Florida prison workers want equal pay from Legislature

April 8, 2014 

The 2014 legislative session is at the point when people do whatever they can to call attention to what appear to be lost causes.

Frustrated state correctional officers, along with Teamsters Union representatives, held a news conference and called on lawmakers Tuesday to raise their pay to levels equal with law enforcement officers such as state troopers and game wardens. That would cost about $30 million, Teamsters say, and it's affordable in a year when the state has a projected $1 billion surplus.

Teamsters agent Les Cantrell said Gov. Rick Scott has not done enough to help the officers. "We have not seen the support from him," said Cantrell, whose union replaced the Florida Police Benevolent Association as bargaining agent for guards. "I don't get the message from the governor that he is looking out for (them)."

Cantrell said the typical correctional officer is 42 years old with a spouse and children. "These are people with families. They cannot go on making what they're making and survive," he said.

Corrections Sgt. Thomas Johnson, 39, has worked for the state for 13 years and is paid $36,000 a year at Marion Correctional in Ocala, where is said morale suffers because of low pay, and that turnover remains rampant as officers find better-paying jobs at county jails. Because staff vacancies create huge gaps in security, Johnson said he's forced to work 12-hour shifts for four and five consecutive days.

"The fatigue factor starts to set in. Are you at the same level of alertness? Absolutely not," Johnson said.

The Teamsters' chief lobbyist, Ron Silver, who served three decades as a Democratic legislator, called the Legislature's treatment of correctional officers "intolerable, unjust and it might even be criminal."

The state Department of Corrections has not yet responded to requests for comment on the officers' complaints.

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