Corrections Unions Call Out DOC

May 20, 2020—Frontline workers from the Department of Correction spoke out today to express their frustration with the agency’s efforts to protect workers and inmates in Connecticut prisons.

Union members from SEIU 1199NE, AFSCME Council 4 and CSEA said the DOC needs to take more proactive approach to implementing demands previously made of the agency during an April 24 Public Safety Caravan at DOC headquarters in Wethersfield. The union coalition’s demands are included below.

Click here to read the CT Examiner story.

Click here to read The Day story.

Click here to read CTNewsJunkie story.

“The DOC simply was not prepared for crisis when it hit. Workers’ and inmates’ lives will remain at risk while we continue to wait for a proper and comprehensive response to this epidemic,” said AFSCME Local 391 President Collin Provost, a correction officer out of MacDougall-Walker CI in Suffield.

“To the extent that the agency has made any progress in reducing the risks faced by staff and inmates, it’s because the unions pushed and pressed for improvements,” Provost added, pointing out that three AFSCME unions representing front-line workers (Locals 387, 391 and 1565) facilitated the purchase of 10,000 N95-grade masks when the agency could not supply enough PPE.

“Health services at the Department of Correction have continued to battle persistent staffing shortages long before novel coronavirus hit our prisons and jails,” said Gabby Bottino,  an LPN who works at Osborn Correction Institute. “There is no denying our population of prisoners require more medical professionals, custody staff and community support. We serve an aging population. Five of the six deaths in DOC due to COVID-19 previously called Osborn home.

“The decision has been made to convert areas inside Osborn prison into COVID-19 units, yet we have not received any extra custody staff nor any additional nursing staff. We, as a society, have created a perfect storm for DOC inmates and workers. We need to do better,” added Bottino, who is a member of SEIU. District 1199NE.

“Among the easiest things that could be quickly implemented is limiting access to the facilities every day of the week, similar to how the Department of correction already operates on weekends,” said Millie Brown, President of the Correction Supervisors Council, CSEA/SEIU Local 2001.

“Reduction in traffic into the facilities would reduce the chances for the virus to spread into the community,” Brown added. “We also need effective contact tracing. When someone test positive, everyone who was around that individual, no matter the time or the distance, should also be screened for COVID-19.”

Front-line support staff also echoed a similar concern.

 “I worry about my exposure to the virus,” said Lindsey Petralito, a medical records clerk at Hartford Correctional Center.  “Rather than setup an alternative work schedule and reduce my hours physically in the office, I continue to come in and put myself and my family at risk.”

“I am concerned what will happen in the fall and winter when COVID-19 is expected to be much worse,” added Petralita, a member of AFSCME Local 704, which represents clerical workers in multiple state agencies including DOC. “If we are not set up to telework now, how can we expect to be prepared and plan accordingly for the future?”

The demands from unions representing DOC employees are:

  • Quarantine all symptomatic cases and ensure proper PPE and safety protocols are followed for all exposed, suspected, or symptomatic cases.
  • Distribute PPE immediately, including N95-grade masks and other equipment to all staff.
  • Coordinate movement of inmates between or within facilities with frontline medical and custodial staff to assure proper safety protocols are followed.
  • Immediately move members in the following classifications to rotating or other emergency staffing schedules to minimize contagion in facilities: mental health staff, mental health providers, social workers, and clerical staff.
  • Remove all non-hazardous duty staff from facilities and allow them to telecommute.
  • Hire medical staff to address short staffing and meet safe staffing standards.