Frustration and upset followed the announcement of the ‘Critical Vacancy Add-on Pilot Program’ by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
The outrage stemmed from the exclusion of the Wisconsin State Secure Program Facility (previously known as the Boscobel Supermax) in the $5 raise. Republican Representative Travis Tranel issued a statement in response to the exclusion Thursday morning following the announcement.
“Less than three weeks ago, I toured our prisons in both Prairie du Chien and Boscobel with Gov. Evers’ Secretary-Designee Carr. We saw the fine work being done by our officers and also spoke at length about the need to increase compensation for all DOC employees.”
The Critical Vacancy Add-On Pilot Program is explained by the DOC to be a program to “address severe vacancy issues in six of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) institutions.” Those include Columbia Correctional Institution, Dodge Correctional Institution, Green Bay Correctional Institution, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools, Taycheedah Correctional Institution and Waupun Correctional Institution. The raise is also only for correctional officers, correctional sergeants, youth counselors and youth counselor advanced.
“It’s very frustrating,” Tranel said. “From an administration that is all about equality and workers getting treated the same, for the guards at Boscobel to be treated differently because they’re doing a good job and keeping staff, it’s not right. The staff at Boscobel is pissed. Guards called me mad as hell and I don’t blame them. I am sure morale is very low today.”
The program took effect on April 28 and is scheduled to run through July 20, 2020. However, the DOC notes that it can be “continued, extended or modified based on a review of operational needs and effectiveness.”
Tranel continued to express his frustrations with the move verbally and in his press release noting, “I am beyond disappointed to learn that DOC has somehow come to the conclusion that it is a good idea to give every single maximum security prison in the state a $5 raise, but yet, exclude Boscobel. Secretary Carr was in Boscobel with me. He saw the employees’ dedication and commitment first hand.”
The union that supports the workers at the WSPF also released a comment expressing their disappointment in the new program.
“The Department of Corrections unveiled a Critical Vacancy Add-On Pilot Program - a plan to cherry-pick DOC employee raises. The Pilot Program selects winners and losers among devoted DOC staff. This cannot stand! All Wisconsin correctional officers and staff deserve across-the-board raises. We will not settle until the Evers administration confers with employees and actually addresses the crisis we face,” the release noted. “We need your help to send the Evers administration the message that WE ARE WORTH MORE! After consulting Council 32 Department of Corrections staff, we encourage all DOC employees to immediately submit a transfer to every institution slated for the wage increases (Columbia Correctional Institute, Dodge Correctional Institute, Green Bay Correctional Institute, Lincoln Hills & Copper Lake Schools, Taycheedah Correctional Institute, and Waupun Correctional Institute). The DOC is required to make six calls for each employee transfer request. We will storm DOC with phone calls and demand the attention of the people making decisions without consulting employees. We encourage all members AND non-members to make transfer requests so that DOC can feel the full force of affected employees. By submitting a transfer, employees are not required to accept it. Employees are not subject to disciplinary action as a result of requesting a transfer. If employees are unsure about how to submit a transfer request, they may ask the Human Resources Department. We ask that if employees choose to refuse their offered transfer, they should let DOC staff know that employees are worth more, and that the Evers administration should immediately extend the raise offer to all employees, rather than a select few. Thank you for your dedicated service to our state. Together we will stand up for what we deserve and hold those in power accountable. For further information, please contact your Local President.”
Senator Howard Marklein and Tranel wrote a letter “on behalf of 500 Correctional Officers who reside in the 49th and 17th Districts, many of whom work at the Boscobel Prison,” asking Secretary-Designee Carr to “reconsider excluding Boscobel from the pilot-program to address vacancies in the Wisconsin Correctional System.”
In the letter they notes “Your decision has created a strong incentive for Correctional Officers to leave the Boscobel Prison, if they are able. You have also placed the Boscobel Prison on un-even ground for recruitment. You are asking Correctional Officers to do the same, stressful job for far less money. Officers at other prisons have the potential to make $10,000 MORE per year with this raise.”
In the frequently asked questions sheet distributed to the Fennimore Times from the DOC Secretary Kevin Carr, the DOC attempted to answer why the specific institutions were chosen.
“Many DOC institutions are facing challenges related to staff vacancies. Making the determination for this pilot was based on multiple factors. The DOC analyzed criteria including security needs, vacancy rates, trends on recruitment and retention and inmate population and environmental factors.”
For Tranel however, this reasoning is unacceptable.
“The employees in Boscobel are dealing with the exact same prison population as these other maximum security institutions: murderers, rapists, gang members, drug dealers-the worst of the worst. To value their work as less than someone else who is doing the exact same job is reckless and irresponsible. It certainly doesn’t seem equitable,” Tranel said. “The fact that Boscobel has a low turnover rate and a low vacancy rate should be rewarded-not punished. The DOC employees I have spoken with in Boscobel feel slighted, abused, and undervalued. I don’t blame them.”
The DOC notes that the vacancies are a culmination of several reasons, such has long periods of mandatory overtime affecting employee morale, individuals signaling their intent to retire or transfer, low unemployment rate, and the significant pay lag for the DOC compared to neighboring states.
“Something I’d like to know is if they have that kind of money, why did they not increase wages before? Why now?” Tranel questioned.
The DOC noted in a document released by Secretary Carr, “The DOC conducted an extensive analysis of the fiscal impact of this Pilot Program and therefore, intends to absorb the cost of the add-on or the length of the pilot at the adult facilities. Due to the complexity of the method in which the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake schools budget is calculated, it is expected the cost to house juveniles will increase slightly to off-set the cost of the add-on for LHS/CLS.”
One problem of note that both Tranel and Senator Howard Marklein touched on was the change of policy for transfers.
The new policy states that frequency and probationary period limitations will be temporarily suspended to allow employees in the named classifications at other locations the opportunity to transfer to one of the identified institutions.
“Data shoes very few transfers to Boscobel,” Marklein noted. “Most of the transfers are outgoing and this is just going to increase those.”
The Times reached out to the DOC for comment on the matter and others surrounding the pay exclusion, however no response was available by press time.
The Senator expressed feelings in line with Tranel, stating he sees the move as “incredibly arbitrary and unfair,” to the staff at the WSPF who “have done a good job despite tough working conditions. I spent one night in the prison talking to everyone. I learned the success they have in retaining staff is communication and respect for each other. I fear this will have a negative effect.”