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Teamsters file suit over prison cuts

Union correctional workers are unhappy about recent budget cut plans. This is the correctional facility in Shelton, WA.

Unionized prison employees will picket outside the Monroe prison this morning. They’re protesting budget cuts. The union has also filed a formal lawsuit.

In the suit, the Teamsters warn of what could happen if just one of the cuts is made: the elimination of a prison guard to watch over inmates working in the kitchens in medium-security prisons. 

Their case contends inmates will have more opportunity to fashion “shanks” and “shivs” from kitchen implements, contaminate food with feces and urine and make “pruno,” a homemade prison wine.

 Tracey Thompson heads Teamsters Local 117. She says the cuts will jeopardize the health and safety of her members.

“We cannot wait until our folks are seriously injured in order to take action,” Thompson said.

Washington prison officials respond that safety in prison kitchens can be maintained. They say the chefs are trained as correctional officers and the inmates who work in the kitchens tend to be less disruptive.

The prison cuts come in response to Governor Chris Gregoire’s recent order of 6-percent across-the-board reductions to keep the st ate budget in balance.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.