Waseca prison workers protest staff shortages, vaccine mandate

Prison staff picketed outside of the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca Friday.
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 10:14 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2021 at 10:55 PM CDT
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WASECA, Minn. (KEYC) - Prison staff picketed outside of the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca Friday.

It’s all part of a nationwide protest against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all Bureau of Prisons’ staff.

President Biden issued an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring all federal employees to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22.

Waseca picketers said it’s one of many factors causing some employees to leave.

Ambjor Anderson, Political Leg. Coordinator of Local 801 mentioned, “The mandate is gonna exacerbate that staff shortage. We’re gonna lose more staff that we can’t afford to lose.”

Starting wages for correctional officers is currently around $20 an hour.

It’s a rate picketers say is not competitive enough to retain workers or draw in job-seekers.

The institution’s staffing is 30-40% lower than the help required to manage its inmates.

Jose Pena, Vice President of Local 801 added, “It affects the prison. It affects how we conduct our jobs in the prison.”

Employees are working overtime to compensate for the shortage.

Some staff, like cooks and nurses, have been reassigned to work as correctional officers.

Picketers say the crisis is also threatening the prison’s academic, culinary and cosmetology programs.

“If we don’t have the staff to incorporate all the programs we’re offering, all the programs we’re using to give these inmates positive things to do on the outside, we’re running a county jail with a revolving door,” Anderson explained.

Workers who are not fully vaccinated by Nov. 22 will face termination of employment.

Pena said, “We don’t want to lose them. We need them. We need our employees here for the community, for everything.”

Picketers hope to see change happen before then.

“We want staffing levels to increase. We want pay, especially for what we’ve been through, you know, hazard pay for some of the employees. People are willing to lose their jobs over a vaccine. That should say a lot about where they kind of stand on this issue,” Pena mentioned.

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