Government & Politics

Union says some Kansas prison workers forced to work 16-hour shifts

The Kansas Organization of State Employees has received several reports that some correctional officers responsible for security would work 16-hour shifts at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
The Kansas Organization of State Employees has received several reports that some correctional officers responsible for security would work 16-hour shifts at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.

A Kansas workers union said Friday that some employees at one of the state’s largest prisons are being forced to work 16-hour shifts as the facility deals with a staffing shortage and other issues.

The Kansas Organization of State Employees said in an email that a 16-hour shift violates an agreement that “no employee shall be mandated to work more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period.”

The union said a complaint has been filed with the Kansas Department of Corrections.

A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections said in an email that the agency “has no comment at this time on what is a personnel matter.”

Union executive director Robert Choromanski said the complaint was made after he received reports that some correctional officers responsible for security would work 16-hour shifts at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.

He said the union had received around eight complaints.

“Since our officers at El Dorado are already working 12-hour shifts, to be told to work an additional four hours of shifts on that Friday, whatever, the last day of their week, for 16 hours, that’s a violation of the memorandum of agreement,” he said.

In June, some inmates refused for several hours to return to their cell blocks at El Dorado. And this week, an inmate was stabbed in a prison fight.

Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, said the department has a “statutory obligation” to ensure that no one is working more than a 12-hour shift.

“And I think in most cases, even that is excessive for a job like corrections officer,” Claeys said. “These folks are under tremendous pressure. We’re already seeing incidents of violence, escapes. These aren’t things that were in the news a year ago, but we’re seeing them now and there’s clearly a problem that needs to be solved.”

As of July 5, El Dorado had 94 staff vacancies, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Claeys said 16-hour shifts could mean the state loses more prison workers.

“That’s the problem, this is an endless cycle,” he said. “We’re paying overtime rates, which depletes the amount of money to be able to pay for new employees, and the cycle just keeps growing and growing and growing until you get to the point where you just simply don’t have the personnel available to create the safe environments.”

Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood acknowledged in an interview last week that the agency was having a harder time than in the past attracting applicants.

Choromanski said the move from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts was “fine” because of the work agreement. But moving to a 16-hour shift “is a total no-no,” he said.

“I’ve got a lot of complaints and emails from people saying, ‘We can’t work 16-hour days. It’s impossible,’ ” Choromanski said.

The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman and Stan Finger contributed to this report.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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