Big Sky Roundup

State and Montana State Prison employees agree to reconvene in Sept. as negotiations continue and possibility of strike looms

By: - August 30, 2021 5:48 pm

Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. (Provided by the Montana Department of Corrections.)

Contract negotiations between the Montana State Prison and the state are ongoing as of Monday afternoon, with both parties agreeing to meet in mid-to-late September, according to the Montana Federation of Public Employees. The two groups met Thursday for the first time since the employee union voted 60-0 to engage in concerted activity, bringing the group closer to a possible strike.

“Still lots of normal bargaining to go yet,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis about the possibility of a strike.

Dangerous working conditions, staff shortages, and non-competitive wages are among the union’s top concerns as it negotiates its collective bargaining agreement for the 2022-2023 biennium with the state. In a press release announcing the 60-0 vote toward “concerted activity,” the union said some correctional officers work 16-hour shifts and collect up to 40 hours of overtime in a two-week period, and others are denied bathroom breaks for hours at a time.

Read more: Montana State Prison employees meet with state Thursday as possible strike looms in background

The prison has long had issues with staffing and recruitment, according to  Montana State Prison Warden Jim Salmonsen, who told a legislative committee in January that there were 15 vacancies at the facility.

“We have some serious issues that need to be fixed,” the statement read.

The Montana Department of Corrections said it was disappointed about the union’s vote and said it has a contingency plan to staff the prison if the union votes to strike. In an earlier statement, the DOC said staff safety is a top priority and hopes to “arrive at an agreement that meets the needs of all parties involved.”

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