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Corrections Union Asks Whitmer To Fire Michigan Prisons Director

Aug 28, 2020

Prison
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

The state corrections officers union is calling for Michigan Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington to lose her job.  Rick Pluta reports.


The 6,000-member union outlined its list of grievances in a letter to Washington it also shared with Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  Michigan Corrections Organization President Byron Osborn says the union’s biggest complaints is understaffing that leads to excessive overtime.  Osborn says the problem predates COVID-19.  But he says the health crisis has also sidelined officers who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus.

“That puts us in an even worse situation where you’ve got even less people which creates even even more mandatory overtime.”

Washington – who’s held the job since 2015 -- released a statement saying she’s committed to the health and safety of inmates and corrections officers.  Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office released a statement supporting Washington.

Read the union's letter to Director Washington below:

Director Washington,

   I write to you today on behalf of the 6,000 members of the Michigan Corrections Organization working in the MDOC facilities under your supervision.  We represent one half of your entire workforce and this is our notice to you that we believe you have failed us as the Director of this Department.  In October of 2018, I sent you a letter describing how our membership felt about our working environment under your leadership.  At that time, we described it as toxic and dysfunctional and gave specific examples of issues that were creating the negative work environment and low morale.  Here we are two years later, and nothing has changed. In fact, not only have you failed to address those issues, you are responsible for additional issues that have worsened the work environment and lowered morale even further.

   To be clear, the following issues have been unresolved for the past several years:

  • Unsafe staffing levels- You have failed to address poor recruitment and retention of Corrections Officers. There are still nearly 800 vacancies statewide and widespread mandatory overtime, creating stress and disruption to officers’ lives.  It has been MCO that has suggested and secured some remedies for these problems.
  • Discipline issues- Automatic centralized employee discipline is still the status quo.  You have failed to allow local discretion regarding discipline, resulting in a generation of supervisors and administrators that are unfamiliar with and unable to effectively manage employees using corrective action and mutual respect.
  • Transparency and Inclusion- You have failed to be transparent or include us as partners in committees and work groups tasked with creating policies and processes that directly impact our members.  The unnecessary changes you imposed on our vacation scheduling process are a prime example, you didn’t allow a single representative from the 6,000 employees being impacted to be part of the committee.  Another example is the recent change to create quarterly mandatory overtime exemptions for officers that you imposed on us.  That change mainly only impacted our members, yet we weren’t included in any of part of the discussion about it.  We could go on and on. We’ve asked to be included and have made repeated suggestions, yet nothing has changed.

As if those persistent issues aren’t enough evidence of failed leadership, there is more.  From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, you have made a number of decisions that in our opinion did not show support or concern for our members:

  • You failed to authorize administrative leave for mandated quarantine periods, forcing officers to use sick and annual leave that they need for actual illness and vacations.
  • You failed our CTOs, ARU Investigators and Officers by involuntarily reassigning them to different work locations and shifts, forcing them to live in hotels and ignoring their seniority and family situations.
  • You failed to publicly advocate for extended hazard pay for officers, yet you are still imposing emergency changes to mandatory overtime lists, activating ERT members, doing emergency reassignments of employees, seeking emergency volunteers to work in other prisons and requiring mandatory virus testing per an emergency order.
  • You failed to accurately report prisoner disturbances and protests and, in many cases your local administrators have failed to hold prisoners accountable for their actions.
  • You failed to keep your spokesman Chris Gautz from making reckless comments in the media placing blame on employees for introducing the virus into the prisons.  I warned you early on that those comments could place our members in danger when prisoners see them and then possibly react. Those comments are unfounded and inappropriate.
  • You failed to provide officers with adequate and effective PPE in many instances.
  • You failed Baraga officers with 3 weeks of chaos by imposing 12-hour shifts on a holiday weekend in the middle of a pay period when there were other practical solutions.
  • You failed to utilize the newly formed MDOC Wellness Unit.  They have been invisible to our members throughout this pandemic.

 

Since you have been unable, and in some cases unwilling to effectively address these issues, the MCO will be submitting a Vote of No Confidence to the Legislature and Governor’s office regarding your continued appointment as Director of the MDOC.  We believe that we have done our part in trying to work with you on issues and offer solutions.  Unfortunately, we are at a point where the current work conditions are unacceptable for our members.

Byron Osborn, MCO President

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— Rick Pluta is the Managing Editor and Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org