HARTFORD, CT – Efforts to stop the annual Super Bowl flood of “sick” calls among state prison guards largely succeeded in stopping staff shortages and statewide inmate lockdowns while the New York Giants clashed with the New England Patriots.
But unionized guards have now called an illegal procedure, filing about 100 grievances against Department of Correction Commissioner Leo C. Arnone for allegedly changing work rules and requiring doctor’s notes for those who called in sick.
In previous years, corrections officers have reaped overtime on Super Bowl Sundays because of higher than normal absenteeism. In instances where extra guards couldn’t be found for overtime, six or seven of the 16 prisons have been either fully locked down with all inmates in their cells, or partially locked down.
“Typically we do have a number of sick call-ins,” said Brian Garnett, spokesman for the DOC. “There have been times in the past where we have put them in lockdown. What we did this year was put in some temporary restrictions.”
Garnett said that when prisons fall below minimal staffing levels, inmates have to be locked into their cells.
This year, only two prisons were partially locked down, according to state officials. Those inmates who did not have TVs in their cells were able to watch the game in prison day rooms, Garnett said.
“This was done with the cooperation of our unions, and we tried to work very cooperatively,” Garnett said. “Safety and security are important, to make sure everyone comes home safe at the end of the day.”
Garnett said that Arnone and his administrators issued guards “a friendly reminder to think of other staff” who might have to be called in on the day of the big game.
“This wasn’t all a `stick’ approach,” Garnett said, “There was a `carrot,’ too.” Prison officials planned ahead and let prison guards know that they would be keeping track of sick calls, while requiring written medical statements even for single days off.
But Luke Leone, president of AFSMCE Local 1565, representing about half the state’s 5,000 correction officers, including guards at the Bridgeport Community Correctional Center and Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, said Wednesday that the management requests violated union contracts.
“This has nothing to do with Super Bowl Sunday,” Leone said in a phone interview, adding that the 100 people who called in sick on Feb. 5, was about average.
He said that union contracts do not require doctor’s notes for single days off and, in fact, union members are allowed to take up to four consecutive days off sick without the notes. It may take weeks to settle the grievances, union officials said.