Pierce County jailers getting employee protections back
Pierce County jailers are getting protections back, a move that Pierce County Sheriff Nancy Hove hopes will help the county retain employees.
At a Dec. 3 Pierce County Finance and Personnel Committee meeting, the committee brought protections back. The protected status gives collective bargaining rights and other benefits like an earlier retirement to nine of the county's 15 jailers, and any newly hired jailers in the future.
"The counties are finding that by not having protected status, we can't get people hired," Hove said in an interview before the Dec. 3 meeting. "People don't want to work for that."
Six of Pierce's jailers were already protected due to being employed prior to the county board's 2016 decision to remove protections. Under Gov. Scott Walker's controversial Act 10 budget bill in 2011 — a budget cutting legislation that was intended to cut from a then-projected $3.6 billion state budget deficit — collective bargaining rights were stripped from many employees, but law enforcement employees were exempt from it.
Jailers were left out though, said Pierce County Corporation Counsel Brad Lawrence.
"[It] allowed for the ability to take jailers and move them to non-protected status," he said.
Hove said that it was becoming more difficult to retain jailers because of the lack of protections, and that it leads to more frequently hiring new employees and their expensive training costs.
Some Pierce County jailers have left for other counties with protections or Minnesota positions, she said.
Hove estimated that it would cost anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 more than her office's budget to pay for the newly protected employees, but they will be included in future budgets. She plans to shift scheduling and use other measures to fund them in 2019, she said.
"It's a little bit more of an expense for the county ... [but] think about what they do," Hove said. "They deal with the worst of the worst, do you want a 60-year-old dealing with that?"
Since Act 10 came into effect, most counties have classified the jailers as general municipal employees, not protected employees.
However, a few like Pierce have brought back protected status. Neighboring St. Croix County never stripped the protections, and Pepin County gave them to newly hired jailers.
In October, Door County voted to keep its roughly 15 jailers under protected status, but according to local news reports it was an outlier. Door County News reported that county workers said that 60 of 72 counties had taken away protected status.
This year, Pepin County Sheriff Joel Wener successfully pushed the county to protect three jailers who had been hired after the county had voted in 2016 to only protect those who were on staff prior.
Moving to protected status benefits the counties in two main ways: employee retention and employee protection, he said.
"I worked in the jail ... I could not see myself working in a jail facility at 53, with the potential of dealing with those issues and the inmates," Wener said.
Pierce's board originally decided to remove protections from the jailers in 2016, when they split the jail and courthouse and elected to hire civilian jailers, rather than exclusively hiring law enforcement jailers. It was never a popular decision, nor was Act 10, with law enforcement, Hove said.
"From that day we've tried to get it back," she said.