Stonewalling wrong way to treat workers
December 31, 2002
Trying to stifle a union is frequently the best way to light a fire under its most fervant supporters. That seems to be the case with the Nevada Department of Prisons’ recent quarrels with the state employees’ association, which represents some 800 workers in the department.
When it comes to state jobs, few could be tougher or less appreciated than correctional officers.
In the last couple of years, those jobs have only become more difficult as the state pulled its budget belt tighter. In a department already considered understaffed and under-budgeted, Corrections took staffing cuts as well as having to find ways to trim costs down the line when Gov. Kenny Guinn decreed 3 percent reductions.
As shifts were changed and procedures adjusted to cover for the budget cuts, correctional officers have been put in situations they believe are unsafe. Several have raised questions in this newspaper about the wisdom of some of the decisions being made, saying they have hurt morale and created a “recipe for disaster.”
Prisons Director Jackie Crawford has been both criticized and praised. Most of the complaints have come from inside the department about the handling of the budget crisis, while most of the praise has come from outside as taxpayers appreciate a department capable of operating on a lean budget.
Complaints from within the department peaked last week when the State of Nevada Employees Association filed a lawsuit alleging workers are being subjected to retaliation for their activities with the association.
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If that’s the case, the department is making a precarious situation worse. Staffing, safety and scheduling should be at the top of the list of concerns administrators discuss with employees and leaders of the association.
Stonewalling may be a great way to hold prisoners, but it’s a lousy way to treat workers. Mishandling labor relations only proves to doubters the need for “union protection,” and will only deepen the resolve of association members to strengthen their support.