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April 17, 2014

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Prison director withdraws pay cut plan

CARSON CITY — The 450 correctional officers on the swing shift at state prisons won’t be losing the additional money their paid to work at night — at least not immediately.

Their shift differential of 5 percent was set to end next Monday in an effort to save $650,000 in the wave of budget cuts hitting state government.

Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections, says for the “time being” this plan is being shelved. Through leaving some positions vacant and moving inmates around, the department was able to come up with the savings.

If prisons are forced to make further budget cuts, however, that option could be “on the table again,” he said.

Union spokesman Dennis Mallory called the reversal “quite a turnaround.” His American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was ready to pursue a court injunction arguing that Skolnik was exceeding his authority.

Mallory, chief of staff in the local office of the federation, said that decision should have been made by the state Prison Board composed of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

Mallory said management has instructed prison employees to limit overtime so the savings can be achieved.

Skolnik had to reduce the prison budget by $85 million in the latest round of cutbacks. He initially had decided ending the differential would be better than laying off employees. There are an estimated 1,700 correctional officers in the system.

To achieve the savings, the director had planned to change the hours in the around-the-clock work schedule.

The swing shift now works 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and the graveyard schedule is from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Both qualify for the 5 percent pay differential. Under Skolnik’s proposal, the day shift would have started at 5 a.m. and worked to 1 p.m.; the swing from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the graveyard from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. That change would have eliminated the pay differential for the swing shift workers.

The director acknowledged the proposed shift differential plan was not well thought out. A quick decision was needed during the special session of the Legislature and the shift differential savings “was exactly the right amount,” he said.

The director said there would be no change of hours now.

Mallory said correctional officers build their lives around working the swing and graveyard shifts – including scheduling babysitting and taking children to school. And they bid for these jobs.

To retain the 5 percent pay differential, Mallory said he and officers suggested such things as renting out the prison at Jean that was closed recently and eliminating the cars assigned to prison wardens.

Skolnik said the suggestions from the union and prison employees didn’t match the $650,000 needed for budget reduction.

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