(WBIR - McCreary County, KY) About 350 federal employees continue showing up for dangerous jobs at U.S. Penitentiary McCreary without pay during the government shutdown. The maximum security federal prison in Pine Knot, Kentucky, houses dangerous inmates ranging from convicted murderers to Somalian pirates.
"We've been coming to work and it has been business as usual, other than the fact we are not getting paid," said Don Peace, an employee at USP McCreary who also serves as president of the American Federation of Government Employees union at the prison. "We can't just not come to work. That's not an option. We have got to protect society and we have got to have someone here to take care of these inmates."
Peace said the shutdown is truly sinking in after receiving smaller paychecks on October 15. The normal payday check included compensation for work done in September, but no pay for the hours logged in October.
"There are probably 1,700 inmates behind the wall. The staff is putting their life literally on the line every time they come to work and go behind that fence. You don't know if you're going to walk out at night or not and now they're asking us to do that for free or for an 'IOU.' This job is already stressful enough without all of these added things we have no control over," said Peace.
While the guards and other employees work for free, the inmates continue receiving pay for their labor during the government shutdown. Peace said those jobs include electrical work, cooking, cleaning, and other tasks that keep the penitentiary operational.
"They do the work and have staff who provide supervision and security, but the work done by inmates is for very little money. I think their pay, it varies from 12 cents an hour to 40 cents an hour," said Peace.
Peace says the employees truly taking a hit in terms of both finances and morale are the married couples working at the prison.
"We've got several staff in here when the next payday comes, they're not going to get anything. They have families and there is not a spouse who has a different job that is going to bring money in," said Peace. "But again, this is not a job where we can avoid coming in. If we don't come in, the person who is already here will have to stay on for another eight hour shift. We have to show up for work."
Peace said employees have attempted to adjust their spending habits while they wait for the government shutdown to end. Until the government resumes operation, the workers will continue showing up for a job with no financial security beyond an IOU from lawmakers.
"To these lawmakers, they need to understand the government is not a business. It's an expense. They want their criminals locked up because they don't want them running around in the streets. That costs money," said Peace.