Problems in the prisons: Union head talks working conditions with corrections committee

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The head of the state employees union is urging lawmakers to take notice of the work environment in the Wisconsin prison system.

The Wisconsin State Employees Union Executive Director spoke with the Assembly Corrections Committee recently about the working conditions guards are facing.

Marty Beil told WEAU 13 News that the changes in the environment started after workers were stripped of collective bargaining rights.

And he said something needs to be done about worker morale before things get out of hand.

“First time workers have basically lost the sense of control regarding their work sites. The system that is set up in the new rules is not effective,” Beil said.

Testifying before the Assembly Committee on Corrections Wednesday, Beil said communication failures and massive amounts of retirements have created problems.

“There's a huge amount of overtime hours in these facilities because of the high vacancy rate, I told the committee that some of these employees see more of the inmates than they do their own families,” Beil said.

He said there have been seven assaults in six prison facilities since December 24th, one of them at Stanley Prison.

“I believe there was a group of inmates that started getting rowdy and officers had to intervene, I believe there was some body fluids thrown. And I believe there was some minimal injury there,” Beil said.

But the Warden told WEAU that there was no assault reported in that timeframe.

“I was concerned when there was a disconnect with the head of the DOC,” said State Rep. Michael Shraa, a republican from Oshkosh and Vice Chair of the committee.

The alarm over the assaults is reaching across the aisle.

“I think there's a problem with getting information to the top,” said State Rep. Sandy Pasch, a democrat from Shorewood and a member of the committee.

But how can lawmakers change the conditions?

“I’ve got six different facilities in my district and my goal is to go through each one. I also want to talk to correctional officers and union people, seeing if I can get to the bottom of it,” Rep. Shraa said

“About 30,000 of the men incarcerated have a mental health problem, looking at other ways to deal with mental health issues instead of incarcerating people,” Rep. Pasch said.

Corrections Secretary Ed Wall said none of the people in any of those incidents were admitted to the hospital. He said he couldn't discuss them in more detail because of health privacy laws.

Beil said the Wisconsin State Employees Union represents about 1,800 Corrections workers. Prison guards have been organizing an effort to separate from the WSEU and form their own union.

WEAU requested a statement from Wall regarding Beil’s testimony.

His office provided us with a part of his testimony to the committee:

“As you are aware, there are some differences amongst groups who are striving to be the organized labor voice for staff within the DOC. I have been and will remain neutral in that debate. The state and our agency shouldn't be seen as aligned with one group over another because it gives the appearance that one group may have influence with the Secretary and/or State Government and potentially effect the outcomes of their future elections. Neither group is certified in the eyes of the state and until that benchmark occurs, we will abide by the law concerning negotiations and interaction to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”

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