Prison guards hope union will end culture of lawlessness

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SHari Kassebaum, president of the Correction Officers unit, turns over the guards' petition to the state to be represented by AFSCME.. Photo by Nevada Current.
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SHari Kassebaum, president of the Correction Officers unit, turns over the guards’ petition to the state to be represented by AFSCME.. Photo by Nevada Current.

Now that state lawmakers have cleared the way for collective bargaining by state employees, Nevada’s prison guards are the first to sign up a majority of employees and file with the state for recognition as members of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME).  The union has represented some state workers for years, but was previously unable to bargain contracts. AFSCME represents 1.4 million government employees throughout the U.S. 

Shari Kassebaum, the president of the 1,800 member unit, says she’s hoping the union will end a culture of lawlessness in the Department of Corrections.

“No one in that department is ever held accountable,” Kassebaum told the Current. “If you’re a lieutenant or above, you can do whatever you want.  Now we will be able to hold them accountable.” 

“Our officers recognize there’s a need for a union to come in and reorganize our department, bring standards, change the staffing levels and make it a safe working environment for everybody,” Kassebaum said.  

“NDOC takes allegations about management misconduct seriously,” department spokesman Scott Kelley told the Current. “At the same time, NDOC disputes the validity of Ms. Kassebaum’s allegations which cast a shadow on the hard-working men and women at Nevada’s prisons and correctional camps.”

Kassebaum says the Department of Corrections endures extremely high turnover. 

“What’s making them leave?  It’s not just the pay. If we make the job so unbearable that people don’t want to come to work, we need to change the morale of our employees.  That starts with standards, fair practices and fair promotions,” she said. 

“Every correctional officer knows the job is demanding and sometimes requires long hours in challenging environments,” Kelley explained. “COs (commanding officers) do this important work in order to protect Nevada through the incarceration and rehabilitation of the state’s inmates.”

On Friday, corrections officers submitted their petition to the State of Nevada, seeking to be represented by AFSCME when the time comes for contract bargaining. 

“We’ll assign it a case number, house stamp it, and give you a copy back,” Bruce Snyder of the Government Employee Management Relations Board told the workers. 

“Right now we’re trying to determine which jobs are in which of the eleven units,” Snyder said, explaining multiple unions are vying to represent workers in 64 job classifications. 

“We’re going to have some settlement conferences in the next few weeks and those that don’t settle, the board will decide who is right — Human Resources or the union,” Snyder said. 

The state can’t act on any of the petitions, according to Snyder, until the process is done — something he’s hopeful will happen in October.

Note: This story was updated on August 26 to include comment from the Department of Corrections. 

 

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

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