Corrections chief rejects furloughs, citing jail safety

Metro Corrections officers won’t be required to take unpaid furlough days to help offset Louisville’s budget deficit, prompting complaints and a possible legal challenge from unions whose members are being furloughed.

Corrections Director Mark Bolton said today that he decided he could not allow his 400 employees to take furlough days and still run the city’s jail safely.

He said he is talking with union officials and his staff about other ways to trim the budget, even though he said he does not know exactly how much money he needs to save.

City officials were unable to say how much the corrections furloughs would have saved.

Last month Mayor Jerry Abramson imposed four unpaid furlough days for all employees, except police and firefighters, as part of a plan to eliminate a projected $20 million budget deficit for this fiscal year. The furloughs were to save an estimated $2.9 million.

Most employees — the city has a total work force of about 6,000 — were forced to take furlough days on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. The other scheduled days are April 3, during the Jefferson County public schools’ spring break, and May 1, Kentucky Oaks Day.

But some departments, such as corrections, must stagger time off to ensure that essential services are covered.

Bolton, who has been in charge of corrections for about a month, said that he looked at the furlough plan and determined it wasn’t feasible.

“Operationally, we are in a 24/7 environment that is much more complex,” Bolton said. “It doesn’t make operational sense to furlough someone when we have to backfill them with overtime.”

Teamsters director Denny Norris, whose union represents Emergency Medical Service workers and 911 dispatchers, said those employees are just as important to public safety and shouldn’t be furloughed. The union also represents city employees in sanitation and public works and civilian employees in the police and corrections departments.

“They’re telling us that corrections is essential and EMS are not essential,” Norris said. “The mayor promised everyone would share. That’s not true. Hopefully, we’ll be in circuit court” tomorrow.

He said Teamsters officials plan to challenge the furloughs in court and file unfair labor practice and wage and hour complaints.

“We did everything we could do to cooperate, and all we got was the shaft,” Norris said.

EMS employees have already begun taking their furlough days, said Dr. Neal Richmond, director of the service. Each of the 226 personnel have already lost a little more than one full day of pay and are expected to complete all four days by Feb. 13.

Norris said one aim of the legal challenge will be to get back pay for those employees.

Members of AFSCME, which represents about 1,000 employees of the zoo, parks, animal control, the libraries and others, are exploring their options on how to challenge the furlough program, said Greg Frazier, president of Local 2629.

AFSCME employees have five contracts with the city, Frazier said, and at least two of those groups have filed grievances with their departments.

Chad Carlton, an Abramson spokesman, said part of the problem with the corrections furloughs is that employees are contending that a seniority clause in the contract must be enforced. That provision would cause the newest employees to be furloughed for more days, while protecting senior employees. By majority vote, EMS employees agreed to waive that same clause in their contract.

“We’re saying to folks at the bottom rung: ‘That’s unfair and it’s not going to happen,'” Carlton said.

Bolton said he will hold planning sessions with employees to listen to their ideas about how to cut costs without resorting to furloughs.

Two things have been decided — streamlining the training program so recruits will be in class only 32 hours a week and four furlough days for all probationary officers.

Tony Harris, president of corrections officers’ Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 77, said it will file a department grievance to try to block furloughs for the 35 people still on probation.

Harris said the union hopes to play a role in deciding where the other cuts will be made.

“Everything is on the table,” Bolton said.
source: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20090107/NEWS01/90107036/-1/rss

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