The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) recently raised the starting pay of newly hired correctional officers by more than 10 percent, starting them as CO IIIs. But it did not raise pay for more seasoned COs and others in the corrections workforce.
AFSCME members are working to change that.
The department’s rationale for the big bump in the starting salary – from $32,000 to $36,000 – is that it will help retain new officers, whose turnover rate is high, and ease chronic staffing shortages in the state’s prisons.
“We are glad to see TDCJ working to address the ongoing understaffing and turnover issues," AFSCME Texas Corrections spokeswoman Tanisha Woods told the Houston Chronicle. "We believe that an across-the-board pay increase for all employees and extending the career ladder to reward those that have served the state for more than eight years are necessary to fully deal with these issues."
AFSCME Texas and its members support the pay raise, Woods, a sergeant in the department, told AFSCME Now. However, the union is committed to working with TDCJ to ensure that experienced officers are also shown a similar level of respect, she said.
Newly hired corrections officers will enter the force at the employment grade of CO III, and progress once they are fully trained. At present, seasoned correctional officers cannot attain a pay grade higher than CO V, which often leaves well-trained and dedicated members facing stagnant salaries for years after they clear the CO V level, prompting turnover in the upper ranks, as well.
To create a fairer salary structure, AFSCME members have proposed the creation of another pay grade: CO VI.
AFSCME Texas Corrections is circulating a petition statewide, asking correctional employees to support the creation of a CO VI position. Members plan to present the petition to legislators next spring during the 2019 legislative session.
“If TDCJ and our political representatives really value us and the services we provide for the state, they have to recognize that longevity leads to a safer workplace. Our correctional employees and their service to the department need to be valued, and their commitment to the organization should not be ignored,” said Officer Martin Barrera, a CO V.
“We want our fellow officers to receive a fair wage, but we also know that new officers have a lot to learn on the job,” he added. “As established officers, it’s our responsibility to teach them and, more importantly, keep everyone safe. These are valuable skills, and all we want is for TDCJ to recognize that.”