The 2014 legislative session is at the point when people do whatever they can to call attention to what appear to be lost causes.
Frustrated state correctional officers, along with Teamsters Union representatives, held a news conference and called on lawmakers Tuesday to raise their pay to levels equal with other state law enforcement officers such as state troopers, FDLE agents and game wardens. That would cost about $30 million, Teamsters say, and it's affordable in a year when the state has a projected $1 billion surplus.
Teamsters agent Les Cantrell said Gov. Rick Scott has not done enough to help the officers. "We have not seen the support from him," said Cantrell, whose union replaced the Florida Police Benevolent Association as bargaining agent for guards. "I don't get the message from the governor that he is looking out for (them)."
Cantrell said the typical correctional officer is 42 years old with a spouse and children. "These are people with families. They cannot go on making what they're making and survive," he said. Standing behind him, a half-dozen correctional officers wore black and yellow T-shirts that said: "Equal pay for equal risk."
Corrections Sgt. Thomas Johnson, 39, has worked for the state for 13 years and is paid $36,000 a year at Marion Correctional in Ocala, where is said morale suffers because of low pay, and that turnover remains rampant as officers find better-paying jobs at county jails. Because staff vacancies create huge gaps in security, Johnson said he and others volunteer to work 12-hour shifts, on occasion for four and five consecutive days.
"The fatigue factor starts to set in. Are you at the same level of alertness? Absolutely not," Johnson said.
The Teamsters' chief lobbyist, Ron Silver, who served three decades as a Democratic legislator, called the Legislature's treatment of correctional officers "intolerable, unjust and it might even be criminal."
UPDATE: Corrections Secretary Mike Crews issued this statement Tuesday: "Our correctional and probation officers put their lives on the line every day to keep Florida families safe, and nothing is more important to me than their safety and well-being. That's why our main priority continues to be securing more than 11 million in funding to hire more than 230 additional officers to enhance the safety and improve the work environment for all of our officers."