Our Union's Secretary-Treasurer, John Scearcy, has published a guest opinion piece in today's Walla Walla Union Bulletin.
The piece focuses on the need for the state to invest in our corrections employees who put their lives on the line to serve and protect our communities.
You can read the complete article below or link to it on the WWUB's website here.
More than two hundred Teamsters working for the Department of Corrections, along with their families and supporters, converged on the State Capitol in Olympia today with a simple message for lawmakers: It's time to invest in the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.
“We’re here to educate legislators about what we do to keep the public safe,” said Sergeant Thomas Orth, who traveled with his wife, Kim, from Spokane to speak with legislators. “They need to be in our boots and see what we do every day because we’re not only protecting ourselves, we’re protecting them and their families.”
Corrections employees talked with legislators about the dangers of prison work while focusing on a few key policy issues.
“Our top priority is to ensure that the state legislature invests in corrections employees by funding their contract,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “Corrections employees put their lives on the line to protect the public, yet they are significantly underpaid for the important public safety work they perform.”
We have some good news to report from our legal team’s appearance in court yesterday on behalf of Teamsters at the Department of Corrections.
We were able to successfully obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) that partially blocks the release of your personal information.
The case involves an individual, Robert Hungerschafer, who is using outdated public records laws to request the full name, job classification, seniority, union membership, bargaining unit, and pay scale of thousands of corrections employees through public disclosure.
The state was prepared to release your information today, but the court granted our motion for a TRO and enjoined the release of some of the information.
Next week, more than two hundred Local 117 members working for the Department of Corrections, along with their families and other supporters, will converge on Olympia with a simple message for legislators: It's time to invest in the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.
The event kicks off on Monday with a Legislative Reception at the Red Lion Hotel. Members will talk with lawmakers to discuss critical issues facing corrections employees and their families.
The next day, members will meet face-to-face with their legislators at the State Capitol.
In addition to educating legislators about the dangerous work of corrections, we will focus on a few key policy issues.
Our top priority is for the state legislature to invest in corrections employees by funding their contract. Corrections employees put their lives on the line to protect the public, yet they are significantly underpaid for the important public safety work they perform.
Experienced officers, who represent the largest job classification at the state’s Department of Corrections, earn 37 percent less than officers who work at the county level. Other DOC job classifications are similarly underpaid.
The corrections contract contains wage increases for corrections staff that were awarded by an independent arbitrator and deemed financially feasible by the state’s Office of Financial Management.
We will also be asking the legislature to fund an external audit of staffing levels in all Washington state prisons. The Department of Corrections operates under a staffing model that is dangerously outdated. An external audit would identify parts of the system that are understaffed and make recommendations for improvements.
Finally, we need to fix the Public Records Act to protect the personal information of DOC employees. Many corrections employees are harassed by felons who obtain their information through public disclosure.
A bill (SB 5326) before the Washington State Senate would allow prison staff to seek legal damages if their information is used for nefarious purposes.
If you have registered for this event, you should have received a packet with logistical information and an overview of our legislative priorities. If you have any questions, please contact our Political Coordinator, Dustin Lambro, at 1-800-872-3489 ext. 1262.
Thanks to everyone who is taking time off work and away from your families to attend. This is going to be a great event. See you next week!
Our bill to modify the Public Records Act to protect your personal information is in danger of not getting a hearing.
The bill (SB 5326) would allow our corrections and law enforcement members to seek legal damages if their personal information, obtained through public disclosure, is used to harass or intimidate them or any other person.
To save the bill, we need to contact our state senators immediately by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1.800.562.6000. Tell them that Senator Mike Padden, the chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, should give the bill a hearing!
If our bill doesn't get a hearing by the end of next week, it will die in committee.
Over 200 DOC members will be meeting with their legislators to discuss this and other critical issues next week at our DOC Legislative Reception and Lobby Day.
But we can't wait until then to act on our Public Records Act bill, so please call the Legislative Hotline or send your senators an email now!
Using a Public Records Act that hasn’t been updated in 45 years, an individual going by the name of Robert Hungerschafer will gain access to the personal information of all DOC employees.
On February 16, the state will release the full name, job classification, seniority, union membership, bargaining unit, pay scale, along with other information of thousands of corrections employees.
The requestor also asked for dates of birth, but the state rejected the request.
Almost nothing is known about this individual, or whom he is affiliated with. We do know that this person or organization has submitted several requests in the past.
Under the current law, the state does not verify the identity of persons making a public records request, so there is no way to know who will receive this information.
Brothers and Sisters -
I'm sure many of you have been following the terrible hostage crisis that has been unfolding over the last few days at the Delaware Department of Corrections.
Four corrections employees were taken hostage at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware on Wednesday. Authorities were able to negotiate the release of two officers on Thursday. One corrections staff member was ultimately rescued, and one officer was found dead at the facility early this morning.
This tragedy is another stark reminder of the risks you and your co-workers take every day to serve and protect the public. The timing of this incident is especially troubling given its proximity to the 6th anniversary of the death of our fallen Sister, Officer Jayme Biendl, who was murdered on January 29, 2011 at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
Remember that Safe Call Now is an excellent resource if you are looking to have a confidential conversation with a public safety professional who is familiar with your line of work. Their number is 206-459-3020; you can learn more about that organization here.
The public may not understand the risks you face as you perform heroic work to keep our communities safe. That's why it's so important to know that we can lean on each other at times like these and always have each other's backs.
Thank you for your incredible service to our communities. Please remember to support each other and always stay safe.
Director of Corrections & Law Enforcement
Eighteen DOC employees who maintain and operate the McNeil Island ferry joined our Union on Dec. 10.
More groups of unrepresented staff at the Department of Corrections are building power and organizing to join Teamsters.
Eighteen ferry workers who operate and maintain the fleet of vessels that service McNeil Island joined our Union last December. Overwhelming majorities of three other groups – the Correctional Specialists 2s, the Occupational Nurse Consultants, and the Recreational Specialist 4s – have recently filed petitions for certification with the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) and are awaiting a ruling from the agency.
The ferry workers are unique in that they were previously represented by another Union. After a turbulent decertification process in 2015, they endured a tough stretch of nearly a year and a half without representation.
“There was a lot of uncertainty, and we lost a lot of benefits. We tried to encourage each other and keep a positive attitude, but it was pretty sketchy for a while,” said Brian Carrigan, a senior deck hand with nearly 10 years of state service.
Carrigan and co-worker, George Luttrell, explained the perils of losing their rights under their contract.
“We lost our clothing allowance and a personal leave day – the State took that away from us,” Luttrell said. The group also lost their right to overtime after eight hours and their right to have sick and annual leave count as compensable hours when calculating overtime.
As much as the lost benefits, the group felt the daily insecurity of not having a voice at work. “It was hard for a while. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders,” said shipwright supervisor, Gary Taimanglo.
Philip Howse surveys abandoned equipment on McNeil Island looking for salvage.
One of the great pleasures of our recent trip to McNeil Island was visiting with Teamsters 117 member Philip Howse, a senior heavy equipment mechanic who has been in state service since 1998.
Howse is a Department of Corrections employee with Correctional Industries (CI). He moved over from DSHS to DOC in 2011 when the state shuttered the prison on the island after over 135 years of operation.
Howse oversees a team of four inmates whom he mentors and trains to refurbish machinery that has been abandoned on the island.
"We're tearing that transmission apart and putting it back together," says Howse as he shows us around his shop.
Howse learned his trade while serving in the Marines, then obtained further certification in technical college after leaving the military.
All of the inmates under Howse's supervision are within two years of their release date. "It's important that they learn a skill that can help them get a job when they return to our community," he said. "Our job is to teach them that skill."
After a tour of the shop, Howse sped us around the island. He showed us the water filtration plant, the water treatment plant, and the Special Commitment Center that houses over 200 sex offenders and is operated by the Department of Social and Health Services.
For Howse, a grassy yard with abandoned machinery, is a salvage opportunity for future projects. "We'd like to repair that crane," he said, pointing to a 40-year-old rusting hulk of equipment in the yard.
Our last stop was a small cemetery where inmates at the prison were buried years ago. The graves were numbered, but the majority were missing nameplates. "It's hard to imagine," Howse said, pointing to one of the headstones. "That was somebody's father, son, or brother. They've been forgotten now."
Howse drove us back through the woods, along the muddy tracks, down to the terminal, where our new members who operate the ferries to the island ushered us on board.
Have you ever been harassed by an individual who obtained your name or contact information through public disclosure?
It’s a common problem facing our members in public safety professions, and our Union has been working on a remedy.
This week, we helped introduce a bill (SB 5326) that would give Local 117 members at the Department of Corrections and other law enforcement agencies the ability to seek legal damages if their personal information, obtained through public disclosure, is used to harass or intimidate any person or for commercial purposes.
“This bill is designed to protect our members at the DOC and other public safety professionals who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe,” said John Scearcy, Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer.
The proposed law is sponsored by three Senate Republicans and was referred to the Senate Law and Justice Committee on January 20 for further consideration.