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Union leaders call on state Dept. of Correction to protect staff as hundreds recover from COVID-19

Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– Connecticut prison employees are expressing frustration over the department’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, hundreds of DOC staff are recovering from the virus.

Union members say the Department of Correction is moving too slowly, especially when it comes to being vaccinated.

Sean Howard represents workers at Connecticut’s maximum security prison in Cheshire. He says he got COVID-19 on the job and the department isn’t doing enough about it.

“I now have a heart condition after battling COVID myself. I now see a cardiologist and I’m on seven medications due to my condition,” said Sean Howard, President, AFSCME Local 387. “I still deal with fatigue and shortness of breath everyday.”

There are 271 DOC workers are recovering from COVID-19. There are currently 80 symptomatic inmates in more than a dozen facilities.

Howard says he’s working 16-hour days because Cheshire Correctional is understaffed.

“It’s not a safe environment and I feel staff safety is not the priority of our leaders,” said Howard.

Union workers met virtually Wednesday to express their frustrations. Top of priority: they want to be vaccinated against COVID-19…something they say has already happened in neighboring states.

“We should have had this vaccine already. We are essential, we do not have the choice or the opportunity to stay at home or work at home,” said Aimmee Reyes-Greaves, AFSCME Local. “Our lives include constant risk and exposure to this virus.”

Meanwhile, Governor Ned Lamont prioritized health workers, medical first responders, and the general public ages 75 and older. But essential DOC workers say they are tired of waiting.

“The department keeps on telling us the vaccines are coming,” said Collin Provost, President AFSCME Local 391.

Below is the response from the DOC:

The Vaccine Advisory Group has worked tirelessly to make fair and equitable recommendations to Gov. Ned Lamont, and he accepted the recommendation to have correctional staff vaccinated in Phase 1b, alongside the eligible public.

Since that announcement , DOC’s focus has been to develop an educational and operational plan – in collaboration with the Comptroller’s Office and the Department of Public Health – in order to efficiently vaccinate as many staff members and inmates as quickly as possible.

Commissioner Quiros fully supports getting as many front line DOC employees vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is an important step in keeping our employees and their families protected from the COVID-19 virus.

 
Karen Martucci, Director of External Affairs, Connecticut Department of Correction

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