LIMA — Provisions and benefits contained in the collective bargaining unit covering employees at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institute are being routinely ignored amid institutional changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a high-ranking union representative.
Shawn Gruber represents more than 400 employees at the Lima prison as president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association Chapter 0230. As president of the OCSEA Corrections Assembly he represents more than 8,800 prison workers statewide.
Gruber this week said morale among corrections officers at the Lima prison is “in the toilet” as seniority and hazard duty pay provisions outlined in the union contract are not being honored by administrators. Coupled with what Gruber alleges are health and safety concerns on the part of prison workers that are being largely overlooked, he said supervisors at the prison “have managed to create a hostile work environment with elevated stressors and health risks.”
He said employees have been denied “emergency stipend pay” as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.
“Our contract says we’re to get an additional $8 per hour stipend for hazardous duty situations, but what we’re getting is a 7 1/2 % increase in our base pay,” Gruber said. “And (administration officials) are forcing senior employees to work less desirable posts if they want to retain their days off, while less senior officers are getting preferred posts that normally are selected by senior officers.
“It’s just a big joke. My members are upset. They show up for work, but their rights are being infringed on,” Gruber said. “Now that seniority has been taken away, some are asking, ‘What is the point of me staying here?’”
JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, issued a one-sentence statement in response to the alleged tensions at the prison.
“DRC continues to work collaboratively with our union partners to achieve our shared goal of safe and healthy facilities,” she said.
Jodi Factor, assistant to the warden at Allen Oakwood, said staffing decisions described by Gruber are not unique to the Lima facility. “We get our directives from the central office and those directives are going out statewide,” she said.
Union members are not alone in their frustrations, Gruber alleged. He said changes in meal policies and other prison policies have inmates on edge as well.
“When inmates are in fear of the unknown, when they feel they lack proper protection or concern for their welfare, it makes our jobs that much more difficult,” the union leader said.
Smith said changes implemented by the DRC were made with the well-being of staff and inmates in mind.
“Most facilities began last week serving two meals per day — a hot brunch meal and a hot evening meal. This is being done to ensure we have less movement and less contact to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19,” Smith said. “Commissary prices are being reduced as well (and) rules surrounding food packages are that are sent in from families were changed to increase limits.”
Gruber said most employees are not insensitive to the fact that some changes are necessary under current conditions,but he is frustrated that grievances filed by the union have fallen on deaf ears.
“We have been told that our rights and opinions do not matter during a critical incident management situation and that there is no union. We were told by a supervisor that if you (expletive) employees don’t like it, I’ll show you the (expletive) door!
“Why are supervisors doing this? I understand that they’re under a lot of stress, but they’ve been put in place to lead. The workforce we have here wants to work; they want to do a good job. But I’ve never seen anything like this.”