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Corrections officers say state is jeopardizing an already dangerous system

ST. LOUIS – The State of Missouri may be violating federal labor laws while ignoring a jury verdict to pay officers what they've been shorted.

Veteran officers are now leaving prison work in droves, saying they’ve given up on Missouri. Before you think this is just a problem for officers, you should consider that most inmates will be released. That’s why corrections officer Tim Huff got in the business.

“We are responsible for their safety and for their rehabilitation,” Huff said. “Hopefully we guide them into being a better person whenever they leave the facility.”

Like every other officer, Huff says he's shorted pay every day he works. The Missouri Department of Corrections does not count some of the most critical work officers perform.

“If you don’t follow this procedure it would spell disaster. It could be literally life or death for not only the offenders but the staff that has to respond and work with the offenders,” Huff said.

According to Huff, the Missouri DOC doesn't start paying officers when they arrive at work. They don't pay until officers: retrieve their keys, get their radio, scan their ID badge, go through search points, x-ray machines, metal detectors, and sometimes pat downs.

Some officers have to walk as far as a quarter of a mile through the prison get to their post. It’s only when they reach their post that they start getting paid. Huff says it adds up to about two and a half hours of unpaid time a week and it includes critical communication.

“You might have a situation where there’s a suicide attempt or you have an ambulance coming in at shift change where timing is critical, you know; you have a person’s life on the line and you have to have this information,” Huff said.

Huff and other officers hired attorney Gary Burger to represent them in the matter.

“This case was filed in 2012 and they have never paid for this…to the date of this interview…this is not being paid for, despite internal documents, complaints, investigations, a pending lawsuit by lawyers, and a certified class of 13,000 employees. Never paid for,” Burger said.

A Cole County jury ordered changes in August, along with more than $113 million backpay but the state of Missouri refused to pay up.

Former DOC Director George Lombardi explained under deposition that it's just the way Missouri operates.

“I’m going to say this again: this is preparatory activity to get on the job to do the job you’re being paid for. which is on the post. There are post duties that define what those are. This gets you there,” he said.

Missouri corrections officers are already the lowest paid in the nation. Many are military veterans.

“They’re the biggest police – they’re the biggest officer force in the State of Missouri, with anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 officers at any one time,” Burger said. “And they are they are paid lower and they are forgotten.”

The state has filed a motion for a new trial, causing another yet another delay. Meanwhile, the judge said the current $113 million plus tab will keep rising at 9 percent interest.

The average corrections officer will get $5,000 out of the judgment, with the longest working officer receiving more than $34,000.