Prison guards' union offering hostage insurance coverage New benefit follows takeover at Pen

August 06, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS — Prompted by an incident last month in which two Maryland Penitentiary guards were taken hostage by inmates, a state employee union is offering its members free "hostage insurance."

The insurance policy purchased by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was offered beginning Aug. 1 to the union's approximately 1,800 dues-paying correctional officers at no additional charge.

The policy would compensate any officer held hostage for 12 hours ormore with a check equal to half the employee's annual salary, even if the only injury to the officer was the mental anguish of being held captive.

Beginning the second year of the policy, a guard would have to be held only eight hours before before becoming eligible for compensation.

If the officer is held for the minimum period, and receives a physical injury, the policy would pay an amount equal to a full year's salary.

And, if the officer were totally and permanently disabled or killed, regardless of the length of captivity, the officer or his or her estate would receive an amount equal to twice the officers' annual salary.

William Bolander, executive director of AFSCME's Council 92, said the group sought the insurance after two AFSCME members, officersLarry Hughes and Gary Wooten, were seized by Maryland Penitentiary inmates the evening of July 16 and not released until the following night. Both were unharmed.

"Our unit was frustrated that the correctional officers received no compensation for being in an extremely stressful, traumatic and life endangering situation," Mr. Bolander said.

"These men and women risk their lives daily for very little appreciation or compensation," he said.

The hostage policy was custom-designed for AFSCME by Jardine Group Services Corp., an insurance brokerage firm with offices in Washington, said Jardine spokesman Nels E. Carlson. AFSCME locals in other states, including New York, Maine and Michigan, offer their members similar coverage, he said.

But Rudy Porter-Lauer, state rep resentative for the 3 1/2 -month-old rival Maryland Correctional Union, saw another motive in AFSCME's announcement.

"AFSCME, as well as other unions, are now struggling to come up with plans that appeal to correctional employees in order to compete with us," he said.

L AFSCME's Mr. Bolander dismissed the charge as "sour grapes."

Mr. Porter-Laurer said his 700-member union was already looking into similar hostage insurance policies that would be "an improvement" over AFSCME's.

Lance R. Cornine, executive director of the state's largest employee union, the Maryland Classified Employees Association, said MCEA does not offer similar insurance coverage.

"Our efforts in the past have been to preclude such an occurrence fromeven happening -- preventative medicine," he said. "We've been trying to get money into facilities, training and appropriate staffing and security measures."

Even without the AFSCME insurance, state correctional officers or their families would be compensated if the officers were injured or killed in the course of their employment, said Paul M. Rose, director of finance for the state's Injured Workers Insurance Fund.

In addition, correctional officers are eligible for up to a year in fully paid "accident leave" and, once that is exhausted, "wage replacement benefits" worth as much as $452 a week, he said.

The families of employees killed in the line of duty also are eligible for benefits worth at least $45,000, he said.

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