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Correctional staff at lowest levels, says union president


Special to The Press

Lehigh County commissioners approved additional extensions to the temporary wage increase for certain employees with the Department of Corrections, Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation, as well as within the 911 Communication Center at their July 26 meeting.

Before the vote, the board heard directly from correctional officers about their realities and the needs they say need be addressed before the situation worsens.

Director of Corrections Janine Donate sent a letter to County Executive Phillips Armstrong, dated June 28, asking to continue the temporary compensation of $120, for 40 hours worked in a week, applicable to all bargaining unit staff and uniformed supervisors.

This is a decrease from the $200 which was offered in 2022, under similar conditions.

Jim Irwin, union president representing correctional officers, took to the microphone for input, addressing commissioners.

“Correctional officers are right now the lowest number of correctional officers that we’ve had,” Irwin said. “We have 135 current officers but at the end of the month, we will probably be down to 130.

“Just this month, we’ve had nine leave.”

Irwin said the lack of sufficient correctional officers has led to both mandatory and volunteered overtime.

“This weekend, Friday to Sunday, we had 48 mandatory overtimes,” Irwin said. “That’s not including the people who volunteered for overtime.

“That’s 48 people, Friday to Sunday, who were forced to stay there.

“Right now, they are being mandated, each and everyone of them, almost twice a week.”

Irwin concluded by saying these are the lowest numbers since the COVID-19 Pandemic and hoped this issue would continue to be examined by the board and Donato.

Irwin’s views were backed by a correctional officer attending virtually, identified solely as “Chad.”

“It’s crazy how, like Jim said, we are closing different units, cutting staff here; cutting positions here, we’re cutting positions there,” Chad said. “It’s a safety issue for inmates, for staff and we can turn around and say this compensation isn’t working so let’s cut. That’s not the answer.”

The temporary wage increase covers the period of July 16 to Oct. 13.

PRESS PHOTO BY MARIEKE ANDRONACHE Union representative for Corrections Officers James Irwin raises concerns about staffing needs to Lehigh County Commissioners July 26.