A government employees' union is providing free "hostage" insurance to members who work as correctional or police officers.
The insurance, which pays a half-year's salary when an employee has spent at least 12 hours as a hostage, covers 2,400 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees throughout Maryland.
William H. Bolander, executive director of AFSCME Council 92, said most of those employees are correctional officers in state prisons and local jails.
A hostage incident at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore last month fueled the union's concern about providing benefits to members who are taken captive by prisoners or criminals, Bolander said.
Inmates took two correctional officers hostage in mid-July after a botched escape attempt. One officer was released after about 14 hours in captivity, while the other was freed after nearly 24 hours. Neither was harmed.
"This is a unique insurance policy that is being offered for the first time in Maryland," Bolander said. "In the wake of the recent hostage situation at the Maryland Pen, our union was frustrated that the correctional officers received no compensation for being in an extremely stressful, traumatic and life-endangering situation."
Bolander said the union spent "thousands of dollars" for the captivity insurance through Jardine Group Services Corp. in New York. He refused to provide a more precise figure.
AFSCME also hopes the insurance will give it an edge over the competition for union membership. "We hope it will be a good incentive for people to join AFSCME," Bolander said.
Other unions, including the Maryland Classified Employees Association and the Maryland Correctional Union, are vying with AFSCME for members.
"I'm sure if it's a viable benefit, I guarantee you it will be something we will be looking at," said Joseph Cook, field director for MCEA, a union trying to organize workers at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
AFSCME's policy provides officers with a benefit equal to half of their annual salary if they are held captive for 12 hours or more, Bolander said.
Officers would receive a payment equal to their annual salary if they lost a hand, foot or sight in one eye while held hostage. Death or permanent injury as a result of captivity would pay twice the member's yearly salary, Bolander said.
Covered by the insurance are law enforcement employees and correctional officers who belong to AFSCME Council 92 and Council 67, he said.