The last 4-year labor contract for corrections officers at the Erie County Prison expired at the end of the year, and any new contract talks with Erie County Government are on hold for now.

That's because some corrections officers want a change in union representation from the current SEIU social services union to the National Correctional Employees Union based in Massachusetts. NCEU bills itself as the only national union that specializes in representing correctional professionals.  "Some feel that they would rather have a union that is structured with purely law enforcement officers or prison officers, former prison officers to represent a correctional officer facility," said Officer Doug Patterson, Union Steward.  "And that's the force behind some of the movement. A lot of people just want to see change," he added.

Under the old contract, starting wages for new hires have been frozen at $18.17 per hour, and the prison has had trouble hiring and keeping current corrections officers.  The prison is 27 corrections officers short of the 147 required in their last contract. 

Patterson thinks the starting wage that has not progressed during the last four years is part of the problem in attracting new hires.  "I think part of our strategy going forward is we want our wages up -- we want to be competitive in the rest of the market. I think if we can get our wages up, it's a good start," he said.

The shortage means officers are often working mandated overtime. That can mean multiple 16 hour shifts per week, locked in with sometimes dangerous inmates. Still for Patterson it's a job he recommends. "It's a wonderful career it really is, I've been there this is my 24th year, I would encourage people to come and work there. It's tough, some people are geared to take an overtime, some aren't and because our numbers are a little low, we are getting mandated a lot and we were mandated a lot last year," Patterson said.

Corrections officers are voting by mail on which union will represent them.  The ballots were mailed on January 19.  They will be returned and counted by February 23.  Until then, there will be no bargaining.  Corrections officers will work under the terms of their last contract.