As the Department of Corrections struggles to manage the COVID-19 crisis, we have been working on many fronts to advocate on your behalf.
To summarize some of the work of our Union since the coronavirus pandemic began, I've created a video message for all DOC Teamsters.
In the video, I describe our work around issues such as DOC's initial and secondary screening processes, additional leave we've secured through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and more.
Throughout this crisis, we've been in constant communication with the Governor's Office, OFM, and the Department to make sure they are prioritizing your health and safety. Our Union Representatives and Shop Stewards are working incredibly hard to protect you and your co-workers. If you have an issue around safety in the workplace, please contact your Union Representative to report it.
Please also remember that, with contract negotiations scheduled to begin this year over our 2021-2023 collective bargaining agreement, we will be holding Virtual Contract Proposal Meetings on April 15.
I will be sending you an invitation to register for the meetings soon using Zoom, an online video and telephonic conferencing platform.
You can watch the video here:
We have some fantastic news to share for Teamsters at the DOC.
Our Union has secured emergency Paid Sick Leave and expanded Family Medical Leave for ALL Teamsters 117 corrections members in Washington State under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, federal legislation that takes effect today.
The federal legislation does not require all public employers to provide the emergency leave and expressly says that correctional institution personnel may be excluded. So for us to secure coverage under the new law for you and your family is a major win.
Over the last several days, we have worked hard to convince the Governor, the Office of Financial Management (OFM), and the Department that you should be covered under the new law.
This is an incredibly important win for you and your family. It helps recognize the critical health and safety work you are providing the community at this time of crisis.
With this benefit, comes shared responsibility. Your Union advocated vigorously for this benefit to be used if you are sick or facing a family crisis. Please use the emergency leave judiciously and in careful consideration of your DOC co-workers who are working tirelessly to keep all of us healthy and safe.
Below please find a brief summary of what you are entitled to under the law. For more detailed information, refer to the Department of Labor's informational flyer or OFM's website. If you need to utilize this leave, please contact your local Human Resources office with any questions.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave
- Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
- Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor; and
Emergency Family Medical Leave
- Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we had to cancel all of our Union's in-person Contract Proposal Meetings for Teamsters at the DOC.
The purpose of those meetings was to give you an opportunity to provide additional feedback so that we can develop meaningful proposals as we prepare for upcoming contract negotiations with the State over our 2021-2023 collective bargaining agreement.
To replace those meetings, we have scheduled virtual meetings to take place on Wednesday, April 15. Virtual Contract Proposal Meetings for all DOC Teamsters will take place on April 15 at 0800, 1200, and 1600 using a virtual conferencing platform.
We will be sending out an email with information about how to access the virtual meetings. If you have questions, please reach out to your Union Representative.
We are incredibly proud of the work you and your Teamsters co-workers at the DOC are doing to keep our communities healthy and safe at this time of crisis.
Thank you for your service.
Teamster nurses at WCC - Melissa Johnson (l) and Patty Patterson (r) - are working overtime to keep COVID-19 out of the state prison system.
With the COVID-19 crisis, Teamsters inside our state prison system are making extraordinary efforts to keep our communities healthy and safe.
Upon entering the facilities, everyone – all DOC personnel and inmates – have to be screened for the disease. This puts an additional burden on staff who are already stretched thin.
“We’ve had to quarantine entire buses of inmates entering our prison,” says Patty Patterson, an RN3 at the Washington Correction Center (WCC) in Shelton.
“Our graveyard staff is decimated,” adds fellow nurse, Melissa Johnson. “Of 29 full-time nurses at our facility, 9 are out due to possible COVID exposure. That’s a huge hit.”
The shortage in nursing staff has come with an increased workload. Screening has to be administered to all inmates seeking medical assistance. At WCC, that’s between 50-100 inmates a day. Anyone exhibiting symptoms needs to be put in isolation.
Despite the challenges, medical staff are rising to the occasion. They're covering for each other, putting in lots of overtime and pulling double shifts.
“We want people to know we’re taking care of their family members,” Patterson said. “As stretched thin as we are, I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”
"I couldn’t be prouder of our team."
The coronavirus pandemic has made things tough on custody staff as well. Brandon Jennings, a Shop Steward at WCC, says he and his fellow officers are doing everything they can to enforce social distancing among the inmates, but it’s a daunting task.
Part of the problem is the constant influx of inmates coming in from the counties to the state system. This has led to crowded cells, with some inmates having to sleep on the floor. “We’re up to 356 inmates in our unit,” Jennings says. “That’s up from 240 at normal capacity.”
Corrections staff are used to dealing with health and security challenges. But keeping such a contagious virus out of the system has added a sense of urgency and a new layer of complexity.
"Our members are stepping up and doing an amazing job," said Michelle Woodrow, President of Teamsters 117. "They're dealing with outside stressors impacting their families - like not having access to daycare or their spouses getting laid off. At the same time, they're showing up to work, supporting each other, and approaching this crisis with the seriousness and professionalism needed to prevent the spread of this disease."
In short order, Teamsters at the DOC have implemented CDC guidelines and are administering a rigorous screening process to slow the spread of COVID-19 in an environment that has the potential to be a breeding ground for the virus.
"We're not taking anything for granted," Jennings says. "We're doing our best to keep the community safe."
As you know, the Governor has issued a "Stay Home - Stay Healthy" order for Washingtonians due to the COVID-19 public health crisis.
This does not apply to Teamsters at the DOC. All DOC staff have been deemed essential personnel by the State. As such, you are vitally important to the health and safety of our communities.
If you are in a classification that qualifies for Telework, please know that we are demanding that the Department expedite this process so you have the ability to work remotely as soon as possible.
For those of you who have been denied entry into a facility as a result of the active screening process, we are monitoring the secondary screening process to ensure that it is conducted in an appropriate way. The secondary screening is important. We need members to participate in the process so they can get back to work as soon as possible to provide relief for their co-workers.
To help you stay informed, here are a few important resources:
- COVID-19 Emergency Resource Guide
- Your rights under the WA State Paid Family and Medical Leave
- Our 2019-2021 collective bargaining agreement
During this crisis, all of our Union Representatives are available by phone and email. If you have an issue or concern in the workplace, please reach out to them directly.
Justin R. Shaffer, a Trooper with the Washington State Patrol, was killed in the line of duty on Tuesday.
With the coronavirus outbreak, these are incredibly stressful and challenging times for all of us.
Many Teamsters have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut because their industries have been decimated by the virus.
Others, including those of you working in public safety professions, have been called on, as you so often are at a time of crisis, to report to duty despite the constant threat of infection. Indeed, many of you are putting in long hours to cover for your sisters or brothers who are out sick.
The stress on you and your family during a national emergency is tremendous.
When tragedy strikes at a time like this, that stress is compounded.
Recently, we witnessed the tragic, premature death of Justin R. Shaffer, a Trooper with the Washington State Patrol. Trooper Shaffer was killed in the line of duty while placing spike strips on I-5 in Chehalis on Tuesday.
Because law enforcement and corrections is such a close-knit community, this tragedy touches all of us.
Through his work, Trooper Shaffer dedicated his life to public service and made the ultimate sacrifice as he worked to keep our communities safe. We mourn his passing, commemorate his life, and cherish his memory. He will not be forgotten.
We understand members have been sent home because they have answered “yes” to one of the screening questions and are told they need to use their own leave to cover their absence from work. Some members have been sent home even after presenting a doctor's note stating they are cleared to return to work.
Your Union has aggressively advocated on your behalf, contacting the Department, the Office of Financial Management (OFM), and the Governor's Office.
As a result, TOMORROW, March 18, 2020, DOC will distribute a communication that provides for the following:
- All members who are refused entry during the DOC's screening procedure will be put on paid administrative leave (you will not be required to use your own leave)
Additionally, the DOC and the Union will work on a follow-up process to establish a timeline for when an affected employee can return to work.
As this crisis develops, you will continue to have questions and concerns about how it impacts your health and safety in the workplace. In order to have an orderly and responsive process, please direct your questions and concerns to your Shop Stewards or Union Representative. Our Union staff will forward this information to me so I can communicate your concerns to the appropriate authority.
It is also extremely important that you take every precaution to stop the spread of the virus.
Please do not come to work sick. Please answer the screening questions honestly.
Even if you are experiencing mild symptoms, you may be carrying the virus and pose a threat to your co-workers. It's also important to follow the CDC's recommendations on how to protect yourself, your co-workers, and your family. Needless to say, a major COVID-19 outbreak inside our prison system would be devastating.
Thank you for everything you do.
Please stay healthy and safe.
DOC Teamsters -
With COVID-19 spreading in Washington State, I wanted to make sure you are informed about steps we are taking at Teamsters 117 to assure that you, your co-workers, and your families' safety is a priority.
Over the last several days, I have been in frequent contact with the Department, both with Secretary Steve Sinclair and the Department of Corrections COVID-19 Incident Commander Danielle Armbruster. Through these conversations, I have relayed your concerns about how the Washington State Department of Corrections is managing the COVID-19 crisis.
I have urged the Agency to cease the visit program in its current form and reduce the number of volunteers allowed to enter the prison. The danger of introducing COVID-19 into a prison system that is already significantly understaffed and is responsible for the safety of incarcerated individuals, many of whom are suffering from significant medical complications, far outweighs any inconvenience that may be experienced.
Additionally, members have raised concerns about training requirements, such as defensive tactics, and the inability to practice safe social distancing as recommended by CDC guidelines. I have heard concerns about screening requirements, the need for appropriate and sufficient protective gear, and an overall concern about the “what ifs” as this situation unfolds. My commitment to you is to forcefully advocate for your health and safety as the Department works to manage this crisis.
The Department is requesting that all questions and concerns related to COVID-19 be directed to DOCCOVID19@doc.wa.gov. Please use this email to document and communicate any concerns you may have. As a public entity, having one repository for information can be beneficial to your Union.
To help protect yourself and your family, the CDC is recommending that you:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Close contact is considered within 6ft.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. WASH and/or sanitize your hands after.
In addition, the Washington State Employment Security Department has put together a list of benefits available to workers who are impacted by COVID-19 and an FAQ page for workers. If you have questions, please reach out to your Union Representative.
I know this is a worrisome time for all of us. At times like these, it is important that we remember to care for each other - our families, all of our Union Sisters and Brothers, and the members of our community.
Please stay healthy and safe.
President and Executive Director
We wanted to keep you updated on actions we’ve taken to protect your rights under our collective bargaining agreement and under state law.
At the beginning of this year, DOC unilaterally changed the way they process vacation requests at some DOC facilities. This has resulted in the Department denying many requests that they previously would have approved.
We believe that DOC’s newly-established vacation selection procedures constitute both a violation of our contract and a violation of the Washington State law that requires your employer to negotiate with the Union over changes to working conditions.
Our Union’s legal team is fighting the Department on both fronts. On January 30, we filed a grievance over the issue and this week held a first-step grievance meeting with DOC administrators at Headquarters. In that meeting, DOC showed a complete unwillingness to resolve the issue, suggesting that we will likely be headed to arbitration.
We have also filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) requesting that DOC be required to return to the previous vacation selection system. PERC has issued a preliminary ruling stating that they intend to investigate the case and are in the process of scheduling a hearing.
Thank you to all of you who have spoken out on this issue and reported the Department’s violations. We will keep you updated as soon as we have more information. If you have questions, please reach out to your Shop Steward or Union Representative.
This May, we will begin negotiations over the 2021-2023 collective bargaining agreement for all Teamsters employed at the Washington State Department of Corrections.
To prepare for negotiations, please complete the DOC Contract Survey by clicking the link below. You must complete the survey by no later than Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
The survey asks questions about your wages, appropriate staffing levels, and other provisions of your collective bargaining agreement.
Filling out a contract survey is important! The survey helps prioritize issues and gives you an opportunity to voice your concerns. Our Union Negotiations Committee will use the survey results to develop proposals for contract negotiations based on your feedback.
In addition to the Contract Surveys, we will be holding Contract Proposal Meetings for all DOC Teamsters starting in March. The meetings are another way you can make sure your voice is heard. Come to one of the meetings and share your ideas about how we can build a stronger contract together! You can find a complete list of the meeting dates, times, and locations for your facility here.
Thank you for your service. Please stay safe.