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Rhode Island Prison Guards Collect Double-Time-and-a-Half during States of Emergency

Rhode Island Prison Guards Collect Double-Time-and-a-Half during States of Emergency

When he declared a state of emergency – as he did multiple times after being elected in 2010 – former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln D. Chafee had more on his mind than just public safety. The governor acknowledged that he was “really aware of the financial ramifications” arising from a 2006 arbitration ruling which requires that, as soon as the emergency is declared, guards who remain working at the state prison be paid at two-and-a-half times their usual wage rate.

So concerned was the governor about the financial implications of declaring a state of emergency that he admitted he usually lagged behind neighboring states when it came to issuing emergency declarations. “Those around the table ... know very well my reticence of declaring a state of emergency because of the financial ramifications,” Chafee said, adding, “We’re working so hard at keeping every department on budget, and to have double-time-and-a-half is a big factor.”

In 2013, the Chafee administration attempted to negotiate a new contract with the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO), the union that represents state prison guards. The governor had hoped to get rid of the costly overtime policy, but apparently was unsuccessful.

“Double-time-and-a-half,” said Chafee. “I’ve never heard of that until I became Governor.”

Indeed, a similar provision does not exist in the contract governing wages for employees of the state’s second-largest user of overtime (behind only RIBCO), the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). When a state of emergency is declared, BHDDH employees who remain on the job are paid at the rate of time-and-a-half their usual wages.

The average Rhode Island prison guard is paid $28.93 an hour. That pay rate jumps dramatically to around $72.50 per hour when double-time-and-a-half takes effect during a state of emergency.

Moreover, under the 2006 arbitration ruling, it is not only prison guards who remain at work during a declared emergency who receive paid overtime. Even guards who are scheduled to work – but get sent home – receive overtime pay, though at the lower rate of “only” time-and-a-half.

In the neighboring state of Massachusetts, by contrast, guards do not receive overtime pay when the governor declares a state of emergency. “Our corrections [employees] do not get any extra pay,” said Alex Zaroulis, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance. “They are considered emergency personnel and when a state of emergency is called, they are on duty with no extra pay.”

According to a recent news report in the Providence Journal, a major blizzard that hit Rhode Island in January 2015 resulted in an estimated $9 million in costs to state and local agencies – including “an additional $400,000 in overtime bills” at the state prison, largely due to double-time-and-a-half paid to corrections employees.




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