Arlan Foster is frustrated. He and thousands of other correctional officers working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are logging hundreds of hours of overtime but are not seeing a penny of it. At least not until they are either fired, quit or retire.
This is the direct effect of TDCJ's current overtime policy in which all overtime hours over three (the first three are counted as comp time) are put into a bank account, or banked, and not paid back until the employee has left the agency for good. The Fair Labor Standards Act may protect this practice, but the employees of TDCJ think it's anything but fair.
"It sucks," said Foster, a level IV correctional officer with TDCJ. "It is so frustrating and people are leaving the agency because of it. The agency claims that it is saving $36 million, but they still have to pay that out when the employee leaves."
Foster said in addition to the frustration of essentially not being paid for the work done, it is putting a financial strain on single parents.
"You've got to understand that we have a lot of single parents that have to pay child care," he said. "And the daycare doesn't want to hear, 'Oh, I'll pay you when I get the money out of the overtime bank.'"
However, Brian Olsen, local executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and State Rep. Joe Deshotel (D- Orange) are working to change the way the agency handles overtime.
Deshotel recently introduced H.B. 2745, which would essentially force the agency to immediately pay out after 12 hours of overtime has been worked, and not bank the money. Olsen feels the banking practice is "predatory" and the cause of some of the agency's high turnover rate.
"They have all these new boots show up and they hardly know the job. They're working 16-hour days but then they aren't able to use the money that they just worked for," Olsen said. "It's a predatory practice and they are victimizing their own people."
Mike Viesca, spokesman for TDCJ, refused to comment on either the proposed bill or the agency's current overtime policy.
Foster is hopeful the bill Deshotel has drafted will gain momentum and help provide some relief for correctional officers.
"I sure hope they come through on this deal because this is probably the biggest problem as far as morale goes right now," Foster said. "I think Deshotel's bill would go a long way toward fixing the problem."
State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R- Brenham), who has long been a supporter of bills favoring TDCJ, said while her priority currently is to work for a pay raise for correctional officers, as well as all other state employees, she still is keeping her options open and would not directly oppose the bill.
"We will have to look at the pros and cons of everything, but I am really just looking to do what is best for our hard-working state employees," Kolkhorst said. "It is not a bad proposal by any means, but our funds are very limited right now, and I think that a pay raise across the board could be beneficial to more people than just the employees with banked overtime."
Two similar bills have been filed, including H.B. 3026, authored by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D- Austin), and H.B. 3109, written by Rep. Lon Burnam (D- Ft. Worth).
They said it's legal under Fair Labor Standards and I really don't think it is. Don't get me wrong -- COs are not my favorite people, but not paying someone for hours worked until they quit is not right.