Rhode Island state prison guards walk off the job

CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) - A judge granted Gov. Lincoln Almond an injunction ordering striking correctional officers to return to work Wednesday, as Rhode Island National Guardsmen entered the state prison to secure the complex.

The 1,300-member Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers went on strike at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday over a contract dispute. The judge Wednesday afternoon ordered the union workers to report for duty starting with the 11 p.m. shift.

A union lawyer said he expects all the guards to obey the injunction.

The order came as 130 Guard members, activated by Almond, arrived at the state prison to replace striking workers. State and local police accompanied the guardsmen as correctional officers yelled at them and predicted they would not be able to control the estimated 3,414 inmates inside.

''You know what it's like to train a murderer to try and do something? They would certainly be taken advantage of,'' said Ernie Battey of Warwick, a state prison officer for 25 years. ''When you're in the prison, your biggest weapons are your head and your mouth. It has nothing to do with force.''

The strike began after union leaders told workers at the state prison complex, the Adult Correctional Institutions, not to report for the day shift, which began around 7:30 a.m.

Instead of work, the union held a rally outside the maximum security building and told its members to strike.

About 200 guards working the night shift were asked by the Department of Corrections to stay on the job, and the prison was locked down, meaning most inmates remained in their cells.

State Police Maj. Steven Pare said guards from the overnight shift were held over to fill the gap left by the striking day-shift workers. ''They have the ability to run the institution, so it's secure,'' he said.

About 15 state troopers drove around the prison complex, joined by Cranston police. Correctional officers blocked entrances and carried signs that read ''On Strike'' and ''United We Stand.''

''They don't give us any respect whatsoever,'' said Chris Travers of Pawtucket, who has worked at the prison complex for 17 years. ''We all have kids, wives and education to pay for. We're still living on 1995 wages.''

The last Rhode Island prison strike was in the 1970s. The state also sent in National Guardsmen during that walkout.

An arbitrator earlier this month issued some conclusions on contract issues, including allowing the state to privatize some non-security prison work, such as the prison kitchen and store.

However, there was no decision on pay raises.

The union says a meeting on the issue with the state Tuesday was unsuccessful.

The state prison is a complex of several buildings that has a capacity to hold 3,858 inmates.


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