The plans currently in development for a new prison in Lansing that would put two prisoners to a cell are of concern to the union that represents the correctional officers that would work there.
“The biggest concern with the double bunking is that, because of the crises and our staff shortages that we currently have at Lansing and other facilities statewide, is that it would put additional pressure on our hardworking and understaffed correctional officers and correctional counselors to be able to maintain a semblance of order and keep things under control,” said Kansas Organization of State Employees Executive Director Robert Choromanski. “Anytime you put more inmates in a highly charged situation, with not enough adequate staff, you’re basically compromising safety.”
The state is looking to upgrade its Civil War era facility to a more modern prison. At least one lawmaker, Republican J.R. Claeys of Salina has called for a process where other cities would be allowed to bid on the facility. Also on the drawing board for the state is a proposal to rebuild and privatize the state mental hospital at Osawatomie.
“Secretary Tim Keck of the Department of Aging and Disability Services has been pushing really hard,” said Choromanski. “It seemed like he only had one bidder. That’s Correct Care Solutions that has been trying to win over Legislative approval to build a brand new state hospital at Osawatomie. This is a Tennessee-based company. The problem with privatization and private hospitals is that they are for profit. When they are for-profit companies, all they
are looking for is how to maximize their profit for their shareholders. The question is whether or not patient safety will
be paramount. That’s a big concern of ours. When privatization happens, it will drive out a number of people that are in our bargaining unit to become private employees. As a private employee, you are at will.”
The union is also concerned for those employees who have taken raises in exchange for losing their status as classified employees.
“Even if you go unclassified, you’re still protected by the contract bargaining agreement,” said Choromanski. “However, you don’t have that much as a classified employee. As long as your job title remains the same, in our Memorandum of Agreement, you’re still protected by the bargaining agreement. Unfortunately, by going unclassified, you’re subject to the whims of the administration. They can terminate you for any reason or for no reason whatsoever.”
Initial offers took place last year to begin the process of hammering out a new agreement between the union and the executive branch, but it looks like those negotiations will now likely wait for a new Governor.
“We’re just waiting for a new administration to take power,” said Choromanski. “Once a new Governor gets elected, if he or she is labor friendly then we will revisit that issue again of having them look at negotiating the Memorandum of Agreement. The Legislature plays no role whatsoever in the contract bargaining agreement. That’s done between the executive branch and the union.”
The state was still offering pay increases to those who agree to switch from classified to unclassified status as recently as September.