Richard Coleman (center) fighting for interest arbitration at the Local 117 Day of Action event in Olympia in 2012.

Richard Coleman has his sights set on travel. The longtime Walla Walla resident has imagined destinations closer to home, and others further afield: from the Oregon Coast to the beaches of Belize, from the Civil War battlefields of Virginia to the Baltic states in Eastern Europe.

After 36 years of public service, trips once unfathomable are about to become a reality.

With retirement just a hair's breadth away, he credits his union for allowing him to bow out earlier than he’d imagined. Thanks to hard-fought wage increases over the last three contract cycles achieved through interest arbitration, he’s seen his social security and state pension benefits swell.

“Interest arbitration has been phenomenal in helping to raise our pay,” he said. “Without this level of income, I’d have to be working a couple years more. Now I have a good, solid retirement base.”

"Now I have a good, solid retirement base."

For Coleman, retirement from the Department of Corrections comes this February, the 28th of the month to be precise - not that anyone’s counting.

The last decade he’s spent patrolling the tiers of Echo Unit, inmate living quarters in the west complex of the Washington State Penitentiary. Before that, he held down a post in the Intensive Management Unit, where DOC houses some of its most challenging offenders.

Erratic bursts of violence – brawls in the dayroom and assaults on staff – still occur, Coleman says, but less frequently than in the early days of his career.

“It’s still a prison of course,” he says. “But overall it’s a significantly better place to work now than in my first 15 years here.”

Through the grind and often thankless tribulations of prison work, Coleman has not only endured but thrived as a respected officer and a leader of his peers. His leadership has come through experience, so essential to the job, but also from his involvement in the union. From early on, Coleman has been an activist, sticking up for the rights of his co-workers.

Now, with the ability to live comfortably on a fixed income, Coleman and his wife, who will also retire from state service next year, will have the time and the means to travel the world.

Happy trails, Richard! Congratulations on an outstanding Teamsters career and thank you for your service.