Retention bonus OK’d for Thomson prison staff

SPRINGFIELD — The U.S. Office of Personnel Management approved a 25% retention bonus for nearly all employees at Thomson prison, three members of the Illinois congressional delegation announced.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos had been advocating on behalf of workers at Thomson in letters to the Bureau of Prisons and the Office of Personnel Management for more than a year.

Durbin called it “welcome news” and hoped both entities would address staffing shortages in other locales.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues and I have worked alongside USP Thomson to advocate for clearer guidance and more autonomy from OPM to remedy the intense understaffing concerns the facility is facing,” said Durbin in the release. “After more than a year of urging OPM, I’m glad to see the Biden administration heed our request for the betterment of the public health and safety of inmates and staff at USP Thomson.”

Jon Zumkehr, president of Local 4070 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the campaign — first for the prison to have direct hiring authority and then for the retention bonus — started nearly two years earlier.

The authorization for direct hiring came last month.

Zumkehr said Durbin, Duckworth and Bustos “have stood beside the workers at USP Thomson.”

“We have worked with management and have held job fairs every month and have hired over 70 staff this year. Now that we have secured the 25% retention pay, we will retain our experienced staff and be able to recruit additional staff,” Zumkehr added.

Duckworth said ongoing vacancies have caused the existing staff to be overworked. Bustos said the bonus is a step to making Thomson a safer, more secure location.

All three lawmakers said the understaffing at Thomson has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.