After seven days of witness testimony and yesterday’s closing arguments, the interest arbitration hearing for Teamsters at the Department of Corrections is now complete. 

Given the proximity of the October 1 statutory deadline, Arbitrator Lankford has determined that there will be no written briefs following the conclusion of the hearing.  Yesterday’s closing arguments represented the last opportunity for both sides to make their cases to the arbitrator.

Associate General Counsel Dan Swedlow presented the closing argument for the Union.  In his presentation, Swedlow touched on all of the salient points your Union’s witnesses had made over the previous seven days of testimony.  

  • Swedlow emphasized the need for a prison premium that will fairly compensate correctional employees for the uniquely stressful and dangerous work that they perform. 
  • He analyzed comparable data from the Union and pointed to flaws and inconsistencies in the State’s economic presentation to illustrate the appalling degree to which Washington State correctional employees are underpaid when matched with their peers.
  • He made the case that inadequate compensation has led to high turnover, particularly at the bottom of the seniority list, which puts DOC staff at risk.
  • He talked about the inequity of and the lack of justification for geographic pay, which has divided the bargaining unit and should be eliminated. (For further clarification on this issue, click here.)
  • He cited testimony in the record that exposed the woefully inadequate spread between correctional officer and sergeant pay and requested a fix.
  • He reminded the arbitrator of the deficient and disparate pay that overtime exempt employees receive when they are placed in on-call status as compared to the pay received by DOC contract employees.

Swedlow also spent several minutes refuting the State’s principal argument in the case – that budgetary constraints prevent the DOC from compensating its employees fairly. 

 “This is about legislative choices and prioritization.  It’s about our elected officials having the political courage to do what is right and necessary to pay for what we as a society have decided to do with people who break the law,” he said. 

Swedlow ended the Union’s closing argument by requesting an answer from the arbitrator to the following question:

“What does this group of dedicated public safety workers deserve in light of the compensation deficiencies which are measured against comparable jurisdictions, the DOC’s recruitment and retention issues, the losses sustained relative to cost-of-living over time, and most importantly the dangers, difficulty, and impact of working in a prison environment?”

It was an impressive presentation.  Thank you to your Union’s legal team for their fine, exhaustive work.  Thanks also to our outstanding witnesses who took the time to provide such powerful testimony on behalf of the Union.

This has been an historic forum for Teamsters at the DOC. For the first time in history, Washington State correctional employees have had the opportunity to present their case before a neutral, third-party arbitrator in interest arbitration. 

Arbitrator Lankford has agreed to issue his award prior to the October 1 deadline.  As we anticipate his award, it is important that we prepare ourselves for the fight to come.  The arbitrator’s award, whatever it is, will need to be included in the Governor’s budget, and it will need to be funded by the State legislature. 

The only way that we can achieve this is through determined, collective action.  All of us will need to work together to compel our elected officials to fund the arbitrator’s award so that correctional employees can finally be compensated in a way that is fair, equitable, and morally right. 

STAY TUNED!  Next Tuesday, September 2, we will be publishing videos of the Local 117 attorneys' opening and closing arguments as well as a side-by-side comparison of the State's economic proposal and your Union's protected economic position.