New Hampshire correctional officers have declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the Governor’s office. The Teamsters Union, which represents the officers, say the Governor isn’t doing enough to end years of excessive overtime for staff in the state’s prisons.
What the parties do seem to agree on is that prisons are critically understaffed. At his budget address last month, Governor Chris Sununu said “we are going to be aggressive and fully fund our corrections system to end the pattern of forced overtime and personnel shortfalls.”
It was a line that drew applause from the crowd. A month after that address, the correctional officers’ union says the Governor has not delivered on this promise.
Local Teamsters Principal Officer, Jeffrey Padellaro said the state has allowed officer positions to “become an unattractive job.” This time, the Teamsters claim, the Governor’s office refused to increase officers’ salaries.
Governor Sununu’s proposed budget does set aside an additional $2.6 million for staffing the prisons -- mostly, to staff the new, bigger women’s prison. But those positions won’t get filled if the state doesn’t increase starting salaries, according to Padellaro.
“You could go to work in the federal prison in Berlin at approximately $10,000 to $15,000 more in starting pay,” said Padellaro. “Right over the border in Massachusetts, recently advertised in the Union Leader this past weekend, the starting salary is almost double.”
In a press release, Sununu's office wrote "we are surprised and disappointed," saying the Governor's budget provided "one of the largest increases given to any department."
Short staffing has officers and union reps like Padellaro concerned about safety. Last month, inmates in Concord threw garbage into a tier and lit it on fire: leading to an evacuation of the entire tier.
Over the past 10 years, the number of inmates in New Hampshire prisons has grown by 8 percent, while the number of officers has shrunk by 25 percent. This has meant years of mandatory overtime at the prisons. According to Padellaro, this means officers are working double shifts as many as five times a week.