As reported in NJ.COM, the beating of State Corrections Officer Elegia Then by an inmate in New Jersey State Prison has finally attracted media attention to the fact that NJ State Corrections Officers no longer receive Sick Leave Injury Benefits (SLI) for injuries that occur during the course of duty.
SLI benefits previously allowed State Corrections Officers to receive their full pay for a period of one year following an injury that occurred on duty. These benefits were eliminated by passage of law on July 1, 2011.
Then, who had been raising two boys by herself on a salary of $44,000 a year, isn’t getting a steady paycheck. She had been using leave time donated by other officers, and now she’ll be going on workers’ compensation, which pays 70 percent of her salary.
However, many municipal law enforcement officers and all state troopers receive full paid leave for injuries suffered on the job. In Edison, for example, police officers with a doctor’s note can be out as long as a year at full pay. If, after returning to work, the condition persists, the officer gets up to another year.
Yet correction and parole officers in New Jersey do not get any paid leave when injured on the job — not even in cases of assault — something that some lawmakers believe should change. Lance Lopez, president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105, said about 300 corrections officers were assaulted in 2012 and about 240 in 2013, though most were not serious incidents.
A bill before the Legislature would require the state to keep paying corrections and juvenile detention officers who are physically injured in a riot or attack by inmates. It would also provide a compensation program for parole officers who are assaulted by parolees.
The measure would carry over the officers’ salaries until they begin receiving workers’ compensation payments, then cover the difference between those payments and an officer’s actual salary.
The bill (A2927/S491) is expected to be considered in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee this week, according to state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), a sponsor in the Senate. An earlier version of the legislation was pending when the previous session ended in January.
Cunningham said she was surprised when some injured officers, whom she called “forgotten,” spoke to her about their situation.
“These are not people who make a great deal of money, and they’re sometimes in small areas in contact with (inmates),” Cunningham said. “I look at them as law enforcement people who play a vital role in society and have kind of been left out.”
But the bill does not address health insurance, which officers on workers’ compensation pay for on their own.
Unions can not negotiate for these greater benefits due to the fact that the law that eliminated SLI benefits preempts negotiations on the subject. Under New Jersey Public Employment labor law, any subject that is governed by a state statute or administrative regulation is not negotiable. Based on this fact, Lopez said it was made clear that the officers would have to lobby for new legislation.
“They can be out for a year with no issues, no complaints, no nothing,” he said. “We’re just not afforded that opportunity to be covered. I’m not looking for the state to compensate anyone who’s responding to slip and fall. We’re just basically saying, if this is the result of an inmate assault, we’re asking them to compensate these individuals.”
Then’s alleged attacker, Fuquan Alexander — a 29-year-old inmate serving a 30-year sentence for kidnapping and robbery — is now charged with first-degree attempted murder and aggravated assault. He was moved to Northern State Prison in Newark, apparently for his own protection.