The Commission on Industrial Relations has ruled on a wage and labor contract issues impasse between the state and Department of Correctional Services workers, a ruling that effectively does little to relieve staffing shortages at the prisons, union officials said Friday. 

The commission ruled on pay ranges for 12 job classifications. And it ruled against any requested step movement within the pay range, meaning no change in the existing practice of no steps.

The commission also declined to order any restrictions on mandatory overtime, which has been a huge complaint of prison workers, especially at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.

The commission ordered a change in the array of Nebraska's comparative states, adding two suggested by the state, and turning down the union's suggestions because of size limitations.

States to be included in the comparative array are Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Indiana and the new ones suggested by the state: Arkansas and Oklahoma. 

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz issued a statement Friday afternoon, expressing disappointment there was no increase in wages for the Corrections staff from the CIR ruling.

"We stand with the Department of Corrections staffers and continue to work diligently to pass LB109, which would recognize skill and experience of employees through a longevity pay plan,” she said. 

The CIR essentially froze wages for two years and adopted no longevity pay plans. 

Mike Chipman, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 88, said he had at least a dozen workers within an hour of the decision say they plan to put in their two weeks' notice right away. 

"The union doesn't want this because the staffing crisis already is out of control," Chipman said. 

Union attorney Gary Young said the union doesn't encourage anybody to walk out or quit.

"We're hoping that people will stay on for the safety of everyone, hold on to their jobs and stick it out as they've been doing heroically now for God knows how long," Young said. 

At the Nebraska State Penitentiary, Chipman said he has been told there are 72 vacant positions just for corporals. 

If you add in all the other people who are going to leave because they're not going to get a raise the next two years, he said, the National Guard will eventually have to be called in.

"And that's our fear, that not only will the National Guard be put in but that somebody will get hurt and killed, whether it be one of my staff, an inmate or the general public," Chipman said.

The union made a counteroffer later Friday to Gov. Pete Ricketts -- a 3.5 percent raise for each of the next two fiscal years and an increase in the amount the state pays toward health insurance.

He said he hopes Ricketts will fix the issue before it goes any further. 

"But there's already a lot of damage being done just in the release of this," he said. "We need to get this crisis fixed immediately. ... We need to address people staying."

Ricketts will have to decide, Chipman said, if he wants to help or let this "run its terrible course." 

To ignore the critical pay issues would be dangerous, he said.  

"These are people's lives. ... You can't choose to keep ignoring it. It's getting worse," he said. 

Ricketts' spokesman, Taylor Gage, responded: “The CIR found that Nebraska treats its Corrections teammates more favorably than our comparable states. Still, we value our teammates and are willing to sit down and continue to talk to the union.”

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With the results from the array, the commission decided not to decrease minimum pay in any of the job classifications, the ruling said. It could have, for example, reduced the minimum pay for corporals to $15.84 per hour but kept it at Nebraska's current pay of $18.44 per hour, to a maximum of $25.27 per hour. 

The reasons for that decision, the ruling said, is that the Nebraska department moves people up the pay scale "very slowly, if at all." About 85 percent of corporals, and those throughout the bargaining unit, are paid at the minimum hourly rate. 

Also, "the evidence is persuasive that morale and longevity in the bargaining unit is a significant concern, and adding to this condition could not serve the people of Nebraska well," the ruling said. 

The state admitted no wages should be decreased as a result of the findings in the case, the order said. 

At a hearing Wednesday on a bill (LB133) introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks that would ensure parole-ready inmates would receive needed programming, Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Lathrop told prisons Director Scott Frakes he was "completely frustrated" with the department of Corrections' pay scale. 

"One bad decision from the CIR and you are going to have a crisis, beyond the one that I think that you're dealing with already," Lathrop said. 

Lathrop told Frakes he appreciated the director has to come to the Legislature with the "party line, but that's not going to get it done. We're not paying the guards enough, we're not paying the programmers enough."

Frakes told the committee he's not the "keeper of compensation."

He also said he would agree that if the department had a merit and progression pay scale it would be beneficial. 

"Why wasn't that part of the ask?" Lathrop said. 

"Because that's not my ask. That's part of the compensation process. It's part of the negotiation process. I influence it, but I don't sit at the table and I don't direct that," Frakes said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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