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Greensburg prison guards' union says reassignments violate pact

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The state Department of Corrections announced on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, that SCI Greensburg will close by June 30.

By Richard Gazarik
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The president of the union representing corrections officers at SCI Greensburg said he will not cooperate with a state plan to reassign 250 guards to other prisons because it violates their contract.

Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania Correction Officers Association, said he will not sign a proposed agreement from the Department of Corrections detailing the transfer process for the guards, who will be reassigned to other prisons when the Hempfield facility closes by June 30.

“They presented this to the union and they expected us to sign it within 15 minutes,” Pinto said. “I'm not going to sign it.”

Pinto said he will file an unfair labor practice charge against the department unless the state agrees to negotiate another deal that protects guards' contract rights.

The corrections department presented the memorandum of agreement to the union Tuesday detailing the process by which officers at SCI Greensburg and SCI Cresson in Cambria County will be reassigned to fill vacancies at other prisons.

“The way they've handled the whole thing makes no sense,” Pinto said. “They're rushing it through. I flipped out (Tuesday) when I got a call at 8:30 a.m. telling me they were going to close and come to a meeting at 2 p.m. and (they) handed me the agreement and told me to sign. We're not going to be dictated to.”

He said the contract requires the state to give the union “reasonable notice” before announcing any operational changes that would affect officers.

Spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said the department will continue to meet with union officials to reach an agreement.

“The purpose of the agreement is to help facilitate staffs' placement into new positions and ensure that employees' preferences can be considered,” she said. “The department is committed to working with employees to promptly provide them with their new job assignments. All efforts to achieve this objective have been necessary and appropriate.”

Secretary John Wetzel said closing the facilities will save $23 million when the department opens SCI Brenner in Centre County. But Pinto said the state is building two more prisons in Montgomery County in the next two years, at a cost of $400 million, to replace the aging SCI Graterford.

“I can't answer how they're saving money,” he said. “It's phony math.”

A total of 22 nurses at Greensburg and Cresson represented by Service Employees International Union Local 1199P will be affected, said SEIU Vice President Kevin Hefty in Philadelphia.

He said the union met with department officials Thursday and received information about the prison closings.

“We need to review that with nurses in Cresson and Greensburg before we make any decisions,” Hefty said. “There are some questions about how you open one prison and close two.”

With three new prisons in need of corrections officers, Pinto said employees living in Cambria and Westmoreland counties may have to accept transfers to distant locations or face furlough.

“They don't care about uprooting families. A lot of our guys have taken years to get back home, and here they go again,” he said.

Officers have until Jan. 22 to reply to a questionnaire about where they would like to be transferred.

Guards at SCI Greensburg could transfer to prisons in Pittsburgh, Fayette or Indiana counties if there are openings. If the state can't fulfill their choices, they will be transferred to other prisons.

Job offers will be based on seniority, the memo states, and officers who refuse reassignment will be laid off.

The proposal asks the union to waive a contract clause that requires that sergeants being transferred keep their current rank.

The state will try to place sergeants at other prisons at their same rank, but if there are no sergeant openings available, they will be reassigned and reduced in rank to corrections officer, according to the proposal.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

 

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