All Work and No Pay


Working at the Terre Haute Federal Prison is not an undertaking handled lightly.

It’s the only facility in the U.S. that houses death row inmates. Employees at the federal prison make up nearly 700 people in the Wabash Valley who ensure safety to our community, contribute to our economy and now, they’re nearing week three of doing all they do with no pay.

We were first to report this story. Sadie All sat down with two prison workers today who are a part of a local 720 union with the Terre Haute Federal Prison who are actively searching for a solution to their end of the “deal” with the current government shutdown.

“We’re a pawn in the system, it’s like a game being played and we’re the pawn. We still have to go to work every single day, expected to show up as essential law enforcement officers, to protect the community, to protect the inmates that are actually incarcerated and we don’t know when we’re going to get paid,” Steve Markle, treasurer with Local 720 Union and teacher at the prison said.

The impact the government shutdown has on Terre Haute is bigger than you might think. 

Federal prison workers are considered essential, meaning they’ll have to work with no pay. A couple of union representatives visited our station to tell us why that’s concerning.

“We’ve went through this before with shutdowns, this one feels a lot different,” Kenny Swick, president of Local 720 Union and correctional officer at the Terre Haute Federal Prison said.

Swick says there’s no communication at the hill, which leaves uncertainty to when prison workers will see their next paycheck.

“Our staff are still doing their jobs every day and they’re doing it with a good attitude, high morale, but they’ve got a very huge cloud over their head.”

He says the public shouldn’t worry about their safety, no one is going to leave the prison.
“Average correction officer in a week’s time deals with more violent felons than most law enforcement officers deal with in their entire career, cause their on in one spot.”

Steve Markle says the best scenario for this shutdown is if the government were to re-open tomorrow and workers received their back pay by January 25th.

“People aren’t going out spending what they normally would in the community. People aren’t going out and investing what they normally would in the area, you’re trying to make sure the money you have right now will last you until your next paycheck comes,” Markle said.

That’s at the individual level, it doesn’t account for local businesses who partner with the prison and the issue is nationwide. 

“We have nearly 700 employees that work at the federal prison here in Terre Haute alone. Times that by 122 across the entire united states and that gives you a better picture of what’s happening right now. And that’s only in our agency,” Markle said.

The federal correctional complex in Terre Haute houses the United States penitentiary, federal correctional institutions, federal prison camp and the only federal death row in the bureau of prisons. That accounts for roughly 2700 inmates total.

“If we wasn’t providing this public service where would these guys be? They would be your neighbors, they would be walking down the street, they would be at the supermarket,” Swick said.

The union workers we talked with are encouraging the public to help by reaching out to local Indiana and Illinois senators and representatives.

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