Correction Commissioner Tony Parker responds to questions about his decision to move away from the controversial schedule
NASHVILLE – After almost three years operating under the 28-day work schedule, the Tennessee Department of Correction is changing the way it schedules officers and front-line prison staff. TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker announced the decision in early June after gathering feedback and reviewing data from staff working under the 28-day work schedule in Tennessee’s prison system.
The 28-day schedule is a work schedule allowed under an FLSA exemption which lets public employers figure overtime compensation for law enforcement, fire employees, and correctional officers on the basis of work periods longer than the one-week. The exemption allows TDOC to pay correctional officers overtime, time-and-a-half, only after working 171 hours during a 28-day period. When it was implemented, according to TDOC, this change allowed them to manage their overtime costs more efficiently.
In late 2014, TDOC implemented the 28-day work cycle at Northeast Correctional Complex, and slowly incorporated the remaining complexes over the following months.
One of the primary complaints of the 28-day work period after implementation, and what we believe led TDOC to seek other scheduling options, is the amount of time it takes for officers to receive pay for earned overtime. This issue of a lag in pay is largely blamed on a technical problem caused by the alignment conflict between the department’s recurring 28-day work schedule and Edison, the state’s payroll system which is set up to pay employees twice a month regardless of the number of days in the month.
During a meeting with TDOC in July of 2015, TSEA asked then Commissioner Derrick Schofield if the department had considered other work cycle options which might improve the overtime pay lag. TSEA at that meeting pointed out that the federal exemption that allows for the 28-day period allows work periods of any length between seven and 28 days. We suggested a move to a 14-day plan. That plan would allow employees to have their overtime calculated every 14 days instead of having to wait 28 days. During that meeting, the department disclosed they had not considered the 14-day plan, but said they would look into the option.
Then, a few months later, a September 2015 American Correctional Association audit of TDOC also recommended changing TDOC correctional officer work periods from 28-days to 14 days, and shift assignments from 8 hours to 12 hours.
TDOC ultimately decided to allow each correctional facility the option to choose their shift assignments from either the 6/3 rotation (8.5-9 hour shifts) or the 12-hour schedule. However, TDOC told TSEA during a December 2015 interview that if TDOC decided to move to a 14-day work period, Edison employees would require approximately eight months for programming changes to implement the new work period.
After Commissioner Schofield’s June 2016 resignation, this issue remained a topic of conversation with Commissioner Parker, who assured TSEA he would keep all options on the table. We are pleased to see he kept his word and is making this change.
We are thankful that Commissioner Parker, much like his predecessor, has been willing to keep a dialog going with TSEA. In addition to calling us to let us know of his decision to move away from the 28-day work schedule, he made an appearance at this year’s Representative Assembly.
We recently reached out to Commissioner Parker about the recent changes and we thank him for taking the time to answer the following questions from TSEA. Click here to read 5 Questions with TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker