Nebraska state prison officials are offering a small retention bonus in an effort to stem the high turnover rate among corrections officers.
According to Omaha, Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes announced on Tuesday that a relatively humble one-time bonus of $500 will be paid to around 1,000 staff members in “high turnover/ high vacancy positions,” including nurses and front-line security workers.
The bonuses are for workers hired before the beginning of 2016 and come as concerns over high turnover rise, particularly in the aftermath of incidents that have sent staff to the hospital with injuries.
Frakes wishes he could give bonuses to all 2,300 of his employees, but felt at this time, the limited bonuses would be the best way to keep the force intact.
“These bonuses are a way to recognize the challenges high turnover presents until we can negotiate a (labor) contract to address compensation needs long term,” he wrote.
DoC officials originally scoffed at giving bonuses with the extra $1.5 million given to them by legislature, opting to allot the funds to provide commuting stipends and a “culture study” of its employees.
Both state lawmakers and the unions represent corrections workers, who have complained that the current steps are insufficient and that changes could not wait.
Nebraska Association of Public Employees executive director Mike Marvin said that while new bonuses are a good step, it was a “token” amount and that more needed to be done.
“I think (Frakes) found out what he was doing wasn’t working, so I think he went back to what the Legislature originally intended,” Marvin said.
Union officials blame the turnover rate on low pay and lack of raises, with the starting wage being only $15.86 per hour, often far less than those who work in county jails and other state detention centers.
Governor Pete Ricketts asked the union last week to begin talks on the staffing problems, which are to take place on Friday.
Ricketts said he anticipates taking further steps when the Corrections Department submits a biennial budget request in September.
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