Wednesday, September 18, 2013

AFSCME union speaks out to Backgate on Prison Heat Lawsuit

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

  After the AFSCME union released a public statement just over a week ago to it's members and the general public regarding it's intention to join an in- process lawsuit filed on behalf of state inmates regarding extreme heat conditions behind bars, there has been some backlash from employees the union itself represents. After we posted the news release, we received dozens of emails in opposition of the employees union joining the suit initiated by an offender organization.

The number one issue with these employees is that they feel the union is now somehow in cahoots with offender organizations. Thereby crossing that invisible "us against them" line in the sand.

We reached out to Lance Lowery, The American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees union counsel 3807 President for clarification on the union's decision to join the heat related suit that asks state officials to provide air conditioning in state prisons to ease extreme summer heat conditions for both employees and offenders. 

Mr. Lowery sent us this email as a response;

"This suit is not about the inmates, it's about the employees who are working in extreme heat.  Thousands of employees are effected by unhealthy work conditions.  We are bringing forth a suit for the employee's, not the inmates.  We are supportive of all litigation seeking climate control to prevent any further unnecessary death or illness for all parties."

"Heat enhances and increases the likelihood for employees to have heart attacks, high blood pressure, adverse effects of diabetes, or even strokes, which employees have died from while at work under hot conditions."

"While we have found there are a few people ignorant of the dangers of work place heat, most employees support our actions to improve work place conditions for employees and prevent unnecessary deaths or illnesses." 

"It comes down to this, we don't want to see anyone else die.  Heat doesn't care if it's victims are wear white or gray.  Poor southern states such as Arkansas have air conditioned their prisons for over 30 years without breaking the state.  Texas is a wealthy state that can pay for better conditions and pay for their employees, but chooses not to.  Upper administrators are rewarded extremely well for keeping the cost low, while the officers are having to put up with the daily fallout and extreme shortage of staff during the summer months.  The number of call ins during the summer time speaks volumes about what the employees support, extreme heat obviously is not one of them. "

Lance Lowry
President AFSCME 3807
Texas Correctional Employees
"We Patrol Texas' Toughest Beat"


  1. "While we have found there are a few people ignorant of the dangers of work place heat, most employees support our actions to improve work place conditions for employees and prevent unnecessary deaths or illnesses."

    Lance labels his opposition on this issue as ignorant in an attempt to discredit them. He would have us believe that ignorance is the only reason some don't think putting AC in all of the units is a good idea.

    Some people think it will be too expensive. Some people think the summer heat is a deterrent to those who might commit another crime. Some people think that as our system has become kinder and gentler, the heat is about the only thing left that makes prison a punishment and not a warehouse.

    I oppose for some of the reasons above, and because it is a can of worms we don't want to open. Our maintenance budgets and departments are inadequate. The AC is going to go out. People who have become accustomed to having AC, officer and offender, are going to become difficult to deal with. Suddenly every inmate on the block with the broken AC is claiming his life is in danger. Officers assigned to work the block with broken AC go home sick. What happens when the AC in the entire unit goes out? Entire shifts might call in. We have all seen bosses go home "sick" because they didn't like their duty post.

    We will have a new generation of officers and inmates who think they have an absolute, sacrosanct right to have AC every minute of the day. Add maintenance departments who can't even keep the toilets flushing and the doors rolling to the mix, and we may have some major problems.

    1. Thug #1: "Hey Billy Bob, let's go rob the 7-11 store!!!!"

      Thug #2: "No Bobby Joe, that's stupid thinking, we might end up in TDCJ with no air conditioning."

      Thug #1: "Your right Billy Bob, I don't know what I was thinking, I'm glad you reminded me TDCJ has no AC."

      It doesn't work like that. Lack of AC doesn't keep them from coming back, but it does keep:
      1. More offenders falling out.
      2. More trips to the Hospital.
      3. More staff at the hospital watching offenders who fell out.
      4. Less staff on units due to pych runs and hospital runs.
      5. More call ins during the hotter months.
      6. Increased insurance rates from employees falling out and not filing it on worker's comp.
      7. More offenders non-compliant with their pych medications due to the medication's negative heat impact during hot periods.
      8. Increase offender aggression towards staff.
      9. Extremely poor and hot work conditions.
      10. High employee turnover.
      11. Costly litigtion and the risk of government oversight
      12. High medical bills. The state pays for all offenders medical bills.

    2. I agree with 8:15am. Lance Lowry and others act like Texas all of a sudden got hot. NOT! Here's a news flash for ya Lance, TEXAS HAS ALWAYS BEEN HOT!! Get over it. Every officer knew they would be working in the heat and cold before hiring on. I know I did, and it was hot as hell in 1982. You come prepared for either one, hot or cold. Drink lots of water, and it doesn't have to be cold to hydrate you. It's the same for the convicts. They ALL know it's gonna be hot in prison. So what. They can drink water too. This coddle the convict mentality that's become prevalent makes me sick. Put their butts in the field and make them work all day. Then they'll appreciate the shade of their cell, hot or not.

      To all the whining officers. Quit whining, and GET YOUR BUTTS TO WORK! DRINK LOTS OF WATER! Supervisors, MAKE SURE YOUR STAFF HAS WATER TO DRINK, and LOTS OF IT!

    3. Offenders falling out, bosses falling out, trips to the hospital, insurance costs, medical bills. People keep bringing these things up. I have been a CO. I have been a supervisor. I have worked at this unit, that unit, and another unit. I have been on a unit with no power in the summer. I have been on a unit with no water in the summer. I have been on a unit with no power or water in the summer. I have done the rosters, contact logs, EACs, UoFs, workers comp packets, IOCs, hospital runs, and pretty much everything else. I have seen people in grey and people in white fall our here and there, but I haven't seen them dropping like flies. Show me the data. AFSCME can get most of that info during the discovery phase of their court case. They need to summarize and publish it. I smell hyperbole. Show me the numbers. If people want to cite costs as a justification for putting in AC, then they need to show us the money.

    4. Dallas Morning News yesterday in an investigative piece said:
      14 deaths
      92 reported heat injuries by Officers last year
      55 heat injuries this year

      TDCJ said in the article they don't retaliate against employees for filing Worker's Comp? How many Worker's Comp disciplinaries have you seen? Having been a supervisor also, you know the state buries the stats by attaching paperwork to an issue... Why EAC it????? Why not just file a Worker's Comp and they get the stats from that??? Why does an employee face disciplinary Or safety hearing for filing??? Are we really fixing the problem or just covering it up???

      As a supervisor for years too, I will tell you most employees who don't feel good due to the heat just say they're sick and go home to keep from filing all the BS. Most supervisors don't care because it's less paperwork for them. I worked on a unit where the safety guy wrote everyone up for reporting any workers comp, which just added insult to injury. As a result most employees stayed gone on Workers Comp months at a time for simple stuff.

    5. Experience says we should always expect the worst from anyone above the rank of Lieutenant. It's not fair in every instance, but it's practical and justifiable.

      I'll have to track down that article and read it. If the 14 deaths were directly attributable to the heat, and wouldn't have occurred if the housing areas were air conditioned, then TDCJ and the legislature will have to capitulate.

      92 reported officer heat injuries is less than one per unit. That word, "reported", is very important. Even if the true number is ten times higher, that still means only about 3% of bosses had a heat injury last year. I've been pressured to change my findings on OPIs. I've been party to some heated discussions about what is and isn't reportable. Admin definitely prefers workers comp packets that say No Lost Time. Maybe we will never know how much above 92 the real number of officer heat injuries is.

      I don't see much incentive for agency leadership to perpetuate a coverup. They should publicly tell the legislature we need AC, and pass the buck to folks in Austin. I think funding for AC would have to be a specific line item in the budget and approved by the legislature. Their iron grip on capital expenditures or whatever term you want to use is why we have so called million dollar patrol vehicles. Buying a new car for $25,000 has to approved by the legislature, so the agency ends up spending more in the long run to keep the long ago worn out cars running.

  2. The ice machines broken on the Ferguson unit.. been broken all summer. We can hardly get cold water for the officers, yet cold water is passed out three times a day to the inmates.

    1. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

      Lesson: Commit a felony and you'll get cold water.

    2. At least when I was there, Ferguson wasn't using an ice machine to provide cold water to inmates. They would put a trash bag in a milk crate, filled it with water, and put it in one of the freezers in food service. It created a block of ice that just barely fit in the water coolers. I can't think of any good reason the same can't be done for the officers. Seems like something Big Hungry could have taken care of with one email to the shift and food service supervisors.

      As for the broken ice machine being broken all summer; it reinforces what I said in my previous post. Our maintenance departments can't even keep the toilets flushing and the doors rolling. Do we have any reason to think they can keep the AC up and running?

  3. From the Desk BoBoTheBeaten:

    I intend to file a class action lawsuit with the leaders of all the primary churches. I believe that God has been negligent, in that, there is too much sunshine (heat) in Texas than other states and Texas doesn't get an equal amount of rain than the other states. This unequal treatment causes the premature deaths of citizens statewide. As soon as I get a lawyer who will accept this it will be filed. I expect in the end that God will make the necessary adjustment to make sure that the heat index of Texas drops dramatically and none of us will have to suffer any longer.

    After I get this taken care of I itend to work on the problem with the sea levels.

    1. You can't debate anything with any sort of logical reasoning, can you? Always over the top.

    2. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

      You're not the boss of me.

  4. We need to be more brutal with our convicts. Lance is so ignorant... This is Texas and in Texas everything is tough. Turn the heaters on during the summer, that way the convicts and the whining fat officers can sweat some pounds off. If employees fall out, who cares, they should have been Texas Tough to work in a Texas prison. I'm so proud of Texas and can't wait for us to secceed from the Obama States of America. Texas again will become a large producer of cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice once we put all these convicts back to work in the fields from sunrise to sunset. I can't wait to become a high rider and work 16 hours a day working these convicts like my great grand daddy did when TDC had the Sugarland plantation using convicts to farm it. TDC can pay me $5 a day, like my great grand daddy was paid. Back then they lived on the farm and everything was provided for them. TDC was self sufficient back then too. No need or medical... These 80 year old child molesters and drunks can just fall out in the field. The south will rise again!!!!!! And once again we can be Texas Tough!!!!!

    I'm with you Marty and BoBo... Let the Texas sun judge them convicts and them whining lazy garbage can officers.

  5. You guys are a bunch of ignorant trailer park trash. If people are falling out the state should look at their hiring standards and screen people prior to hiring them for health conditions. Most employers, including the military and most law enforcement agencies, have their people undergo a physical by a DOCTOR. The military screens out millions of people who are not fit for service.

    TDCJ lacks standards and does not want to pay its officers enough to attract a large enough hiring pool to properly screen people out. If TDCJ doesn't want to increase their hiring standards, than they should pay for AC to accommodate all the employees who are overweight, with high blood pressure, diabetes, or on psych meds.

    The union and Lance are smart for pursuing this issue. They know accommodation will cost the state billions or force them to increase their hiring standards. Increased standards will require increased pay. DPS received a 20% pay raise because it cost more to recruit and train a DPS officer. With TDCJ Officer's working around dangerous felons all day long, maybe its time for TDCJ to increase their standards and pay too.

    1. I'm not sure exactly who you are calling trailer park trash, but there is a lot of truth in your post. The lack of AC isn't TDCJ's biggest problem, and putting in AC isn't going to accomplish much beyond avoiding litigation. Pay and hiring standards seem to be the root of the agency's biggest problems. Discussions about the Texas heat and AC keep leading to hiring standards and pay.

      Even if the units had AC throughout, being a correctional officer would still physically demanding. Prolonged standing, walking, climbing stairs, bending, climbing ladders. It's all listed in the CO job description. The agency continues to hire people who lack the ability to handle the rigors of being a correctional officer. The agency continues to hire people who lack the motivation to handle the rigors of being a correctional officer. Those who lack the ability shouldn't be hired, and those who lack the motivation shouldn't be allowed to stay. We have too many warm bodies in gray uniforms, and not enough correctional officers. Putting on a gray uniform doesn't make you a correctional officer any more than putting on a chicken costume transforms you into an egg laying hen. Your costume might fool even an experienced observer from a distance. Once they see you up close, they pretty quickly know if you are the real deal.

      The problem of low pay and the problem of low hiring standards work together to show us synergy at its finest. Low pay and low standards create a problem that is far bigger than the sum of their two parts. The low pay fails to attract many high quality applicants. Sometimes you do get high quality folks. Most of them don't last long. The good ones see their coworkers sitting on trashcans while they work hard. As they start to realize their hard work gets them exactly the same paycheck as their useless counterparts, bad things happen. The good people either turn into trashcan bosses, or they leave. Someone who makes it to CO V without riding a trashcan along the way is truly precious.

      I endured the "Keeping the Good Ones" training. All I could think about were other courses that might serve the agency better. Not Hiring the Bad Ones, or Not Keeping the Bad Ones, or Getting Rid of the Bad Ones. Screening out people who can't handle the physical aspect of the job is a good start, but beyond that I think it's very tough to predict who will make a good officer and who wont. Education is highly overrated as a predictor of success. I've had to write Use of Force statements for bosses who were great at running blocks, but who were functionally illiterate. Honestly, I haven't come up with anything that is a good predictor of success that HR could use when making hiring decisions. In theory, the training academy is a period of probationary employment, and it's relatively to separate people who are still in the academy (PD-33). I think that probationary period needs to last 24 months. Our problem is not just who we are hiring, but who we are allowing to stay. Higher pay, improved hiring standards, and making it much easier to get rid of bad employees early on will slowly but steadily pull TDCJ out of the ditch. Air conditioning is going to fix the agency's problems. At best it will head off some potentially expensive litigation.

    2. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

      Every sentence in your post was true. However, since we are demanding air conditioning I would like to demand escalators so we don't have to walk up and down stairs. Nothing is more demoralizing than to look up a tall flight of stairs knowing that somehow you've got to get an overweight body to the top. Escalators could save lives.

    3. AH Bobo still alive and talking trash. One day i will get my wish and hear your ignorant ass , was gone. if your so great how come you not making rank.
      again DROP DEAD ..

    4. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

      I made my rank the first time around. This time I'm here for my own amusement. And it is amusing.

  6. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

    Why didn't Lance work harder on getting pay raises when he had the chance? Why doesn't Lance work on changing the promotion and hiring process? Maybe Lance is overpaid for the work that he does.

  7. Is five dollars a day the going rate for idiot's these days?

  8. TDCJ has been supplying ice water to inmates for years, and now they only work them outside in the summer for half a day. All while the officers may or may not get a break due to understaffing and buy water from the commissary because the tap water is brown from all the rust and crap in it. What the hell has happened here?

  9. Y'alls governor, prick perry, said a trained monkey can do our job. Monkeys are accustomed to being in the heat. Bring on the monkeys.

    1. The monkeys are treated better than the TDCJ employees. The zoo has heat standards for their monkeys and air conditioned monkey houses, just like TDCJ has climate control for their hogs.

      Now TDCJ is saying heat is not dangerous, despite 14 deaths, 92 employee heat illnesses last year, and 55 this year. I guess those dead people were just faking it.

    2. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

      Will the heat keep you from the beach or a football game? Tell your mama to change your diapers.