Reps May Look at Corrections Dispute
Aug 6, 2004, 08:15

State officials are expected to meet sometime within the next two weeks to discuss the current unrest among the state’s correctional officers.

Complaining about dangerous working conditions, unfilled vacancies and low pay the state’s 1,830 correctional officers began refusing to work voluntary overtime on June 26th. 

The state currently has approximately 270 unfilled correctional officer positions, about 50 of which are the result of men and women on military service.  The on-going labor action has hampered the state’s ability to move prisoners, delaying court proceedings where the inmates are needed to appear.

State House Majority Whip Biff Lee of Laurel, who is also the chair of the House Corrections Committee, said the meeting will bring together all of the principals involved in the situation. 

The gathering will include members of the Minner administration, the heads of the Joint Finance Committee and the leaders of the three unions representing Delaware’s correctional officers.

“This meeting is a chance for everyone involved to lay their cards on the table,” Rep. Lee said.  “I think if we can get a dialogue going between all these people, we can find a solution that’ll satisfy everyone.”  Rep. Lee added that the meeting would not be open to the press or the public. 

Speaker of the House Terry Spence had called for a meeting of the governor and House and Senate leaders to try to resolve the situation, but he said he has reconsidered that move.  “In speaking with Rep. Lee, I think it makes sense for us to use a meeting he’s already planning as the focal point for this.”

“I believe Rep. Lee is doing the right thing,” Speaker Spence said.  “I fully support his efforts and I want to thank the Minner administration, the Senate and the unions for their willingness to discuss, and hopefully resolve, these issues.”

Speaker Spence said if the process proved unproductive, he’d consider bringing the House of Representatives back into session to consider legislation.  However, he stressed he believed the best hope for successful resolution of the correctional officers’ concerns was Rep. Lee’s upcoming meeting.

If the House does return, it could consider House Bill 404.  Currently pending in the House Appropriations Committee, the measure would increase the pay of correctional officers (Pay Grade 16 and under) by raising every officer up two grades.  The proposal would cost the state approximately $9 million annually.

Correctional officers did receive a $600 bump in their hazardous duty pay last month, as well as a 3 percent pay raise that was given to all state employees. 

Earlier this week, Delaware Corrections Commissioner Stan Taylor presented a proposal to the unions that would raise salaries an additional 5 percent in January and begin a recruitment incentive program that would offer officers $250 for every person they successfully recruit to become a correctional officer.

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