Union rep: York County Prison workers incentivized to work while sick

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Employees at York County Prison and the York County Youth Development Center are being incentivized to show up for work while sick because of the county's COVID-19 sick leave policy, the employees' union claimed Friday.

Unlike at least one neighboring county, York County officials have not provided additional funding for prison workers who have to stay home because of the virus.

"They should be ashamed of themselves," Tim Turek, business agent for Teamsters Local 776, said of the York County Board of Commissioners.

Turek represents corrections officers, counselors and maintenance workers at the prison and the youth center. Friday was the last day of his term with the union.

He said the county commissioners should have approved emergency paid sick leave, and that lack of extra paid time off is contributing to the spread of infection.

A total of 646 inmates and federal immigration detainees at the prison have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began, York County spokesperson Mark Walters said Friday.

Around 35 staff members have also tested positive, he said.

Employees at the two facilities are required to use their allotted sick time and vacation days if they miss work because of COVID-19, York County Human Resources Director Tiffany Trout confirmed.

Teamsters Local 776 union representative Tim Turek during an interview in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Teamsters Local 776 represents employees at York County Prison and York County Youth Development Center. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Once they use up their paid time off, those employees won't be paid for any more sick days and will have to forgo those wages.

Trout said that because the prison and youth center employees are a bargaining unit, any changes to the paid leave policy would need to be negotiated.

She also said that health care workers and emergency responders are excluded from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires some employers to provide extra paid sick leave to eligible employees.

For the purposes of that law, corrections workers are considered "emergency responders."

Turek said officials in Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland and Adams counties are providing extra paid sick time to their corrections employees because of COVID-19, and that York County should follow suit.

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In Adams County, the county board used some of the money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to offset sick time from COVID-19, Adams County Commissioner Jim Martin said.

"If they’re reporting sick, if they get COVID, they’re compensated for that," Martin said. "They don’t have to use their hours."

Martin said he thinks the policy has helped prevent further spread of infection because sick employees are more likely to stay home when they aren't worried about losing a paycheck.

That's one of the reasons Turek said York County should implement a similar policy.

He said York County Prison employees are hiding their symptoms and coming to work while they're ill, contributing to more infections among inmates and other workers.

The most recent tally of COVID-19 infections at York County Prison was unavailable Friday, but an outbreak in September resulted in hundreds of infections among inmates. County officials said most of the inmates were asymptomatic.

Officials in Lancaster, Dauphin and Cumberland counties were unavailable for comment Friday.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

York County Commissioner Doug Hoke said it was his understanding that any changes to the paid leave policy would need to be reserved for contract negotiations with the bargaining unit, but that the commissioners could discuss using some of the remaining CARES Act funds for emergency paid sick leave.

"We’re getting to the nth hour as far as spending the COVID money we got this summer," he said.

York County received $40.5 million in federal aid for COVID-19 relief and used more than $4 million to offset COVID-19 costs at the prison.

The county will forfeit any money not spent by Dec. 31.

Hoke said emergency paid leave for corrections employees could be added to the discussion of how to spend the last of those funds. The county board will talk about that at its next meeting on Wednesday, he said.

"I can’t tell you what the outcome will be, but I certainly will bring it up," Hoke said.

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