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Labor fight threatens inmate health care – USA TODAY

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WASHINGTON — A bitter labor dispute pitting unionized civilian staffers on the federal Bureau of Prisons’ medical amenities towards uniformed members of the U.S. Public Health Service is threatening to worsen already important staffing shortages inside the huge jail system, officers stated.

The little-observed fight, which questions whether or not the almost 900 Public Health Service (PHS) members are entitled to the identical seniority rights as their union colleagues for things like shift assignments and time without work, has some uniform members discussing an exodus from the jail system the place present staffing shortages are at “crisis” levels in some establishments, in accordance with a current Justice Department inner evaluation.

“If the BOP continues to treat officers as second class citizens and employees, they may have even greater staffing problems than they can imagine,” said James Currie, executive director of the health service’s  Commissioned Officers Association. “I can see a gradual…mass exodus from BOP to different businesses and departments of the federal authorities.”

Federal jail officers even have expressed an analogous worry, warning in current arguments before the Federal Labor Relations Authority that uniform nursers “would likely” leave en mass if it decided against the PHS in a Kentucky dispute.

In a series of labor challenges, health service members have asserted that their treatment has amounted to discrimination because of their affiliation with the uniform services.

The PHS, one of the nation’s seven uniform services, provides health care assistance to more than two dozen agencies across the federal government, including the federal prison system.

Late last month, the Justice Department’s inspector general found persistent staffing shortages that left some prison medical facilities with vacancy rates of 40% or higher. Throughout the prison system, which serves more than 170,000 inmates, there were 656 medical staff vacancies. The aging inmate population has exacerbated the staffing gaps in recent years, as the government has been unable to compete with the private sector for medical professionals who are often paid much more outside of government.

The labor battle, meanwhile, has added even more to the internal strain where disputes have played out in a number of states, including Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. In some places, the tension is so high that union and uniform staffers do not sit together during lunch or other shift breaks.

A stream of internal emails obtained by USA TODAY outlines a tangle of disputes involving prison health care workers, including allegations of attempts at union busting, punitive overtime assignments and basic confusion over work assignments.

E.O. Young, president of the National Council of Prison Locals union, said troubles have been brewing for “years.”

Instead of deploying PHS staffers to places of biggest want, Young stated the uniform members typically have been allowed to maneuver to adequately-staffed amenities, prompting disputes over things like shift and depart time.

“I’ve never been critical of the public health system and the service it provides,” Young said. “It’s simply that in some locations, they’ve been over-used. There has been plenty of rivalry.”

PHS spokeswoman Kate Migliaccio declined remark.

But Currie challenged Young’s assertions, saying that “any job that is filled within the Bureau of Prisons by a PHS officer is a job where there is great need.”

“This is all about union aggressiveness towards members of a uniformed service who simply need to be handled pretty and equitably by the BOP,” Currie stated. “Why should all civilian BOP employees be given seniority over all uniformed officers who work for BOP just because they are represented by a union which PHS officers are not allowed to join, even if they wanted to?”

A written statement issued by the prison bureau acknowledged “staffing challenges at choose places.”

“And we are working to resolve those,” according to the statement. “The BOP is pleased with its workforce of health care suppliers. Our civil servants and PHS employees have an extended custom of working collectively to ship high quality health care to our inmate inhabitants.”

The assertion didn’t particularly tackle the labor dispute. But in an October determination by the Federal Labor Relations Authority that went towards the PHS nurses at a Kentucky federal jail, the authority famous that federal jail officers raised the dire risk that such a unfavourable determination “would doubtless end in a mass exodus” of uniform nurses.

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