Teamsters 117, the Union that represents 6,000 correctional employees in the Washington State prison system, is calling on the Department of Corrections to take immediate action to address safety concerns brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter sent today to DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange, the Teamsters say the DOC is not appropriately managing the staffing shortages at 12 prison facilities across the State and not doing enough to keep workers, the incarcerated population, and our communities safe.

The letter, from Teamsters 117 President and Executive Director Michelle Woodrow, states:

“Our membership has expressed to us that the way the Washington State Department of Corrections is managing the current outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons is failing to ensure their safety. They have been subjected to extreme amounts of overtime, which is resulting in fatigue, impaired judgment, and greater risk of illness and injury. Insufficient staffing and fatigued staff have resulted in unsafe working environments. Add in the extra posts, illogical COVID screening protocols, and the assignment of untrained staff to critical security posts, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”

The Union is particularly concerned that the DOC is moving forward with a plan to reassign staff that lacks appropriate training and equipment to custody-level positions. Custody staff are the officers and sergeants who have direct interaction with and oversight of the incarcerated population.

The Teamsters have urged the DOC to adopt a number of alternatives to address staffing shortages and ongoing safety concerns in the prisons. These recommendations, which include recalling hundreds of employees who previously received exemptions from the state-issued vaccine mandate, have thus far been rejected by the DOC. 

“Custody and medical staff, in particular, are exhausted from relentless mandatory overtime due to staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “Rather than listen to viable solutions to the crisis, the DOC is rushing ahead with a misguided plan that will only make matters worse. The DOC has a responsibility to protect corrections staff, the incarcerated individuals in their care, and the communities they serve.”