Current and former prison workers in Missouri – including those working at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking — will receive a share of up to $128 million under a preliminary settlement agreement pending in Cole County circuit court.
Following a decadelong legal battle, attorneys for an estimated 13,000 past and present correctional officers will present the pact to Circuit Judge Cotton Walker Tuesday, starting the clock on the distribution of the money.
Former correctional officers will receive a share of $33 million after a jury in 2018 determined that they were not properly paid for overtime hours worked at the state’s 20 lock-ups.
Beginning July 1, current prison guards and sergeants will be paid an extra 15 minutes of overtime for each shift they work for the next eight years. That extra money is worth an estimated $65 million.
Attorneys in the case will receive $16 million of the settlement and a $1.7 million payment in each of the next eight years, the agreement notes.
“The settlement is balanced almost equally between payment for past damages and payment of future wages,” the agreement says.
“We got a full and robust recovery,” said attorney Gary Burger, who represented the workers. “The parties worked creatively to get a resolution on this case.”
Precythe said the agency’s budget staff have begun working out the details of the pact.
“This issue has been a concern among our staff for several years. We’re happy for them, happy to have the matter resolved and happy to be part of the solution,” Precythe said in a statement.
Pieces of the framework of the settlement began to emerge in April when legislative budget writers inserted nearly $50 million into the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The settlement talks have been underway for more than two years after a Cole County jury in 2018 ordered the state to pay $113.7 million to compensate current and former workers at the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Most officers are stationed within a prison’s “security envelope,” meaning they have to go through a search and a metal detector, turn over cellphones, tablets and any personal property, and are in uniform and in close proximity to prisoners, or “on duty and expected to respond,” the whole time.
The guards also spend time each day on exit procedures, communicating with the next shift and taking inventory of weapons, ammunition and equipment in the case of vehicle patrol officers.
Missouri’s prison workers were already among the lowest paid in the nation, resulting in high turnover rates and staffing problems. Prisoner counts at some facilities have been reduced because of a lack of workers.
In the past two years, however, officials have started to boost the pay for Corrections employees and other state workers. Earlier this year they received a wage hike of about 7%.
If Walker agrees to the conditions of the settlement, a clock will begin running for workers and retirees to object to the agreement. A final approval hearing will take place in about four months.
It is not yet clear how much retirees and former workers will receive.
Under the plan, each will get a prorated amount based on how long they worked for the agency.
“At this point, it is a little premature to put a number on a specific individual,” said attorney Mike Flannery, who worked on behalf of the plaintiffs.
In an affidavit to the court, Burger said the settlement “is fair, reasonable and adequate and the court should grant preliminary approval of it.”
Burger also is representing prison nurses in a similar case in federal court. However, that lawsuit is against Corizon, the company that formerly held the contract to provide medical care to inmates.
A settlement hearing in the nursing case is set for later this month.