Hampshire County Sheriff announces furloughs for 77 employees

  • Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction FILE PHOTO


  • Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in Northampton, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2020 1:19:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick J. Cahillane announced Tuesday that 77 full-time employees at the sheriff’s office began working reduced hours last week to cut costs.

Beginning Aug. 2 and ending Oct. 24, Cahillane said in a statement, his office is implementing a WorkShare program, offered by the state Department of Unemployment Assistance, for 77 employees who work in the medical, kitchen, maintenance, education, treatment and administration units, as well as captains and lieutenants. The sheriff’s office, with a total of 159 full-time employees, said it expects to save at least $188,000 during the 12-week period.

“This is a voluntary decision on the part of the associations representing these employees and is intended to prevent the possibility of future layoffs, given the uncertainty of the state’s budget situation, and the additional uncertainty related to the coronavirus,” Cahillane said in the statement. “Negotiations are ongoing with the Correctional Officers and Sergeants Union regarding voluntary furloughs.”

Each of the 77 affected employees will be furloughed for 12 days — one day per week. The furlough days are staggered to meet requirements regarding staffing as well as spacing due to the pandemic, Cahillane said. As an elected official, Cahillane cannot take part in the WorkShare program, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Tom Mitchell. The sheriff is, however, voluntarily reducing his pay by one day a week for 12 weeks, Mitchell said.

Christopher Murphy, president of the National Correctional Employees Union, which represents correctional officers and sergeants in the county, said that the union negotiated with the Hampshire County sheriff’s office on a successor contract and a proposed WorkShare program. The union and the sheriff’s office could not reach an agreement on either of these items, Murphy said. Mitchell declined to comment on the negotiations.

In his statement, Cahillane said he wanted to “personally express to every member of my staff my deepest gratitude for their continued devotion to duty during these difficult and unprecedented times.”

“I am mindful of the additional stress our WorkShare program is causing, but I want everyone to know that this plan will help us weather the crises of COVID-19 and budget instability, and help us continue to evolve our correctional practices so that we may better serve the men in our care and the people of Hampshire County,” Cahillane said.

Mitchell said the Hampshire County sheriff’s office, like all government agencies, has been placed on what’s called a 1/12th budget, which he said means the office is funded monthly based on its fiscal year 2020 appropriation.

“Governor Baker recently signed an order extending the 1/12th budgeting mechanism through October, meaning there will be no fiscal ‘21 state budget before then,” Mitchell said. “This triggered Sheriff Cahillane’s decision to present the WorkShare option to our bargaining units as a way to save jobs given the reduction in funding 1/12th budgeting represents.”

In fiscal year 2020, Cahillane’s office was allocated approximately $15 million according to state records. Cahillane’s salary was $151,708.96 in 2019. Salary has consistently been the largest share of the office’s budget over the past few years, according to a state budget online. In fiscal year 2017, of the $14.6 million expended by the sheriff’s office in total, around $12 million went to wages and salaries.

In Ludlow, Stephen O’Neil, spokesman for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department said Friday that there have been no layoffs or furloughs at that department. There have been substantial layoffs at the sheriff’s Process Serving Office, O’Neil said, which “is a separate division operated by fees charged to clients to serve court papers, etc. with no tax dollars used for the operation. Every sheriff in the state has a separate Serving Office.”

The Hampshire County sheriff’s office is not the only local public law enforcement institution to cut costs in recent months. The Northwestern district attorney’s office in June announced that every employee, including Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, would be working one or two days less starting July 6 and lasting until Oct. 2.

Sullivan, whose salary was $180,907 in 2019, said he would be taking a pay cut of $5,876 over the 13-week period. The district attorney’s office, which was allocated $7.8 million in fiscal year 2020, expects to save $350,000 with the cost-saving measures over the same 13-week period.

In May, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, said that state tax revenues in the current fiscal year were expected to be $6 billion less than anticipated. In July, the U.S. Department of Labor reported a 10.2% unemployment rate; the unemployment rate in Massachusetts during June was 17.4%.

At the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction in April, 20 inmates and five staff members tested positive for COVID-19. All of those who were infected fully recovered, Cahillane told the Gazette in May. As of Tuesday, the sheriff said there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the jail since May 1.

“COVID-19 and the civil unrest fueling calls for additional criminal justice reforms are circumstances beyond our control. What is within our control is how we respond to these challenges, how we maintain as many of our services as our budget will allow,” Cahillane said in his statement this week announcing the furloughs.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.
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