Contract negotiations between Lexington, jail officers reach standstill amid staffing shortage

Fayette County Detention Center Jail
Posted at 5:30 PM, Dec 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 08:33:46-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Contract negotiations between Lexington government officials and the union which represents officers at the Fayette County Detention Center have reached a standstill, eight months after they began in earnest.

In a petition filed with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet Wednesday, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government said the parties are "deadlocked."

The petition requests that the cabinet initiate mediation of the labor negotiations between LFUCG and the Fraternal Order of Police, Town Branch Lodge #83.

The petition was filed just days after the union's president wrote a letter to Mayor Linda Gorton about what he characterized as a "state of emergency" at the jail.

"Since Thursday, our staffing situation has rapidly deteriorated," the letter, dated December 26, began. "And conditions are not safe for inmates or staff."

Cpl. Michael Harris, the president of FOP, Town Branch Lodge #83, wrote in the letter that he was at the jail for 16 hours on Christmas day. He also included emails between staff members that describe the staffing woes.

In one email, an employee at the jail wrote in all capital letters, "WE ONLY HAVE 17 PEOPLE IN THE BUILDING VERSUS 950 INMATES WITH MASTER CONTROL WATCHING 4 UNITS."

Harris wrote that during the course of collective bargaining negotiations, the union had repeatedly alerted LFUCG that the jail was "quickly getting to the point of being unable to operate."

He claimed that due to the inadequate staffing, four housing units with approximately 400 inmates are entirely unstaffed and that inmates are "roaming around unsupervised."

LFUCG has not disputed that staffing at the jail is a problem.

In its petition, it acknowledged that "while FCDC houses close to a thousand inmates, it currently employs less than 200 staff members."

LFUCG said that the parties did not meet until April 29, 2021, due to the union needing time to prepare for negotiations and because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the parties did meet, LFUCG said both sides agreed that staffing shortages must be addressed and hourly pay for corrections officers should be increased to help lure new candidates.

LFUCG said it offered to immediately increase starting wages for corrections officers "by several dollars per hour, with no employee seeing less than a 7% increase in wages." The union rejected that offer, according to the city.

Although the parties have met since then, LFUCG said they remain deadlocked on issues that include the parties' grievance and discipline procedures.

LFUCG said its latest offer came on December 17, when it proposed to increase starting pay to $20 per hour, a $1,000 retroactive payment, and a $1,000 referral bonus. City officials said the proposal would add $1.5 million to LFUCG's previous offer.

The union did not accept that offer, according to the petition.

FOP, Town Branch Lodge #83 has also appealed to the Kentucky Labor Cabinet filing a complaint in which it accused LFUCG of unfair labor practices.

The complaint alleged that Mayor Gorton provided specific information about the contract negotiations to a jail employee who is not a member of Lodge #83's negotiation team.

It accused the mayor of using an "improper tactic...intended to directly and/or indirectly exert internal pressure through Lodge #83 members, based on misleading information, for union leadership to accept LFUCG's proposals."

The union accused LFUCG of "unlawful conduct" by speaking directly to jail employees rather than exclusively negotiating with the union's negotiation team.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the city denied any wrongdoing.

"We do not believe any of our actions were out of line," Susan Straub said. "We look forward to defending these charges."