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CoreCivic Workers Unionize and Go On Strike at Arizona Prison

by Ben Tschirhart

Some 20 newly unionized workers and their supporters manned a picket line at CoreCivic’s Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex (CAFCC) on August 12, 2022, after pay negotiations broke down over a company offer the union representative called “insulting.”

Despite alleged attempts by CoreCivic to thwart their vote, 17 maintenance workers at the prison in Eloy joined UA Local 469 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union in March 2022, after a National Labor Relations Board election. Union organizer Chad Jessee said that after not getting a raise from CoreCivic in almost 12 years, 15 workers voted for the union and two abstained.

Now CoreCivic has proposed “a 44 cent raise the first year, and 22 cent raises for each of the following two years,” Jessee said, explaining the firm’s proposed hike in the workers’ hourly pay, which is currently $22.

“That’s less than a $1 raise!” he said. “They haven’t had a raise in ten years and this is what they’re offered.”

Union member Dave Gossett said the workers keep vital prison systems running, including “boilers, kitchen equipment, HVAC, the fire system, all the plumbing.”

“When you don’t have working water or HVAC systems, when the toilets are plugged up, it can create a lot of issues with the prisoners,” Gossett added. “It can create a security issue.”

Another security issue on the workers’ list of demands: Repairing the prison’s faulty fire suppression system, allegedly offline for a year. Ryan Gustin, a spokesman for Tennessee-based CoreCivic, disputed that claim, promising the system passed testing in October 2021.

Jesse said workers would stay on strike until offered pay closer to the local average for the work they do, which Gossett said is $30-35 per hour.

The prison held an average of 3,572 prisoners and detainees in 2021, each staying an average of 108 days. Gustin said CAFCC primarily contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service, part of the Department of Justice, and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Arizona Department of Corrections also has a contract to hold some state prisoners at the facility.

Before the successful vote to unionize, Jessee said prison administrators posted signs advising workers to “vote no” and even warned some that “things might get worse for them” if the vote succeeded. He has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company for allegedly sweetening employee shift schedules and offering workers bonuses during the leadup to the vote.

Gustin denied any impropriety, insisting that “[a]t no point did CoreCivic or any of our staff ... initiate an anti-union campaign or take any actions to intimidate anyone.” He added that CoreCivic “supports the right of employees to decide freely if they want to be represented by a labor union,” noting that “approximately 10%” of the company’s workforce is unionized.

Employees, however, were concerned enough about the prospect of retaliation from CoreCivic that all refused to give comments to the media before the strike. In addition to the lack of pay raises, Jessee said that CoreCivic often requires employees to do work for which they are not trained or qualified. Incredibly, he said also that prison industry lobbyists were blaming the nonexistent pay hikes for increases in per diem costs figured into contracts.

CoreCivic recently contracted with DOC to hold 2,706 state prisoners at another facility it owns in Florence for a per diem cost of $85.12 each. [See: PLN, Sep. 2022, p. 29] 

Source: Arizona Republic