Where collective bargaining and politics fit into prison staff shortages
May 15, 2022
WRITTEN BY: ISIAH HOLMES WISCONSIN EXAMINER – MAY 13, 2022
RESPONSE BY: RAMIAH WHITESIDE EXPO OF WISCONSIN – MAY 15, 2022
Myriad factors are fueling staffing shortages within correctional facilities, as Wisconsin Examiner recently reported. These include working conditions faced by many jail and prison staff and mass incarceration, which has far outpaced the hiring of new staff.
Sean Daley, a business agent and member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 32, highlights the hit correctional staff took when Wisconsin reduced public employees’ collective bargaining power. “In 2010,” Daley tells Wisconsin Examiner, “when workers enjoyed the freedom to collectively bargain over wages, hours and working conditions, the vacancy rate system-wide was less than 3%. After the workers had their freedom to collectively bargain over wages, hours and working conditions removed by partisan legislation, that number has exponentially increased each year to its current vacancy rate of somewhere just under 30% system-wide, last time I checked.”
Vacancy rates across the Department of Corrections (DOC) vary, with facilities like Waupun Correctional Institution running upwards to 40% vacancy rates for staff overall. The DOC, however, does not include local jails which are under the jurisdiction of county governments. Daley notes that other public safety jobs like police and fire did not see their collective bargaining rights weakened in the same way. “Do those units [jobs] have similar vacancy rates? They sure don’t,” he adds.
“Restoration of worker voices through the freedom to collectively bargain is what hasn’t been tried since the trend began,” he says. “The current governor did put collective bargaining into his first budget which was removed on partisan lines. Perhaps politics is more important to some than meaningfully attempting to fix an overbearing problem.”
Some have also pointed to the very design and age of many prisons in the state as a contributing factor. In Wisconsin, some of the oldest prisons are also some of the largest, and can be inefficiently designed. Daley, however, isn’t so sure that’s a big part of the problem. The prisons in Waupun and Green Bay are both large, old facilities, he points out, but, he says, “they’re not necessarily unique in being significantly short-staffed.”
RESPONSE: RAMIAH WHITESIDE EXPO of WISCONSIN
These staff shortages create further hardship due to a lack of care and needed treatment programs for system impacted people.