Mayor Bill de Blasio may be at war with the Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association over conditions and excessive guard absences on Rikers Island, but the mayor pledged Wednesday to reward those officers who continue to report to work and battle difficult conditions on the penal island.
At his Wednesday briefing, de Blasio said he would authorize bonuses and additional resources to Corrections Department officers reporting to work on Rikers Island and pulling double- or triple-shifts in place of fellow officers who called out sick.
“I want to commend and thank, again, the vast majority of Correction officers who stepped up, did the right thing, showed up no matter how tough it was, and kept doing the work to keep everyone in Rikers safe,” de Blasio said on Sept. 22. “These are heroes who need to be acknowledged and appreciated. We’re going to do that with real incentives.”
The mayor didn’t make those incentives specific at his briefing, but he again raised his ire at COBA that, he charged, “aided and abetted mass absenteeism” among the rank and file of Corrections officers assigned to Rikers.
On Monday, the city filed a lawsuit against COBA claiming the union orchestrated an illegal job action — something which its president, Benny Boscio, rebuffed in public statements. He accused the mayor of breaking the law by allowing inhumane conditions, threatening guards and inmates alike, to persist within the penal institution.
Forcing sick and injured officers back to work won't fix the urgent staffing crisis on Rikers. Most officers aren't dealing with food poisoning. Many are recovering from broken bones, stab wounds, or worse. It's time to take action and hire 2,000 COs NOW! https://t.co/xrCrUadIiH
— COBA (@NYCCOBA1) September 21, 2021
A hearing on the lawsuit was scheduled to take place Wednesday.
De Blasio repeated Wednesday that the city would suspend any Corrections officer found to have abused their sick leave, or went AWOL — and advised them to find another line of work.
“If you’re not willing to work, time to get out. And legal action against the union is clear,” the mayor said. “A union is supposed to help ensure that people come to work in the middle of a crisis, not discourage people from doing their job, not encourage mass absenteeism. We will not tolerate it.”
Despite the growing spotlight on Rikers Island’s woes — including state Attorney General Letitia James weighing possible action from her office after visiting the facility Tuesday — the mayor reported some improvement.
With two previously shuttered processing facilities on Rikers now reopened, de Blasio said, intake times are dropping, with most inmates going through the process in less than 16 hours.
Because of that, de Blasio said the city would end regular triple shifts for officers in October; these had been instituted in the spring of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor also had a five word response for a call from Congress Members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerrold Nadler and Jamaal Bowman to completely close Rikers and immediately release the remaining prisoners: “That’s not going to happen.”
“It’s not the right way to handle things,” de Blasio said. “We have to balance the profound need to address public safety in the city with a profound need to improve conditions at Rikers. We can do both those things the right way. Releasing everyone there is not the right way, obviously. Doesn’t make sense.”
The mayor said that he has spoken with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who’s expected to win election as the city’s next mayor in November, about moving forward the city’s ongoing plans to shutter Rikers Island this decade and replace the facility with community-based jails.