Oct. 3, 2005 — Promises are made to be broken, seems to be the motto at the Bureau of Corrections these days as money owed to officers for overtime hours worked in the last nine months is still missing from paychecks, according to one officer.
"We were told that the money would be included in our Sept. 1 check," Allen Nibbs, the Bureau's shop steward said. "But that was a lie."
Nibbs said officers have instead received only a small portion of the payment, which has been dubbed as "hush money."
"They [the Bureau] gave it to us so we wouldn't hold anymore protests, or tell the public what's really going on inside corrections," Nibbs told the Source last week.
However, Steven Lewis the bureau's chief correctional officer, said Nibbs' statements are incorrect.
While Lewis didn't say how much money the officers have received toward their back pay, he did say they have received a substantial amount. Lewis said problems in the Finance Department prevented any additional money from being included in checks for the last pay period.
Lewis further said Nibbs and other corrections officers are not supposed to speak to the media regarding the bureau's internal affairs. "It's against the law," Lewis said.
But Nibbs and other officers aren't keeping quiet. In addition to staging protests and meeting with various government officials, Nibbs called various media sources last week to discuss the pay problem.
"We can't shut our mouths anymore," he said. "We're being promised things and haven't been receiving them. It's sad because we all really want the bureau to move forward, but that can't happen if we can't trust our management team."
Nibbs also blames the bureau's acting Assistant Director Agnes George. "When the problem first came up, she told us that we weren't getting our pay because of an oversight in the system," Nibbs said. "But there's no way she can use that excuse anymore."
Nibbs claims George recently convened a team of special assignment personnel to watch the officers for 24 hours after they received their paychecks to make sure a job action suit wasn't filed against the bureau.
"If it really is an oversight, then why was this special assignment group necessary?" Nibbs said. "Because she's not telling us the truth about the money."
Nibbs added it was George who gave the officers a Sept. 1 back pay date. However, once they discovered the money was not included in the check, Nibbs said, George then told officers the pay would be included at the end of the month.
"She said that she would give us one lump-sum payment which would be tax free," Nibbs said. "But now, we have to wait until October to get paid, and taxes will definitely be taken out of the check."
Nibbs claimed George is blaming the missing money on the Finance Department. "She said she sent the request to Finance to be processed," Nibbs said. "She told us it now has something to do with their system."
"This is why we think she's incompetent," Nibbs added. "She needs to be fired."
Nibbs and other officers first went public about this and other issues at a protest held in early June in front of the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas, where they called for better working conditions in prisons within both districts.
While Nibbs has said conditions have improved slightly since then, George has continued to keep the bureau from making any real progress, according to Nibbs. "We've been working with the acting Attorney General Kerry Drue and our director, Joseph Ponteen to get things done," Nibbs said. "But now, director Ponteen is off island, and George is in charge."
Nibbs said he has been given no definite word as to when officers will receive the full amount of back pay owed them.
Several calls made to George for comment have not been returned. Judy Gomez, public relations officer for the V.I. Justice Department, did not return several calls. And despite several messages left for Attorney General Kerry Drue, who was reportedly off island, the calls have gone unreturned.
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