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Prison workers protest conditions

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

Citing unsafe working conditions and unfair treatment, nearly 300 prison employees gathered in Carson City and Las Vegas to protest on Monday afternoon.

Scott MacKenzie, executive director for the Nevada Employees Association, said union members are not allowed to speak out within the Department of Corrections.

“Corrections officers are essentially silenced,” he said. “They cannot advocate for themselves without retaliation.”

However, Jackie Crawford, director of the corrections department, said she does listen to employees and the union.

“We’ve had approximately 17 meetings with them in the past,” she said. “We’re more than willing to listen to them. Absolutely. That’s part of what we do.”

MacKenzie said 11 officers have been placed on administrative leave within the last six months and are under investigation for voicing opinions contrary to administrators.

But he said in the spirit of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated while protesting in favor of civil rights, they would no longer be silent.

“It is only fitting and proper that we are standing here fighting for our rights on Martin Luther King Day in the face of tyrants,” MacKenzie said. “The rights of the American dream should be for everybody.”

MacKenzie said the workers are fighting for two major changes.

The first is to eliminate times where minimal officers are on duty, creating an unsafe feeling among staff members. The second is to give officers with seniority first choice in work schedule.

“We’re just trying to get fairness in the workplace,” he said. “We want to be heard.”

Waving signs that spelled out messages such as “No justice, no peace,” and “safety and security first,” picketers shouted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho — Jackie’s gotta go.”

The employees association filed a lawsuit last month against several top officials of the state Department of Corrections and the Attorney General’s Office. The suit is still pending.