Tag Archives: Washington

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. …

Big US detention center sued for paying detainees $1 a day
Source: Phuong Le, Associated Press, September 20, 2017
Washington state on Wednesday sued the operator of one of the largest private immigration detention centers in the United States, claiming thousands of detainees were paid $1 per day for the work they performed but should have received the state’s much higher minimum wage.  State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit claiming The GEO Group made millions of dollars and profits by illegally exploiting the workers. The Florida-based company owns and operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Detainees since 2005 did laundry, cooked, cleaned and performed other work but were only paid $1 per day and in some cases did not receive that much because they were paid in food or snacks, the lawsuit said. …

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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. …


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. …


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.


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.


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. …

105 ambulance workers in Snohomish County laid off

Source: Gabe Cohen, KOMO News, June 2, 2016

American Medical Response said Thursday that the layoffs are part of its acquisition of Rural/Metro Corporation, an emergency medical services company based in Everett. AMR acquired Rural/Metro last year. Last month the company sent letters to 80 full-time and 25 part-time Rural/Metro workers, including emergency medical technicians, dispatchers and clerical staff, informing them of the impending layoff effective July 31. … AMR met with many of those “impacted employees” at Rural/Metro’s headquarters Thursday, when it told them about 36 current AMR job openings in Western Washington. Laid-off workers can also pursue AMR jobs elsewhere in the US. AMR confirms that those employees would have to reapply for any job openings just as any member of the public would. The company couldn’t say if any jobs will be reserved for Rural/Metro workers. …

Mayor Murray: Municipal broadband too costly; public-private deal is way to go

Source: Rachel Lerman, Seattle Times, March 22, 2016

The best way to expand Internet access in Seattle is through public-private partnerships, Mayor Ed Murray said at a regional broadband conference Monday. The mayor reiterated the position he formed after a city-commissioned study released last summer showed it would cost between $480 million and $665 million to build out a municipal-broadband network across the city. That price tag is less than previously estimated, but the mayor said it was still too much to be feasible. … Some residents and interest groups have long pushed for a city-run broadband network, saying it would be less expensive than services from private providers and would help reduce access inequality, known as “the digital divide.” In Seattle, 93,000 homes — about 15 percent of the city’s households — don’t have access to the Internet. Many are occupied by people with low incomes, the mayor said.


Cost of municipal broadband for Seattle less than estimated
Source: Daniel Beekman, Seattle Times, June 20, 2015

Building a state-of-the-art municipal-broadband network in Seattle would cost less than previously estimated, a new feasibility study says. But officials in Mayor Ed Murray’s administration say it would still be too expensive without an additional funding source such as a private partner, a voter-approved levy or a federal grant. The price tag for a fiber-to-the-premises system would be $480 million to $665 million, according to the city-commissioned study released Tuesday by CTC Technology & Energy, a communications and engineering firm. That’s less than the $700 million-plus that a similar study commissioned in 2011 by then-Mayor Mike McGinn predicted municipal broadband could cost.