A U.S. Department of Labor investigation found that Maryland shortchanged correctional officers and other staff at the Jessup Correctional Institution by nearly a half-million dollars in wages over a two-year period.
The state paid staff members only through the end of their scheduled shifts — and not when workers actually clocked out — effectively rounding off overtime for employees who were regularly required to stay late to deal with issues in the institution or wait for other staffers to relieve them.
The investigation covered the period between November 2018 and November 2020.
The federal labor department mailed notices last month, one of which was reviewed by The Baltimore Sun, to correctional officers to tell them they’d been underpaid by the state in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. That law established the minimum wage, requirements for overtime pay and record keeping, and youth employment standards.
Joanna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department’s Philadelphia regional office, said the investigation determined that Maryland owes past and present Jessup Correctional Institution correctional officers $468,238.87.
Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Division of Corrections, said the issue was discovered as part of an internal review that “included an audit by the U.S. Department of Labor.” He said management improperly required employees to get a supervisor’s signature on an overtime form when they were held over after the ends of their shifts to cover for late shift changes.
Union officials allege that the timekeeping issues routinely occurred at other Maryland prisons, as well. Workers across the state prison system have filed a flurry of new complaints since the Labor Department’s finding at Jessup, alleging wage theft at other institutions as well.
“It’s absolutely not fair,” said Sgt. Oluwadamilola O. Olaniyan, a correctional officer at Jessup Correctional and the president of the union local that represents state prisons in the Jessup area.
Jessup Correctional is a maximum-security facility that is transitioning to medium security, according to the Maryland Manual, the official guide to state government. It has the capacity for 1,800 inmates.
Union officials said the timekeeping issues stretch back before November 2018, but federal labor law has a two-year limit for recovering unpaid wages.
Olaniyan said prison staff at Jessup and other state prisons routinely work past their quitting time to deal with issues, brief their relief on problems or cover for workers who arrive late.
Vernarelli said that practice violates state policy and the corrections division has initiated corrective action to fully compensate the affected officers.
Vernarelli initially said last week that the wage issues were “limited to just one facility,” but said Monday that the agency was now aware of additional complaints at other locations and “continues to review timekeeping practices throughout its correctional facilities.”
Patrick Moran, president of Council 3 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said state prison officials sent a systemwide memo in August ordering changes to how management recorded overtime but have yet to acknowledge keeping full wages from the members’ paychecks. The AFSCME council represents correctional officers and tens of thousands of other state workers in Maryland.
“I think they tried to sweep it under the rug,” said Moran, who contended that union leaders have raised the issue repeatedly to the state in the past. “They finally got busted with their hands in the cookie jar and now they’re going to have to pay.”
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The August memo from Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Robert L. Green was obtained by The Sun. In the memo, Green ordered that the “automatic rounding of shift assignments ... will cease” and directs timekeepers to only “manually adjust” an employee’s records in the agency’s timekeeping system with the approval of “an authorized supervisor” and with an accompanying note explaining the reason for the changes.
Vernarelli noted that since the department operates multiple correctional facilities statewide, “there has to be uniformity in policy and procedures. The department wanted to ensure that everyone was following the same policy.”
The memo appeared to have fixed the timekeeping issues and employees have been paid properly since, Olaniyan said. He added that the union will “continue monitoring because we can’t trust the system right now.”
Olaniyan and other union officials called for a broader outside investigation covering what they believe were records manipulated intentionally to deny workers wages. He said the timesheets of managers who stayed late were handled differently.
“We showed up for work and followed the process and believe it’s fair for everybody to follow the process,” said Olaniyan. “We just want to be paid from the time [the state] began stealing our time. ... We want justice and a proper investigation.”
Asked about whether the internal review revealed any individual wrongdoing, whether anyone was disciplined as a result of the investigation and the union allegations that timesheets were intentionally manipulated, Vernarelli said the department’s investigation is ongoing.
“There have been no disciplinary actions because at this time, there has been no evidence calling for discipline,” he said.