Private Prison Sued for Overtime Violations

http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/11/07/prison-operator-accused-denying-workers-overtime-pay/18689535/

A private prison operator in the Delta faces allegations of denying workers overtime pay.

James Walker, a shift supervisor at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, is suing Corrections Corp. of America in Mississippi’s Northern District federal court. CCA operates TCCF in Tutwiler and Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez.

Walker’s complaint, filed last month, says workers often have to arrive as much as 30 minutes before shifts start to prepare and complete reports, sign post orders, pass through safety scanners and obtain safety equipment like handcuffs and pepper spray.

Employees cannot leave their post, even if the shift has ended, until a replacement arrives, the complaint says.

CCA has classified shift supervisors and assistant supervisors in Tutwiler and Natchez as management, which exempts them from overtime pay. The complaint says that exemption does not grant employees managerial duties, but forces them to work beyond 80 hours in a two-week period with no extra compensation.

“In most cases, they do the exact same work as other guards at the facility, except they hold the title Shift Supervisor of Assistant Shift Supervisor,” reads the complaint, which represents one side of a legal argument. The suit also accuses CCA not providing regularly scheduled meal and rest breaks, as required by labor law.

The suit seeks unpaid back wages and an injunction requiring CCA to provide meal and rest periods and eliminating the exemption from overtime requirements.

Although the suit was brought by only one employee, it asks for collective status, which is similar to class action. If presiding Judge Sharion Aycock grants it, all TCCF and ACCF employees would have the option of becoming a plaintiff.

“While we cannot speak to the specific allegations in the complaint, CCA is committed to ensuring all employees are fairly compensated for the services they provide in accordance with all applicable laws,” CCA spokesman Steven Owen wrote in an email to The Clarion-Ledger.

The private prison operator’s recent history in Mississippi has been difficult. Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood closed in 2012. CCA closed the 1,172-bed facility because it could not match or exceed cost savings state operation would have brought. State law says private prison operators have to manage facilities cheaper than the state could.

In 2012, a riot at ACCF resulted in one guard’s death and several others being held hostage. Two inmates involved in that incident pleaded guilty to conspiracy earlier this year.

CCA operates facilities in 20 states and employs more than 14,000 corrections professionals nationwide.

Contact Clay Chandler at (601) 961-7264 or cchandler@jacson .gannett.com. Follow @claychand on Twitter.

Correction: CCA does not have a contract with the Mississippi Department of Corrections for its Tutwiler facility. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated CCA’s role.

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