The struggle to find and keep enough workers across the U.S. economy since COVID-19 has hit very hard in the corrections system.

The Erie County prison is short 30 corrections officers dropping from more than 150 to around 124.

To deal with the shortage, the county's Prison Pre-release Center which was closed during the pandemic has not reopened for lack of staff.  And multiple corrections officers are held daily to cover a second or third shift -- first with voluntary requests, then mandatory expectations to stay.

According to PSSU/SEIU 668 union business agent, Charlene Smith, who represents the corrections officers, the starting wage for new hires has been frozen for four years.

She said her goal is "To negotiate a fair and decent wage to attract new hires and raises to retain existing corrections officers."  She says it's a tough job, with corrections officers locked in with offenders, who are violent at times.

Erie County officials would not comment on the ongoing contract talks, but County Executive Brenton Davis did confirm in a statement that the prison currently has 30 job openings.  "The Erie County Prison currently has 30 openings for corrections officers but remains safe and secure.  We are thankful for our hard-working prison staff working daily to meet the needs of the county," Davis said. "The prison has recently undergone two state inspections and is in full compliance with all mandatory standards," he added.

The county also made it clear that the workforce shortage is affecting prisons throughout the nation and here in Pennsylvania.  They provided data for a few counties including nearby Allegheny and Venango Counties down by 90 and 20 officers respectively.

Starting pay for open Erie County corrections officers jobs is listed at $18.17 per hour on the county's website.  The union hopes for better pay.  Both sides are expected to sit down at the bargaining table on Wednesday of this week. 

The corrections contract is one of six union contracts that the county is negotiating and must bring to county council for approval. Council is expected to get its first look at the administration's proposed budget at a meeting on Thursday afternoon.