Correctional Workers Blanket Capitol in Blue Uniforms

More than 90 correctional officers from across Minnesota spread out across the Capitol Tuesday for Corrections Lobby Day.
More than 90 correctional officers from across Minnesota spread out across the Capitol Tuesday for Corrections Lobby Day.

More than 90 correctional workers spread out across the state Capitol Tuesday for Corrections Lobby Day.

The correctional officers and workers from AFSCME Council 5 met with lawmakers in offices, conference rooms and hallways. They asked legislators to support their work, ban private prisons and let them retire with dignity. It was nearly impossible to go anywhere in the Capitol Tuesday without seeing men and women in blue.

“The safety and security of our people is what comes first  ̶  that’s the bottom line,” Council 5 executive director Eliot Seide told a packed room of correctional workers before they left for the Capitol.  “Our officers need to be treated with dignity and respect.

“Corrections in this state works because of you,” he told them. “It is a better system because of your professionalism and the way you handle yourself, the way we work together to make it a better system. Let’s stick together: We’re one voice, one union. Go give them hell!”

Tuesday’s huge turnout was thanks to months of hard work by an energized Corrections Policy Committee and other AFSCME members who they appointed to delve into the pension issue. They did action planning, held organizing meetings, and recruited members to attend educational pension meetings led by MSRS board member Joe Strunk, and to flock to Corrections Lobby Day.

MSRS board member Joe Strunk of Local 2728, center, listens to a briefing on pensions before members travel to the Capitol. Strunk is traveling to prisons around the state to offer seminars on pensions.
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Before they left for the Capitol, members prepped each other on the top issues they’d be facing. AFSCME is supporting a plan to keep public pensions healthy long-term through a little shared sacrifice now: The employer, employees and retirees would all kick in a bit, and the state would make a one-time injection into the fund.

“We’ve taken lower wages to be able to guarantee pensions so when we retire, we have dignity,” said Derek Magle, a correctional officer at Oak Park Heights. “You can live your life, you can budget for it, because that check is the same.”

Correctional Policy Committee head John Hillyard (right) and Local 599 president Rick Neyssen were among the AFSCME leaders who organized a successful Corrections Lobby Day.
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But some lawmakers keep pushing to take these guaranteed defined-benefit plans away and shift workers onto uncertain defined-contribution plans like a 401(k) savings plans. Others support a so-called hybrid plan that would retain pensions for existing workers, but shift new workers to these unstable savings plans.      

“You get the worst of both worlds,” Seide said. “This is corrections -- we have to stand together when we’re inside the walls. Can you imagine standing next to someone, you have the benefit and they don’t? How’s that going to work for solidarity?”

Correctional Sgt. Rick Neyssen, president of Local 599, said members worked hard last year to fight for a private-prison ban, but the idea of a lease from the Corrections Corporation of America (now calling itself CoreCivic) is back.

 “They are trying to make a profit, so where do you skimp? You skimp on staff, you skimp on food,” Neyssen said, adding that’s how uprisings start. That isn’t safe for staff, inmates or the public.

Local 915's Derek Magle, left, writes a note offering thanks and well wishes to Gov. Dayton at the state Capitol. All of the correctional officers pictured signed the note, too, which they presented to Dayton's staff.
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Members also went out in support of the governor’s bonding bill and his budget, which include: $19 million for St. Cloud Correctional Facility’s intake unit; $5 million to add 60 medical beds at Lino Lakes; and hiring additional correctional officers and workers.

Dozens of correctional officers pack into a meeting room to thank Sen. Ron Latz for his work trying to ban private prisons.
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At the Capitol, correctional members applauded Sen. Ron Latz and Rep. Deb Hilstrom for their support.

They met with their local legislators on both sides of the aisle. Then many of them returned to Council 5 to debrief and grab a quick dinner before heading back to the Capitol to monitor pension hearings Tuesday night.

Correctional officers thank Rep. Deb Hilstrom for her strong and ongoing support of their work.
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Next on their plate, correctional workers expect a big presence at AFSCME Council 5’s Day on the Hill on Tuesday, March 28.

And they told lawmakers they’ll keep coming back, and they’ll be watching: They plan to hold lawmakers accountable at the ballot box in upcoming elections.

The Corrections Policy Committee includes: President John C. Hillyard; vice president Glenn Lisowy; secretary Justin Stangeland; treasurer Tim Danger; executive board members Anna Koktan, Joe Miller, Sheila Robley, Andrew Lenz, Chris Bengtson and Jerry Firkus; and trustees Joe Witter, Marie Atkinson and Michael Sullivan.
Along with some CPC board members, the pensions subcommittee includes: Derek Magle and Jeff Vars, Local 915; Dan Gorman, Local 600; Eric Hesse, Local 404; Matt Huppert and Travis Lane, Local 608; Anthony Sunde, Local 3607; Cami Basta and Teri Hand, Local 1539; and Rick Neyssen and Chris Bengtson, Local 599.