LEWISBURG — The union president representing 30,000 federal prison workers, including hundreds of corrections officers at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg and Federal Correctional Complex in Allenwood, says their lives are being put at risk by the federal government shutdown.
The shutdown has furloughed thousands of federal workers across the country, including 38,000 U.S. prison employees who are required to show up at work despite not being paid until the political stalemate is resolved.
The more than 200,000 inmates, on the other hand, continue to be paid for the work they do inside the federal facilities.
“It’s utterly disgusting that while we risk our lives, they are receiving pay,” said Eric Young, president of the Council of Prison Locals 33, noting that the 320 corrections officers at Lewisburg are responsible for overseeing some of the most violent inmates in the country.
“Our Congress is playing with our lives. You can close the gates of a park or a museum, but we can’t cut back services.”
The distraction caused by the shutdown that began Oct. 1 places many corrections officers in a dangerous spot because instead of being able to focus on the job, he said, many are worried about how they will pay bills and feed their families.
“It’s a calamity waiting to happen,” Young said, adding that thousands of officers also haven’t received a pay raise in three years.
A group of union representatives were in Washington, D.C. speaking out about low staffing and funding in the Bureau of Prisons when the shutdown began.
Dave Bartlett, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 148 representing officers at the federal prison in Lewisburg, was reached by phone in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, but declined comment.
No one could be reached Wednesday at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would ensure all federal employees considered “essential” during a funding lapse in 2014 would continue to be compensated.
“I have heard the concerns of corrections officers who work for the Bureau of Prisons, officers who are on the front lines, and I carried their concerns directly to House leadership,” said U.S. Representative Tom Marino.
"These officers face danger, violence, hostility and hazard every day when they go to work," Marino said. "The last thing they need to face is uncertainty over whether or not they’ll get a paycheck on time.”