Tag Archives: Washington

UW Students Occupy Building to Protest Closure of Unionized Laundry

Source: Heidi Groover, The Stranger, April 9, 2018
 
About 20 students are currently occupying UW Medicine administrative offices urging the university not to shutter its laundry service. The laundry currently employs about 100 people who clean linens and scrubs for University of Washington Medicine hospitals and clinics. After UW Medicine saw a $75 million operating loss last year, the university is considering shifting from operating the laundry to contracting a private company for the service. The school says the current laundry requires expensive upgrades. Workers say they fear losing steady jobs that pay $15 to $18 an hour. … According to the laundry workers and their unions, most of the laundry employees are immigrants and people of color. Some have worked there more than a decade. Speaking on campus before marching to the UW Medicine building Monday, workers said they fear being unable to support their families without the jobs. The Washington Federation of State Employees and Service Employees International Union 925 represents the laundry workers. During the rally, UW sophomore Iman Mustafa stood next to her father, who has worked at the laundry most of her life. The job offers a stable wage but “no mobility,” Mustafa said. She fears her father will have trouble finding a new job if he’s laid off. The university is “making them all homeless,’ Mustafa said. …

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As UW Laundry Workers Advocate to Keep Their Jobs, 15 Employees Get Layoff Notices
Source: Heidi Groover, The Stranger, April 2, 2018
 
On Wednesday, workers from the University of Washington-run laundry that services UW hospitals and clinics gathered with supporters on the university campus. They fear they could lose their jobs as the university moves to privatize the laundry. They used the rally to highlight that fear and call on the school to reconsider. The next day, 15 of the laundry’s roughly 100 employees got a new reason to worry: They received notices that they will be laid off in 60 days. Rod Palmquist from the Washington Federation of State Employees AFSCME Council 28, which represents some of the laundry workers, said the union plans to rally community members and elected officials to try to fight the layoffs. He said the union does not believe the layoffs are retaliation. …

Workers Protest UW Laundry Closure
Source: Melissa Hellmann, Seattle Weekly, March 29, 2018
 
Patricia Thomas has cleaned patient bed linens and employee uniforms for nearly three decades at Consolidated Laundry, a Rainier Valley facility which serves University of Washington hospitals and clinics. … Thomas never considered getting another job until she returned to her work station in January after a week-long vacation. In the midst of folding clothes, a colleague told her that UW was considering closing the Consolidated Laundry. Citing a $75 million budget shortfall throughout UW Medicine’s operations, the University is considering privatizing its laundry services. … Most of the facility’s workers are middle-aged, immigrants or people of color who rely on the job for its $15 minimum wages, health care, and retirement benefits. “The privatization of this facility risks over 100 good-paying union jobs with members whose families directly rely on that employment,” said Rod Palmquist, the Higher Education Coordinator for the Washington Federation of State Employees. … Over 100 UW Laundry Workers, student members of UW United Students Against Sweatshops, other union member supporters, and political groups gathered at the Drumheller Fountain on UW’s Seattle campus on Wednesday to protest the facility’s closure and to deliver over 600 petition signatures to UW President Ana Mari Cauce. …

GEO Group sues Washington to keep privately run immigration detention center open

Source: Beryl Lipton, MuckRock, March 23, 2018

Yesterday, the GEO Group, one of the world’s largest for-profit prison companies, decided to push back against attempts in the the American Northwest to limit their immigrant detention operations, filing suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against the City of Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma is home to the only detention facility in the state dedicated exclusively to holding violators of immigration and entry laws, the Northwest Detention Center. Washington is just one of the West Coast states actively challenging the immigration policies of the current Presidential administration. …

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Private Prison May Have to Boost Detainees’ Wages
Source: June Williams, Courthouse News, December 7, 2017

Washington State can pursue claims that the private prison company GEO Group failed to pay federal immigration detainees the state’s minimum wage, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. GEO could not prove that the state’s minimum wage law as applied to detainee wages is preempted by federal law, and the state has a valid interest in pursuing the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan ruled. Washington sued GEO in September for violating the state’s minimum wage laws. GEO Group is one of the country’s largest operators of private prisons. …

Detention center contractor asks judge to toss lawsuit over $1-a-day pay
Source: Gene Johnson, Associated Press, November 20, 2017
 
A federal judge is considering whether to throw out two lawsuits, including one by the state of Washington, that seek to force one of the nation’s largest privately run immigration detention centers to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees. The GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan to dismiss the cases, saying Washington doesn’t have authority to bring the lawsuit and that the state’s minimum wage law is overridden by Congress’ decision to set rates for work performed by detainees. …

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Republican congressmen defend $1 a day wage for immigrant detainees who work in private prisons

Source: Tracy Jan, Washington Post, March 16, 2018
 
A group of 18 Republican congressmen is urging the Trump administration to defend private prisons against lawsuits alleging immigrant detainees are forced to work for a wage of $1 a day.  The members say that Congress in 1978 had explicitly set the daily reimbursement rate for voluntary work by detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and that the same rate should apply in government-contracted private prisons. … In the March 7 letter, first reported by the Daily Beast, the congressmen argue that the detainees are not employees of private prisons, so they should not be able to file lawsuits seeking to be paid for their work. … At least five lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and CoreCivic, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes. The state of Washington sued GEO last year for violating its minimum wage of $11 an hour and sought to force the company to give up profits made through detainee labor. … Inmates in Colorado and California have also sued the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, alleging that they were forced to work for $1 per day to pay for necessities like food, water and hygiene products. …

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Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor
Source: Ian Urbina, New York Times, May 24, 2014

… As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities. … The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force. … Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year. … The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.’ ”…

Congress must continue to block Trump plan to sell BPA

Source: Union-Bulletin Editorial Board, August 8, 2017

Late last month the U.S. House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that rejects privatizing the transmission assets of the Bonneville Power Administration proposed by the Trump administration. A great move. The sooner this lousy proposal is dead the better it will be for Pacific Northwest residents who pay power bills — pretty much all of us. … President Donald Trump is calling for turning over the transmission network of power lines and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of hydropower from the Columbia and Snake rivers’ dams, to private companies. As Trump sees it, this would lower costs to taxpayers and improve efficiency. But in reality it would result in far higher rates for consumers. And putting the high-voltage grid in the hands of private investors — perhaps foreign investors — would create national security concerns. …

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Down the Mighty Columbia River, Where a Power Struggle Looms
Source: Kirk Johnson, New York Times, July 28, 2017

To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris. … Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers. The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors. …

County lawsuit claims jail medical service company at fault

Source: Martha Bellisle, Associated Press, April 1, 2017

Inmates and their families are suing Pierce County after they or their loved ones suffered medical problems or died at the jail, and in turn, the county is suing the for-profit company that provided medical services to those inmates, saying it was “wholly inadequate.” A jury likely would find the operation of the jail medical clinic by the company, Correct Care Solutions/Conmed, was “incompetent, unprofessional and morally reprehensible,” Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Grace Kingman told a Conmed lawyer in a letter acquired by The Associated Press. Pierce County isn’t alone in dealing with legal challenges to Conmed’s medical services. Cowlitz, Clark and Kitsap are among the counties facing lawsuits that allege inmates received poor or questionable medical care while being held at the jails.

… Among the lawsuits’ allegations:
— A Kitsap County Jail inmate died while going through heroin withdrawals.
— A Clark County Jail inmate who suffered from schizoaffective disorder and other mental illnesses wasn’t given his medications and died during an altercation with officers.
— Four inmates died in the Cowlitz County Jail between 2013 and 2014 while needing medical attention.
— A Pierce County inmate didn’t receive his medications and suffered two seizures and a fall that resulted in a traumatic brain injury and fractures to his eye sockets and wrist.

Dan Hamilton, a Pierce County deputy prosecutor, said a yearlong contract with Conmed/Correct Care Solutions resulted in 11 legal claims and four lawsuits over medical care, so the county is fighting back. It hired Conmed to provide medical and dental services at the jail starting in February 2014. But from the start, Conmed failed in a list of areas: significant pharmacy problems; staffing shortages and almost weekly turnover; delay in medical care; failure to provide basic services; and poor record keeping, according to Kingman’s letter to the company. After repeated complaints to the company, Pierce County decided to stop paying Conmed, in hopes that it would fix the problems, Hamilton said. Conmed kept asking for more time, and the county obliged, but the troubles continued, he said. The county eventually ended the contract and found another service provider. Conmed filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court seeking payment, but the county continued to refuse to pay, arguing Conmed was the one at fault. …

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Pierce County Jail outsources medical care, lays off 15
Source: Steve Maynard, News Tribune, February 14, 2014

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department began contracting out medical care at the county jail Feb. 1 in a cost-cutting move that laid off 15 full-time workers. …..The department is paying Conmed Inc. $4.3 million to provide medical services at the jail for the last 11 months of this year.….The county’s medical staff members, who were union employees on the county payroll, were told in January 2013 that the Corrections Bureau was looking into contracting the work they do. Dylan Carlson, who represented medical staff for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, could not be reached for comment.

Jail considers private sector medical staff
Source: Steve Maynard, Bellingham Herald, January 29, 2013

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is exploring the possibility of saving money by contracting out medical care provided by 38 nurses, physician assistants and other workers at the county jail. Declining jail bookings and revenue, coupled with overtime expenses, are putting pressure on the Sheriff’s Department to reduce costs…. A contract would not include mental health services, Troyer said. Mental health care is “a whole different issue,” he said, and jail staff will continue to provide those services. …

15 Lawmakers Plotting to Privatize America’s Public Lands

Source: EcoWatch, March 17, 2017

…Despite the irreplaceable value these places hold, in recent years, a concerted effort has been driven forward by certain senators and U.S. representatives to seize, dismantle, destroy and privatize our public lands. These lawmakers are backed by fossil fuel corporations and other extractive industries that already squeeze massive profits out of America’s public lands and only want more. In order to realize this goal, every year these corporations push millions of dollars toward federal lawmakers to motivate them to introduce and pass legislation that would have the effect of either fully privatizing public lands or opening them up to unfettered extraction and development. The Center for Biological Diversity issued a report that analyzed 132 bills that were introduced in the past three congressional sessions, between 2011 and 2016, and identified the lawmakers who authored and cosponsored the greatest number of these bills. The list of “Public Lands Enemies” that emerged includes nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives and six U.S. senators from eight western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

These 15 Public Lands Enemies are:
1. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
2. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st District)
3. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
4. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz., 4th District)
5. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
6. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah, 2nd District)
7. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska, At Large)
8. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
9. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho, 1st District)
10. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah, 3rd District)
11. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev., 2nd District)
12. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
13. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M., 2nd District)
14. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif., 4th District)
15. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

Read full report.

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign To Sell Off America’s Public Lands
Source: Matt Lee-Ashley, ThinkProgress, June 18, 2014

…According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website. Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions….

Food for thought: Prison food is a public health problem

Source: Wendy Sawyer, Prison Policy Initiative, March 3, 2017

This past fall, a new report from Prison Voice Washington detailed the decline in food quality served in the state’s correctional facilities. While incarcerated people often voice complaints about (very real) quality-of-life issues related to food service, there is a broader public health concern here: the long-term health consequences of forcing incarcerated people to consume unhealthy food. The report from Prison Voice Washington reveals how changes in food service at the Washington Department of Corrections violate the state’s own Healthy Nutrition Guidelines. Since turning over food service to the Department’s business arm, Correctional Industries, the quality of food has deteriorated and culinary job opportunities that require actual cooking skills have dried up. People incarcerated in Washington are now being forced to eat unhealthy, processed food from its central food factory. The downturn in prison food quality can be blamed on larger trends toward industrialization and privatization.

… Washington’s DOC is certainly not unique; prisons and jails are notorious for serving terrible food. … And research confirms that prison food is not just gross; it is often nutritionally inadequate… Incarcerated people are at increased risk of chronic diseases, but rather than using Food Services to help control both health problems and the costs of medical treatment, prisons exacerbate illnesses by serving and selling unhealthy foods. … The fact is, serving decent food is cheaper than serving unhealthy and unappetizing food in the long run. … As the Washington report demonstrates, prison food has managed to get even worse over time — and more and more people have been forced to subsist on it as the prison populations have exploded. And now, states and communities must face the long-term health consequences — and resulting healthcare costs — of feeding large numbers of incarcerated people unhealthy food. Far from a frivolous complaint, unhealthy prison food is actually a public health concern likely costing states and taxpayers far more than it saves.

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State’s 2016 Charter School Act is constitutional, judge rules

Source: Heather Bosch, KING 5, February 17, 2017

Supporters of charter schools are calling it a decisive win after a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the state’s 2016 Charter School Act, is “on it’s face,” constitutional. Plaintiffs had argued the act violated the constitution by diverting public funding to privately run charter schools that are unaccountable to Washington voters. But Judge John H. Chun found that the Act, itself, does not disrupt the existing public school system, divert money from public to charter schools, or deprive any Washington child of access to public schools. He noted that his ruling does not prevent lawsuits that argue the way the law is being implemented may be unconstitutional. …The state has eight charter schools that serve about 1,600 students.

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Parents Call Washington Charter Schools Illegal
Source: June Williams, Courthouse News Service, August 8, 2016

In a renewed battle over charter schools, a coalition of parents, teachers, administrators and labor groups sued Washington state, claiming its Charter School Act is still unconstitutional, despite a legislative fix. Plaintiffs in the Aug. 3 complaint in King County Court include the state’s largest teachers’ union, Washington Education Association and the League of Women Voters. The state’s original Charter School Act was passed by voter referendum in 2012. Many of the same plaintiffs sued the state in 2103, and the Washington Supreme Court ruled in September 2015 that publicly funded private charter schools are unconstitutional. … In the new lawsuit, the coalition says the Charter School Act still authorizes improper transfer of public money. “Under the Act, charter schools continue to be run by and responsible to nonprofit companies and nonelected boards and, thus, are not accountable to taxpayers who provide funding for charter schools. Likewise, the Act continues the unconstitutional diversion of public funds to charter schools,” the complaint states. …

Washington Teachers’ Union Plans Suit Challenging New Charter School Law
Source: Ariana Prothero, Education Week, April 8, 2016

The Washington Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union, says it plans to help file a lawsuit challenging the state’s latest charter school law. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, allowed a bill that restores funding to the state’s charter schools to pass into law over the weekend without his signature. … Charter school advocates championed the bill that eventually passed, which directs charters to draw from a new funding source and layers more regulations on the schools. But the Washington Education Association, which helped spearhead the first lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday evening that there are two major flaws with the new law: It still does not require enough oversight from publicly elected officials, and it still diverts money from district schools, even though it’s drawing from a separate pool of money. The lawsuit will also ask the courts to clarify the use of Alternative Learning Experiences, programs that allow school districts to contract with outside providers to offer specialized services. Several charter schools remained open after the supreme court’s ruling as ALE programs under the Mary Walker School District in Springdale, Wash. …

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A manager hired to help developmentally disabled people misappropriates more than $58,000

Source: Audit Connection Washington, August 22, 2016

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) oversees supported living agencies, which provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities. A house manager runs the daily operations of the supported living home such as purchasing food, completing payroll, and paying bills. Last year, Friendship House in Enumclaw fired the house manager for paying bills late and keeping poor records. Once the house manager was fired, other staff took over the Friendship House’s finances. After reviewing the records, they quickly became suspicious and called the local police department. A detective found the former manager wrote more than 200 checks to herself totaling $58,856. … A member of the Board of Directors for the house informed the detective that he got “into a bad practice” of signing blank checks for the manager, trusting that she would use the money for its intended purpose.

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Privatizing crisis response clouds future for about 20 workers

Source: Wendy Culverwell, Tri-City Herald, July 12, 2016

The 20 nurses and other workers who form the Benton-Franklin crisis response team have not yet received layoff notices following a decision to end county involvement in the service. The Benton and Franklin commissions voted June 30 to withdraw from the crisis response business, a move that put the jobs of 20 employees in the Benton-Franklin Human Services division’s crisis response unit in jeopardy. The counties have not notified Greater Columbia Behavioral Health services of their intent to cancel the contract to provide crisis response services. Greater Columbia has said there will be no interruption in services during the transition to a private model. … The crisis response unit employs 20 but is authorized for up to 28 employees. The Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME, Council 2, Local 3962, represents some of the employees, including the crisis mental health nurse, children’s resource coordinator, mental health professional, crisis counselor and others. Pat Thompson, deputy director, said the union has not formally notified the counties intend to shift crisis response services to Greater Columbia. …