“Daily we are asked to do more with less. Daily we are asked to risk our own life, safety, and mental health to supervise a population that does not want us here. Add COVID, and the task is now doubled if not tripled in demand for every officer here. Yet there are now fewer of us staffing the same facilities than before.”
This is just one of the hundreds of powerful responses VSEA Corrections Officers (COs) submitted to their union when asked to provide an honest account of what it’s been like working in a Vermont prison during the pandemic and also how they feel about the Scott Administration ending their “hazard pay.”
On November 2, VSEA’s Corrections Unit launched a campaign to get hazard pay reinstated, using COs’ firsthand written accounts to help them argue that the additional pay for COs and other essential workers should never have ended.
The large number of COs who responded to VSEA’s request means VSEA will be able to send a new and different packet of testimonials to Governor Scott every week for the next five weeks. On average, VSEA estimates that the Governor will be reading ten, powerful testimonials every day!
VSEA invites members and retirees to help VSEA’s COs get their hazard pay reinstated by sharing these worker stories with your colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors. You can also call the Governor’s Office and lobby our local lawmakers to step up.
Members are urged to check VSEA.org weekly to view the latest batch of VSEA Corrections Unit members’ testimonials being sent to the Governor and to receive campaign updates. Thanks!
Excerpts from the fifth batch of CO testimonials that were sent Monday, November 30 to the State:
“Everyone is burned out, employees and inmates alike, and there’s no end in sight to the extra duties and restrictions. Staffing is critically short, and the facility is barely running in a safe manner. Exhausted staff, unsafe working conditions, and staff quitting in droves. Morale is in the basement, with no acknowledgment from anyone in the chain of command about our extra efforts. And no hazard pay. This while Central Office staff work from home with no masks, comfy as could be, just dumping and piling extra work on the facilities.”
“Lately, my own average overtime has been nearly 16-20 hours of a week; or for those who work normal eight-hour days, that is like working seven days straight! And this is an average, some weeks only 12 hours, some more than 20 hours! I rarely get either quality or any real quantity of time with my family. Whenever I am home, I am attempting to get enough sleep so that I can do it all again.”
“The need to enforce rules related to COVID-19 among the inmate population has resulted in more agitated behavior among inmates and adds to the stress of the work environment. Enforcement of COVID-19 rules has also impacted staff safety, as there has been at least one assault on staff at the facility during routine inmate temperature checks. Work has become more difficult due to the additional time needed for COVID-19 related tasks and paperwork, and the need to frequently update and be briefed on new rules.”
Excerpts from the fourth batch of CO testimonials that were sent Monday, November 23 to the State:
“My daughter is higher risk due to being born prematurely. As a result of the Covid-19 virus, I have not been able to enter my home or hug my wife or daughter in over six months now. I do not want to jeopardize their well-being, so I have been living in a camper since we (DOC Staff) had to move out of the hotel. This has added additional stress and anxiety on to both myself and my family in an already stressful time, which makes work more difficult.”
“My young children are very worried about my safety, and I need to spend extra time with them trying to comfort them. Because of concerns about exposure at work, I’ve also avoided direct contact with my elderly parents this year, which is a big personal hardship. I worry that if I become sick at work I will be unable to take care of my children, and that has caused many sleepless nights for me. The extra overtime I’m working since the start of the pandemic also creates additional stresses finding babysitters for my children, as well as impacting my ability to be able to take part in their school activities and pick them up from school, which is a daily worry now.”
“I have gone months without seeing my aging parents in fear that contact with me might kill them. I have watched as my colleagues’ relationships have fallen apart around me and the fallout from that. Fathers that can’t hold their newborns or go to their first child’s doctor’s appointments. This has been a tragic event made even more tragic by being placed on the front lines with ever-increasing uncertainty.”
Excerpts from the third batch of CO testimonials that were sent Monday, November 16 to the State:
“At one point, several officers were sharing one gown that was taped together. Now, we have several gowns but we have to dunk them in bleach water after each use. I always go home wondering if I was safe enough, as some of the officers in my facility contracted COVID, and, in some cases, gave it to their family.”
“At our facility, used (decommissioned) inmate uniforms were converted into face masks. I attempted to use one and could not make it work. I went to an N95 style mask and was ridiculed by staff and inmates alike because ‘I can’t get those, why should you be allowed to wear one?’ Many of us, myself included, suffered health issues at first during those initial transitions. I ended up in the emergency room with a serious sinus infection cause by wearing a mask 8 to 12 hours a day and not getting enough rehydration. The infection directly caused a migraine requiring intravenous medication at the ER and lasted nearly two weeks! I was ordered out of work directly because I could not comply with COVID protocols (wearing a mask, having a fever, etc.) and was denied coverage under the initial COVID policies because I tested negative for COVID. My doctors believed my condition was a result of required PPE usage, but I was not covered by the same policies that required the PPE… that is unjust!”
“At the beginning, I spent two weeks in a hotel to protect my family. I wore a mask in 90′ temps inside our facility for 8 to 16 hours straight. Then there was having updated policies every week and having to work in a more volatile work environment than normal, all while trying to enforce mask and social distancing rules. Then there is the use of trash bags as PPE.”
Excerpts from the second batch of CO testimonials that were sent Friday, November 6 to the State:
“Every day my co-workers and I suit up and expose ourselves to the unknown, and to not get hazard pay is a slap in the face. We are risking our lives and the people we live with lives. To not get any kind of extra pay for our hard work is terrible. We’ve gone above and beyond cleaning and bleaching our facility to keep it safe from an outbreak and there’s no reward. We’re getting swamped from OT because we have co-workers calling out because they’re mentally drained. We have no morale in the facility. Giving us our hazard pay back would give us an incentive and that morale boost that our job well done isn’t going unnoticed.”
“I have been at my facility for 13 years now, and I have NEVER seen the staff morale so low. Staff are struggling with the added stress that Covid brings to the table, staff are becoming demoralized at an alarming rate which leads to depression, increased alcohol consumption as well as serious suicidal ideations. As a steward for the VSEA I speak to a lot of staff members about this throughout my normal shifts and the feeling is that Correctional Officers have ZERO support from our representatives, ZERO support from the general public and definitely ZERO support from the media.
“Staffing within the DOC was insufficient prior to COVID, now the reality exists that there are fewer people to complete the necessary tasks DAILY! Right now, our facility is near crisis staffing levels. Yet, many of us show up regularly to remain faithful to our oaths. Daily the expectations given to us change. Daily we are asked to do more with less. Daily we are asked to risk our own life, safety, and mental health to supervise a population that does not want us here. Add COVID, and the task is now doubled if not tripled in demand for every officer here. Yet there are now fewer of us staffing the same facilities than before. As a profession, corrections exacts a high toll on a person. Constant stress, personal risk, and mental fatigue lead to some of this nation’s highest instances of substance abuse, depression, divorce, and chronic health conditions. Add COVID and it is all intensified.”
Excerpts from the first batch of CO testimonials that were sent Friday, October 30 to the Governor:
“My daughter is very high risk. She has a genetic disorder that less than 10 people in the world have. She is number 9, to be exact. If she was to get COVID, she would literally die. I have had to take time away from my family for almost a month because COVID was in my facility. Every day I am scared to death of bringing this home to her.”
“For a long period of time the entire facility was locked down, the inmates were on edge and I was working overtime four to five days a week, and my kids are very young so they had no idea why I was home so little. Since COVID, working in DOC has been horrible and the stress carries over to my home life, and when there was COVID identified at our facility the state chose then to take away the hazard pay. This was an extra hard slap in the face.”
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