In December 2010, over 300 Teamster correctional employees and their supporters surrounded the State Capitol in Olympia.
Draped in yellow ponchos, the officers, sergeants, cooks, nurses, and maintenance and office workers who staff our State’s prisons, chanted in unison:
“Who are we? DOC!” and “What do we want? Safety! When do we want it? Now!” DOC staff was joined at the rally by dozens of Local 117 members from other industries.
Together, the Teamster voices echoed through the legislative halls and chambers, and representatives took note.
After cutting over $220 million from the Corrections budget and closing three prisons, the Legislature passed a prison safety bill (SB5907) in 2010. The bill mandated statewide safety committees and put OC pepper spray into the hands of some line staff. It was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the bill did not go nearly far enough to protect prison staff. Correctional employees are still routinely assaulted at work. Officers still work single-person posts. Violent offenders’ custody levels are still overridden to justify a reduction in staffing levels.
“Too many of us have been hurt,” says Eric Smith, a 16-year Shop Steward with the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton. The stress of the job takes an immeasurable toll on correctional workers and their families.
- Correctional officers have one of the highest rates of nonfatal on-the-job injuries.
- Suicide rates among corrections employees are 39% higher than any other occupation.
- The average life expectancy of a corrections officer is 58 years old.
Despite the well-documented stress and dangers of the job, the State demonstrated once again during this year’s collective bargaining process that it does not respect its employees.
“By refusing to recognize the unique work that correctional employees perform and by ignoring safety issues in bargaining, the State is not only showing disrespect, it is breaking the law,” said Tracey A. Thompson, Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer.
THE PUSH FOR INTEREST ARBITRATION
Thompson maintains that the only way substantive change can occur at the DOC is if the Legislature passes interest arbitration legislation for correctional workers. With interest arbitration, the State cannot simply refuse to bargain over wages, hours, or working conditions without consequence.
If the State and the Union cannot reach agreement through contract negotiations on mandatory subjects of bargaining, then your Union would have the right to bring its proposals to a neutral arbitrator. The State Patrol, firefighters, County Corrections and other public safety professionals have been granted broad interest arbitration rights. It’s time for our State’s correctional employees to be afforded that right as well.
JOIN US ON JANUARY 10 IN OLYMPIA!
In their fight for interest arbitration rights, correctional employees are poised to march on the State Capitol again, and they are calling on all concerned citizens for their support.
You can support Correctional Employees by:
- Attending the Day of Action! in Olympia on January 10, 2013.
- Going to www.DOCProtectsWa.gov and sign the online petition.
- Calling the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and urge their representatives to support interest arbitration for Correctional Employees.
- Texting DOC to 313131 to receive text message alerts and campaign updates.
Get involved! For more info., contact Local 117 Political Action Coordinator Lily Wilson-Codega at 206-794-2606 immediately.