Michigan corrections officers protest job conditions

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A union representing more than 6,000 correctional officers picketed on Friday in Muskegon in the latest stop in a statewide campaign pushing to recover lost benefits and fill hundreds of vacancies in Michigan’s prison system.

“We really have a perfect storm that has brewed,” said Democratic Rep. Terry Sabo, who represents Michigan’s 92nd District. “We have a health crisis that’s taking place, we have a lack of officers being hired or that even want to go into these fields, and we have a lack of proper safety standards in place.”

Picketers set up outside of Ernest Brooks and Muskegon Correctional facilities, hoping to inch a few steps closer toward restoring eroded pensions and filling more than 700 vacancies statewide.

“The first step is new leadership,” said Byron Osborn, the president of the Michigan Corrections Organization. “And the second step is commitment by the legislature and the governor’s office to take a look at why they haven’t been able to address these issues.”

Michigan Corrections Organization union members picketing in Muskegon on Aug. 28, 2020.

Having so many vacancies has put intense weight on the shoulders of the current staff.

“Just in this complex alone in the past ten days, we’ve had seven or eight officers on the clock for 24 hours,” Osborn said.

And when it came to hours worked, every single picketer was on the same page.

“You can’t be in top form if you’re working too much,” said Kip Smith, a retired supervisor who worked at the Muskegon Correctional Facility. “You need that ability to have that rest to work.”

“With that, you just create a conglomerate of things that just make people not want to come to work,” said Marcus Collins, a corrections officer at the Detroit Detention Center. “And when people hear about this career choice, they don’t look at it as a career. They look at it as a job.”

The Michigan Corrections Organization union wants a change of leadership at the top of the Michigan Department of Corrections, and Rep. Sabo says some change better come soon.

“Until you work with them to find some common ground, we are definitely headed into a bad situation or a situation that’s worse than it is right now,” Sabo said.

The MDOC and the governor’s office were unable to be reached for comment.