May 13, 2011

Corrections committed unfair labor practice when it move transport crew from now-closed Pine Lodge

In an extraordinarily tough ruling, a hearings examiner May 10 found the Department of Corrections guilty of an unfair labor practice in a complaint brought by the Federation over how transport crews were treated during last year’s shut down of Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women in Medical Lake.

The examiner with the Public Employment Relations Commission said DOC had no intent of considering ways to mitigate the effect of the closure of the prison on the correctional officer and sergeant transport positions.

The ruling came with “exceptional” penalties that included interest arbitration if bargaining doesn’t resolve the dispute within 60 days and awarding of attorneys’ fees to the union. The attorneys’ fees act as a “punitive remedy in response to egregious conduct, recidivist conduct or to frivolous defenses asserted by a party,” the examiner said.

The union contended that transport officers had a unique situation that in some ways meant they could have remained in the bargaining unit even when Pine Lodge itself closed. They may have been based at Pine Lodge, but they transported offenders to different facilities throughout Eastern Washington. The agency instead posted new positions at nearby Airway Heights Corrections Center, where transport crews moved prisoners mainly to and from that facility only. Airway Heights employees are represented by the Teamsters. The union contended and the examiner agreed moving the jobs to Airway Heights constituted skimming of bargaining unit work and giving it to another union’s members.

“I find that the employer committed an unfair labor practice by unilaterally removing the….transport positions at Pine Lodge….and by failing to bargain concerning the removal of those positions,” PERC Examiner Kenneth J. Latsch ruled.

“I further conclude that the employer skimmed the transportation positions without negotiations, and circumvented the union by posting transport positions in the employer’s Airway Heights facility before notifying the union.

“Finally, I find that the employer violated its duty to bargain in good faith by expressing a willingness to bargain about the changes to the transportation service while actually implementing the changes.”

While DOC committed an “unlawful activity,” the examiner said he didn’t have the authority to re-open Pine Lodge or restructure the transport work.

Instead, DOC must go back for substantive bargaining with the Federation over the effects of the agency’s actions on the former Pine Lodge transport workers. That could include such issues as back pay.

None of the transport workers got those jobs at Airway Heights. They lost the opportunity for overtime and other benefits tied to transport work. They positions they now hold pay less.

If the negotiations on impacts don’t wrap up within 60 days, the dispute will go to interest arbitration.

“In this case, the employer showed a complete lack of willingness to entertain any proposals concerning the inmate transport work that was lost when PLCCW closed,” the examiner concluded.

“Once the employer determined that the only way to address the situation was through a layoff procedure, it decided that there was no other alternative worth discussing. It is important to note that the employer’s attitude demonstrated that it had already made up its mind about the matter before bargaining could even begin, as evidenced in the premature posting of the positions at Airway Heights and (a supervisor’s) comments to the bargaining unit employees.

“Taken together, these factors indicate that an exceptional remedy like the awarding of attorneys’ fees is appropriate.”

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