Delaware prison workers get new bargaining rights

(Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, file)

(Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, file)

Other staff members working inside Delaware’s prisons will now have similar bargaining rights as correctional officers, who already have special bargaining privileges.

Following February’s deadly prison uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, state lawmakers took a long look at conditions for workers in Delaware’s prisons. Those workers include not only correctional officers, but also other non-uniformed positions that keep the state’s prisons in operation. Those positions include correctional counselors, correctional administrative staff and similar occupations.

While correctional officers have long had the ability to collectively bargain over compensation, that right was not extended to those other positions.

On Tuesday, Delaware Governor John Carney signed HB 214 officially extending those rights to other prison staff.

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“This is the first step in many steps that we will be trying to accomplish,” said Michael Begatto, executive director of AFSCME Council 81, the union representing many state workers. “It makes known that if you have to go to jail to go to work, you’re different, and you have to be treated differently and you have to be respected.”

In the aftermath of the death of Lt. Steven Floyd in February’s riot, state lawmakers held a public hearing for prison workers to speak out about conditions behind bars and what they need to do their jobs better. State Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, who cosponsored the measure, credited those employees who testified at that time with helping push lawmakers to get this bill approved.

“We make an important move here today, but yet those employees that are behind the blue wall day in and day out, the officers, the non-uniformed employees need our support,” Marshall said.

That notion was echoed by the bill’s prime sponsor state Rep. Kevin Hensely, R- Odessa. Vaughn Correctional Center is in his district. He told prison workers in attendance at the bill signing that this measure shows, “how serious we are about making sure that your voices are heard and that we give you the protections and the opportunities to take care of yourselves and also your families.”

In June, Carney announced a new compensation deal for Delaware correctional officers. The two-year agreement between the state and correctional officers in Delaware will increase starting salaries by 22 percent.

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