.
“The numbers for recruiting have not been good, and I think it’s a problem you’re seeing everybody in law enforcement is having,” Ferruccio said.
Brian Amaral can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.