USP Thomson union secures 25% retention bonus to help with understaffing

Published: Sep. 19, 2021 at 7:09 PM CDT
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THOMSON, Illinois (KWQC) - The labor union representing USP Thomson AFGE 4070, has secured a 25 percent retention bonus for all eligible staff after one year of employment after two years of lobbying.

“It was a big weight lifted off our shoulders,” says union president Jon Zumkehr.

It’s a move AFGE 4070 argues will help solve understaffing.

“This is a huge win and now we are the only one in the federal bureau of prisons to have the 25 percent retention,” Zumkehr says.

Thomson has struggled with staffing shortages for years. Staff working as nurses and counselors have been pulled to work as correctional officers due to the labor shortage.

“We are not the lowest staffed prison in the bureau anymore. A year ago today we were short 167 in custody. Right now, we are 96 short in custody,” Zumkehr says.

According to the union, mandatory overtime, a small housing market, and a lack of childcare in Thomson all contribute to the average 18-month turnover rate.

Now with retention bonus approval and authority for direct-hire, prison staff hope they can retain employees and improve working conditions.

“One of the issues is, we didn’t have the experienced staff here. They were leaving and going to different institutions. Now we incentivize them to stay at USP Thomson. It’s the final piece that we were missing, retention, and we got that today. So hopefully the staff will want to stay at USP Thomson and we can retain them. This is what we have been asking for and this is what we got,” Zumkehr says.

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D) released a statement to TV6, which reads, “Today’s announcement will go a long way toward recognizing Thomson’s staff for their hard work, help keep staff on-site and help attract additional staff to make Thomson a safer, more secure location. I’ve been proud to be at the forefront of these efforts with Senators Durbin and Duckworth. Initiatives like this help strengthen the workforce, ensure the facility can compete with others in the region, and support the surrounding community’s economy. I thank my colleagues for their partnership on this issue and will continue to work alongside them to put forward initiatives to recruit and retain staff.”

Senator Dick Durbin also responded saying, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues and I have worked alongside USP Thomson to advocate for clearer guidance and more autonomy from OPM to remedy the intense understaffing concerns the facility is facing,” said Durbin. “After more than a year of urging OPM, I’m glad to see the Biden administration heed our request for the betterment of the public health and safety of inmates and staff at USP Thomson. Today’s announcement is welcome news, and I urge OPM and BOP to now take additional actions to address the staffing crisis across Illinois and the nation.”

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