Prison employees, union reps rally at DOC headquarters for more protection against coronavirus

Connecticut

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (WTNH)– A caravan to communicate concerns made its way to Wethersfield.

“What do we want? PPE. When do we want it? Now,” protesters chanted from their cars.

The three unions representing correction officers, healthcare workers, social workers, and clerical staff parked in front of the Department of Correction headquarters, which they say was unprepared for the coronavirus crisis.

“The time for protective gear is now,” one doctor said through a bull horn while sitting in his car.

“And some people still are not wearing masks,” said Tammy Stewart, who works as a secretary in one of the prisons. 

“We have five demands,” said protester Shirley Watson, a clinical social worker at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution. “Number one, quarantine all symptomatic cases.”

The DOC released a statement saying all five demands have been addressed. These are the union members’ demands:

  • Quarantine all symptomatic cases and ensure proper PPE and safety protocols are followed
  • Distribute PPE immediately, including N95-grade masks
  • Coordinate movement of inmates between or within facilities to assure proper safety protocols are followed
  • Follow the Governor’s directives to allow staff to work from home to the greatest degree possible
  • Remove all non-hazardous duty staff from facilities and allow them to telecommute

In response the DOC says…

Symptomatic inmates are quarantined and face masks, which were at first hard to get, are now available for inmates and staff. Only essential transfers are being authorized.
When possible, alternate schedules have been established and they are looking to identify additional opportunities for employees to telecommute.

The one group of workers, which wasn’t at the protest, was the correction officers who are reportedly working double shifts and overtime.

They make up most of the more than 250 staff who have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 330 inmates have also contracted COVID-19.

“There’s nothing that cannot be done through telemedicine or telepsychiatry,” said Dr. Sohrad Zahedi, a Principal Psychologist.

“It’s hard to feel safe when you have very limited direction about how to use PPE properly,” said Kelly Schafer, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

In a statement Dept. of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook said:

“Surviving this crisis will require all of us to work together. Labeling issues as demands creates a division that is counterproductive to any partnership. If ever there was a time to promote unity, it’s right now.”

“People have small children. People have vulnerable populations such as parents,” said Marybeth Kaczynski-Hill, Pres. AFSCME 2663 which represents the social workers.

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