Editorial: Jail guards risk infuriating every county taxpayer

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The Cook County Jail

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Even if they win, they lose.

If the union that represents Cook County jail guards wants to insist that 150 guards should get tons of bonus time off, at a cost to the county of $1.5 million, because they were transferred to other cellblocks, that’s their right. Have at it. Maybe they can convince an arbitrator that it’s in their contract, though we doubt it.

But every fed-up taxpayer in Cook County will scream, as they should. And the union’s short-term and shortsighted gain will only add to a perception that public employee unions don’t much give a damn about the rest of us.

Good luck rallying the public’s support, jail guards, when you negotiate your next contract.

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What’s galling here is the small matter of distance — very small. The 150 guards were transferred to cellblocks that were no more than 600 to 1,250 feet away.

For this, the union says, the county should have paid the guards a bonus hour of time off, commonly called comp time, for every day they worked for ten months in 2014.

In a story by Frank Main in Thursday’s Sun-Times, officials of the union, Teamsters Local 700, said they have been willing in the past to negotiate transfer agreements that didn’t cost the taxpayers extra money. But in this case, they said, Sheriff Tom Dart violated the contract by failing to give notice — so it’s his bad.

If Dart did violate a union rule, then it’s a dumb rule. Dart should be free to reassign guards from one cellblock to another cellblock that’s just shouting distance away without begging permission or awarding comp time. If he cannot, he is forced to schedule replacement guards at a pay rate of time and a half.

Nobody could run a backyard tree house with those kinds of restrictions.

Common sense says Dart is correct that the rule was never intended to be interpreted that way.

Dart’s office says the daily comp time, established in 2013, is intended only for guards who are moved temporarily to other divisions to cope with sudden changes in the inmate population. The guards’ lives are temporarily disrupted, so the county kicks them a little extra comp time.

But in the case of the 150 guards, who are demanding 33,000 hours of comp time, there was nothing temporary about it. They were reassigned from Division 5 of the jail when it was was closed permanently.

Cook County Jail’s inmate population has shrunk significantly in recent years, which is why Dart closed Division 5, And that’s all for the good. Nonviolent offenders are better handled in other ways, and the county saves money.

Or the county is supposed to save money.

The Teamsters apparently have other ideas.

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