Teamsters file wage-theft complaint on behalf of Florida prison guards

Oct 13, 2011

The following article was published in The Florida Current on October 13, 2011: 

Teamsters file theft complaint on behalf of prison guards

By Gray Rohrer

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed a third-party complaint Thursday with the U.S. Department of Labor on behalf of Florida prison guards, whom it claims are not being paid for work before and after their official shifts begin and end.

Officer Aaron Cobb, a guard at the Union Correctional Institution, said that waiting in line to be screened and to pick up equipment entering and exiting the prison can take up to 50 minutes each day, which he is not compensated for by the Department of Corrections.

“It’s getting tougher on everybody but we haven’t had a raise in seven years, and then they take 3 percent on top of that and put it towards our retirement: It’s just getting really hard,” Cobb said. “On top of that, taking a little bit every day is killing us.”

The Teamsters helped file the complaint, but also asked Gov. Rick Scott to order the DOC to begin paying for wait time immediately. They claim the practice is endemic throughout the department.

“We have reason to believe this is widespread throughout the state,” said Michael Filler, director of the Teamsters’ public service division.

Filler estimated that as many as 200 hours of work per year go per employee uncompensated in some cases, and the practice has gone on for the past two years.

The move comes the week before a crucial DOC vote on union representation. DOC guards are represented by the Police Benevolent Association. Filler said the complaint was not an attempt to curry favor with the prison guards and that the Teamsters will follow through on the complaint regardless of outcome of the vote, but he did criticize the PBA for not doing enough for the workers.

“We think if [the guards] are interested in aggressive workplace representation in all facets, that we offer that alternative. The current police association hasn’t taken up this issue on uncompensated overtime, they were ineffective in the last seven years in getting any pay increases, they were off guard through changes in the retirement system,” Filler said.

For their part, the PBA thinks the complaint is a mere stunt by the Teamsters that won’t go anywhere.

“Obviously this is electioneering-type posturing on their [the Teamsters] part,” PBA spokesman Matt Puckett said.

Puckett said the U.S. Supreme Court has already determined in previous cases that states have sovereign immunity when it comes to wait times ahead of a shift, and that the PBA has already filed complaints with the DOC to ensure guards aren’t disciplined for being late do to wait times before a shift begins. He also noted that the PBA won an important decision striking down the state’s attempts to privatize several South Florida prisons.

“No,” Puckett responded when asked whether  the Teamsters’ complaint would have been filed if the election weren’t next week. “We’ve had some stories written about us with the lawsuit. They’ve got their share of problems, they’re hemorrhaging members,” Puckett said.

Ballots for the union vote go out next week to corrections and probation officers, but won’t be tallied until November..

Find this article here: