- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nearly three months after a deadly Nebraska prison riot, corrections officers and caseworkers are still working 12-hour emergency shifts at the facility, a state union official said Wednesday.

The union filed a complaint July 29 against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, accusing administrators of violating a state labor contract by refusing to negotiate the longer shifts, which were imposed after an inmate revolt at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in southeast Nebraska. Prison employees usually work eight-hour shifts.

“We maintain that they need to sit down and negotiate how they’re going to do this,” said Mike Marvin, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees.

The contract allows administrators to change employee schedules during an emergency, but Marvin said the continued shifts should be subject to negotiation.

Two inmates died in the May 10 riot, which left two guards and four inmates injured. An investigative report released in June concluded that the riot started after too many prisoners were allowed to leave their cells at once to get medication while the prison was at minimum staffing levels. Staff members lost control of the situation in less than 20 minutes.

The prison has remained on lockdown ever since, with restrictions on inmate movement and 12-hour work shifts for officers and caseworkers. The emergency shifts were initially required five days a week, but were reduced to four in late May.

The Nebraska Association of Public Employees allowed the 12-hour shifts to continue for several weeks because the prison needed to address the emergency, according to the union’s executive director, Mike Marvin. Marvin raised concerns about the shifts in a June 1 email to corrections director Scott Frakes and met with him the following day, according to the complaint.

Marvin said he sent Frakes a union proposal for the shifts in mid-June, but it was rejected. Marvin said Frakes, who has promised to work with employees to improve the department’s work culture, told him the department needed more time to hire employees at the Tecumseh prison to ease a staffing shortage. That facility has the highest employee turnover rate within the state prison system, and officers on average are less experienced.

Marvin said the union isn’t asking the department to revert back to eight-hour shifts immediately, but to negotiate when the longer shifts start and stop and when prison employees receive their third day off each week. The longer shifts were also imposed without taking seniority into account, he said.

The complaint was filed with the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations, which rules on state labor disputes.

Corrections spokesman James Foster said the department doesn’t comment on legal proceedings. He also said the prison has not yet shifted back to normal operations.

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