Montgomery County prison guards to consider unionizing

    Guards at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility are thinking about unionizing.

    Chris O’Donnell, an organizer at Teamsters Local Union 384, said the jail in Lower Providence Township is so understaffed that correctional officers are sometimes not allowed to take bathroom breaks. 

    The guards “were literally told if they had to go to the bathroom, ‘Use the trashcan at the end of the hall,'” he said. And employees have also seen their benefits decimated, O’Donnell said.

    The 235 correctional officers will decide whether the Teamsters should represent them on Dec. 16.

    The guards received a two percent pay raise in 2012, O’Donnell said, but it was offset by reductions in sick time and paid holidays.

    “At one time, they had accumulated sick time, where they could get that sick time at retirement. And they wake up one morning, and all of a sudden, they no longer have it,” he said. “So, hypothetically, a guy could think he’s retiring in a week, and all of a sudden he no longer has that little lump sum that he was counting on.”

    He said the low morale among officers could have dangerous consequences.

    “They’re just so short-staffed, and they are just overworked, and they’re tired,” he said. “And, typically, how a person feels about their job affects their productivity. And the last thing we need is to have tired, disgruntled correctional officers taking care of people and really protecting the neighborhoods that we live in.”

    Montgomery County spokesman Frank Custer declined comment on the upcoming vote.

    Few of the county’s public workers are represented by a union.

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