Federal Prison Guards Feeling Pinch Of Government Shutdown

January 5, 2019
Federal Prison Guards Feeling Pinch Of Government Shutdown

They risk their lives walking one of the most dangerous beats in law enforcement, yet workers at federal prisons like United States Penitentiary at Canaan in Wayne County are being forced to work without pay during the government shutdown.

“We’re essential. Obviously, a prison can’t shut down,” said Jeremy Dominick, vice president of the union that represents the prisons workers. “Pretty much, we’re working for free. Anyone who works in a prison knows you’re walking into something you’re not sure you’re going to walk out from. Your life’s on the line. Some incentive to go to work is getting paid and we’re not even getting paid.”

Prison workers last got paid Dec. 29. The first payless payday is slated for Jan. 12 if the shutdown continues, Dominick said.

“It’s going to start to hit home next week. People are going to have to pay mortgages, car payments. Some people have to pay child support,” Dominick said. “A lot of our members are starting to get real worried and will be feeling the heat if they don’t get that paycheck on Saturday.”


USP Canaan in Canaan Twp. is often regarded as one of the most dangerous in the federal Bureau of Prisons system. Correctional officer Eric Williams, 34, of Nanticoke, was killed by an inmate on duty at the prison in February 2013.

The shutdown affects about 25 percent of government agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, and State. Congressional officials have said 380,000 federal workers are being furloughed and 420,000 will work without pay.

The shutdown is a result of a stalemate between Republican President Donald Trump and Congress over his demand for funding to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Dominick, 38, a Democrat from Luzerne County, blames both sides of the aisle.

“Do I agree with the wall? Yes. Do I agree with shutting down the government to get the wall? No. There’s other ways than doing this,” Dominick said. “We need these people in Washington on both sides of the aisle and the president to come up with a solution.”

Fellow prison worker Joseph Pellicano, 41, a correctional officer from Lackawanna County who serves as a union representative, said he’s technically on a furlough this week. He said he scheduled time off a year ago, but paid time off is forbidden during a shutdown. So he doubts he’ll be repaid for what was supposed to be earned time off.

He returns to work Monday.

“There’s got to be a better solution than to have this hanging over the entire federal workforce,” Pellicano said, speaking on behalf of the union. “Federal employees are working-class people. We’re not rich.”

Working without pay is a morale killer and “very stressful,” Pellicano said

“It weighs on you going to work in a prison environment,” Pellicano said. “The government shuts down, the pay stops, but the inmates don’t stop.”

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570-821-2055, @cvbobkal

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