To be declared unfit for duty as a corrections officer is devastating. It shatters your confidence, destroys your career, and implies a broken trust.
But when it is unjustified, as in the case of Officer Harlan Finch of WCC, you need the courage to challenge the DOC, and you need to have faith in your union. Officer Finch has both.
In 2011, Officer Finch was unexpectedly placed on administrative leave. He was an experienced officer, with 26 years at the Department. Yet despite his tenure, the Department was determined to undermine his career.
“They brought me in and told me they were pulling me from my officer’s status,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s 26 years of being an officer down the drain.’”
Not only was Officer Finch’s career in jeopardy, his livelihood was as well. After a lengthy review, the Department ultimately reassigned him to a position as an office assistant, a major demotion with a significant reduction in pay.
The impact on his personal life was enormous. “When I lost my officer spot, it was difficult to survive on the reduced pay. My house got foreclosed on, and I had to file for bankruptcy,” he said.
Determined to fight the demotion, Officer Finch turned to his union for help. During the grievance and arbitration process, he was represented by Michelle Woodrow, the Local’s Director of Corrections & Law Enforcement, and Teamster 117’s General Counsel, Spencer Thal.
Thal brought the case before an arbitrator and won, thanks to strong contract language that protects Local 117 members when their rights are violated.
“My case is a triumph for all Teamsters,” Officer Finch said. “People need to know that the union will fight for you. They were with me all the way.”