Tentative contract raises pay, returns 'roll call' to Michigan corrections officers

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Michigan's corrections officers have ratified a tentative agreement with the Michigan Department of Corrections, the union announced.

Among the changes to come, if the contract goes into effect, is the return of pre-shift "roll call" meetings.

The 3,451 votes cast represent 63 percent of the membership of the Michigan Corrections Organization, which it says is the highest percentage to participate in a contract vote.

The vote was handled electronically. While 57 ballots were spoiled, 3,188 people voted yes, and 206 voted no, meaning 92% of those who participated voted yes.

Ultimately, the new contract must be approved by Michigan's Civil Service Commission, which according to its website meets next on Dec. 11.

The new contract was approved in a landslide by employees at all 31 prison facilities, according to a bulletin from the union.

Corrections officers in Michigan, particularly those who work in a custody role with inmates, suffer elevated rates of PTSD and anxiety, which can manifest in problems such as alcoholism and even suicide, with at least three deaths by suicide among employees in 2019.

Two studies in the last four years, one conducted by the union in 2016, the other by the department of corrections in 2019, affirm what leaders on both sides call a "crisis" in employee mental health.

Cary Johnson, a corrections officer at the Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, has been outspoken about that crisis and what she calls "corrections fatigue" among her colleagues.

Johnson told The News months ago that "if I had a magic wand, I’d bring back roll call. We used to have it, but now we just wander in randomly to our assignments. It was a time where our supervisors would have us all in one room, tell us what happened in the shift prior to ours. We were able to check in and congregate with each other."

More:Michigan Corrections addresses 'crisis' in employee mental health

Roll call used to be 12 minutes. Then six. It was eliminated in 2009. Without it, corrections officer Steve Hammond said, employees kind of roll in one-by-one, and staffers “never know what was going on.”

Supervisors would look over officers’ outfits. And before starting a shift, they’d learn what had happened the previous shift.

Bringing roll call back, MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said at the time, "would cost about $12 million annually."

In a statement on the tentative agreement, Bryon Osborn, president of the corrections union, said "we've known since 2009, when pre-shift was eliminated, that there would be information not shared and morale would suffer. I'm pleased we were able to negotiate its return."

"In the MDOC's recent wellness study, members said they need more supportive working environments, which reinforced the need for more communication. Pre-shift address those issues," Osborn said.

The corrections union's statement says pre-shift meetings "were a vital time for officers to receive pertinent information from the previous 24 hours and know what they're walking into."

If the contract is approved, six-minute pre-shift meetings would return in October 2020. Employees would be paid straight time for the meetings. 

October 2020 is also when a 2% wage hike would go into effect, followed by 1% in April 2021, another 2% in October 2021, and 1% in April 2022.

The union describes the tentative agreement as "a step in the right direction," one that "reclaims a piece of what we've lost" in past contracts. 

Otherwise, the new contract does not raise healthcare deductibles or copays. Massage therapy would be covered, and the benefit cap for "chemical dependency outpatient services," or addiction treatment, will be lifted. 

All told, the Michigan Department of Corrections has 11,838 employees, or 26% of the state of Michigan's 45,480 member workforce.