Cumberland County and the union representing corrections officers have agreed on a new contract that limits forced overtime.

Fatigue caused by overtime was blamed as a factor in a 2019 crash in Gorham in which a 9-year-old girl was killed. A corrections officer fell asleep at the wheel after he had voluntarily worked 88 hours the week of the crash.

Dennis Welch, president of the union representing the corrections officers, said the new agreement limits workweeks with forced overtime to 64 hours a week and 72 hours if the overtime is voluntary. Welch said the county faces a chronic shortage of officers, resulting in the need to have many work overtime.

Welch said that nearly half of the roughly 127 corrections officer positions are unfilled, and he blamed low pay – it starts at a little over $19 an hour – and the overtime rules as the primary reasons. Under the previous contract, he said, officers were often told a few minutes before their shift expired that they needed to stay at work for another eight hours.

That played havoc with home life, as well as causing fatigue among the officers, he said.

In addition to the limit on hours, Welch said, the new contract calls for better scheduling to allow officers to pick overtime shifts and avoid being told at the last minute that they are being held over.

That should address working condition issues that have been another reason for the open positions, he said. In the last month, Welch said, six corrections officers resigned and another quit on Monday, with more expected to leave in the coming weeks.

The situation has led to record overtime pay at the Cumberland County Jail and the staffing problems have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic at jails around the state.

James H. Gailey, the Cumberland County manager, said the new contract will include incentives for employees to voluntarily take overtime and also changes the rules to make sure that overtime is spread across more employees.

Welch said the union made “no real progress on pay,” with a retroactive pay raise of 2.5 percent for a one-year contract that has already expired. The union and country agreed on an additional three-year contract, Welch said, which has already been running for six months, with pay raises of 2.5 percent, 2.5 percent and 3 percent. He said vacation time for more senior corrections officers also was increased slightly.

He said he hopes the new contract will both help the county hire more corrections officials and also give veterans reasons to stay on.

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