Rift in WSEU widens as prison guards try to break away, form new union

2012-12-02T07:15:00Z 2012-12-03T07:48:48Z Rift in WSEU widens as prison guards try to break away, form new unionSTEVEN VERBURG | Wisconsin State Journal | sverburg@madison.com | 608-252-6118 madison.com

State prison guards are trying to break away from the Wisconsin State Employees Union in a bitter fight over election setbacks, discontent with labor leaders, and anger about working conditions after 17 months under a state law that all but eliminated public sector union rights.

If the guards succeed, it would be another blow to WSEU, one of a half-dozen major public employee unions still reeling from Act 10, the 2011 labor law that prohibited almost all collective bargaining and banned automatic dues collections.

WSEU director Marty Beil said the guards are in for a rude awakening if they succeed in their plan to form an independent union with lower dues and a smaller staff, because they would lack sufficient resources to serve members.

WSEU has deployed its seven field representatives and five organizers from other states to persuade the guards to return to the fold, Beil said. But the leader of the splinter movement insisted it's too late for that.

"We tried to change our union from the inside," said Brian Cunningham, a guard at the Waupun Correctional Institution who is interim president of the new group. "They didn't realize there was such a hunger to do what we're doing."

Cunningham said he has filed more than 1,900 signatures demanding a new union for about 5,800 prison workers, game wardens and other state employees classified as security and public safety employees. A vote could take place as soon as early next year.

WSEU's dues-paying membership of 22,000 has plummeted to less than 10,000 since Act 10 passed, forcing cuts in organizing staff, Beil said. Losing the guards would hurt.

Leaders of the break-away effort are veteran union members, Beil said, but they won't have the experience or financial resources to serve members in complex arenas such as the Legislature and the courts.

"They are going to get slaughtered, but they won't listen to anything, and I just don't know how to stop them from walking down that path," Beil said.

At odds over recall endorsement

Cunningham and another Waupun guard, Dan Meehan, said Beil has been arrogant with members, rude to elected officials and that he too often leads the elected union executive board instead of taking its direction.

Meehan was WSEU vice president and among those who opposed the union endorsement of Kathleen Falk as Democratic Party candidate in the June recall election to oust Gov. Scott Walker, who had championed Act 10. Falk lost in the Democratic primary to Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in the general election.

Meehan lost his seat on the board in an election he and Cunningham claim was marred by irregularities. They could have complained to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — WSEU is one of three AFSCME councils in Wisconsin — but didn't think they would get a fair shake, Cunningham said.

Beil said Meehan and Cunningham are sore losers who are twisting the truth.

Recertification an issue

Cunningham said his main reason for seeking a new union is that WSEU failed to recertify with the state after Act 10. Most major unions opposed seeking official state status. They said the new law made certification too costly and difficult, while allowing bargaining on nothing but an annual cost of living raise and providing workers with no clout to win even that.

But Cunningham insists that certification would allow guards to persuade prison managers to fix what he said are serious, morale-killing problems involving safety, scheduling and overtime.

He cites a statement he attributed to Waupun Warden William Pollard. "He said 'You're not certified, so I'm not talking to you,'" Cunningham said.

Pollard didn't return phone calls Friday. State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jackie Guthrie said there are many channels for Cunningham and other employees to voice complaints and make suggestions.

In for a surprise

Cunningham, who identified himself as a lifelong Republican, said he disagrees with Walker on some issues, including Act 10, but Beil has alienated GOP leaders with excessive attacks.

Beil said he has maintained working relations with state leaders, even though he takes them to task for anti-union actions.

Prison guards are understandably angry about their treatment by management, and justifiably upset about Walker's win in the recall, but they are in for a surprise if they expect the governor to become their friend, Beil said.

"Now we're going to have small unions and we're going to sidle up to Scott Walker and he's going to treat us differently?" Beil said. "That just isn't grounded in reality."

For his part, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor harbors no hard feelings toward Beil, and he respects correctional workers.

Possible election next year

Tensions have long existed between relatively conservative prison guards and other more urban members of large, diverse public sector unions, said Will Jones, a UW-Madison professor who specializes in AFSCME history.

"In some ways it makes sense, if there are political tensions, for workers to elect leadership that reflects their views," Jones said. "But in this environment it would be difficult for an independent union to survive without affiliation to an international union like AFSCME. If they have to go on strike or get into a big legal battle they won't have the reserves that AFSCME would provide."

An election could be held early next year if the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission verifies that signatures of 30 percent of bargaining unit members have been filed and after union complaints about the process are settled, said commission general counsel Peter Davis.

Davis said the last defection from WSEU was by law enforcement officers. In 2005, a group of 916 officers split from WSEU, said Madison attorney Sally Stix, who represented the police officers and also represents Cunningham's group.

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(41) Comments

  1. M2 Carbine
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    M2 Carbine - December 04, 2012 12:36 pm
    So many good people belong to unions yet they have no clue that every time they vote for a Democrat they are supporting International Socialism which is underminning America economically, legally and morally.

    * Unions are the largest and wealthiest lobbying group in America but you've been told for eons it's the NRA. Some of you own fire arms and also hunt and your responsible gun owners yet you don't seem to realize that your Democrat party (particularily Obama, the Clintons and the U.N.) are hell bent on disarming American citizens as we sspeak to comply with the United Nations International Small Arms Treaty (an International Socialism mandate). A clear violation of The U.S. Constitution.

    * Your union backed Democrat party is pulling 100% for Obamacare and it's Abortion On Demand policy. I know the abortion issue doesn't sit well with a lot of you union people but yet you vote Democrat to keep a multi billion dollar a year industry running. At present there are about 3500 unborn human beings being slaughtered daily in this country even without the On Demand Abortion policy.

    * The League Of Nations mandated the beginning of International Socialism (New World Order) in 1956. Since then the unions along with the United Nations have destroyed American based jobs in the private sector hand over fist in a successful effort to share the wealth (aka, jobs) with the world. Yes, your unions as a powerful lobbying group with the Democrat party have done that. Is there any reason why the unions in solidarity have never struck at the American sea ports to keep imports out of this country?

    * The unions and the Democrat party have made a dismal mess of public education and you know it and you know too that tax dollars have been poured into it hand over fist.

    * Your union backed Democrat party has convinced you that homosexuality is normal and acceptable but have you ever checked what the death rate from HIV-AIDS is in this country? Are you aware that HIV-AIDS has just 2 weeks ago been reported to be rising already in teenagers?

    People, the tax payers are tired of being held hostage by public unions because public unions amount to Taxation Without Representation! Clearly taxation without representation is anti American -- anti U.S. Declaration Of Independence and anti U.S. Constitution.
  2. dickfitz
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    dickfitz - December 04, 2012 9:07 am
    Ok let me make sure I have this right, your complaining because your pay went down and your union was ineffective in changing this. You do have government jobs, what leverage in negotiating does a government have, really none. This is the risk you take when you take a job with a union that negotiates with the government.However, you do realize we are in a down economy, things are not improving, unemployment remains high, the money the government takes in is down, so why shouldn't your pay and benefits go down like it has most other Americans? On average, a prison guard makes up to 40K, in most cases with little more than some training and no degree is typically required. I would say that's pretty damn good money for the level of education required to baby sit some criminals. I do not think your job is easy, but then whose job is, that is why it is called work. Maybe its time to consider that having a union is your problem.
  3. oly65
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    oly65 - December 03, 2012 7:06 pm
    A taste of what. Crap when it is thown at you. SPit when they spit on you. I hope you thug dont end up in a ally with these whiner as you say because you will feel pain. THese guards work their butts off and for what idiots like yourself blowing about things yoiu know little about huh. Takes a real man to sit on the computer behind a fack name. Me Im Jay Olson Correctional Officer at NLCI and I would love to have a chatt with you on this subject sometime if you dare.
  4. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - December 03, 2012 3:21 pm
    If things are soooooo tough these days, how do any 'competent people' continue to choose to work for the government? Personal accountability isn't complaining it is deciding what makes the most sense for you...and, no offense, but the public sector has always struggled to attract real talent - my heart goes out to those public servants who were 'forced' to retire with full pension benefits in their 50s.
  5. WI_Retiree
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    WI_Retiree - December 03, 2012 8:53 am
    Well put JimBob1.
  6. Observer5
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    Observer5 - December 03, 2012 8:49 am
    After Scooter divides and crushes all the state employee unions, continues to cut pay and benefits, and management grinds its heels into the necks of employees, morale will be so low no competent people will want state service jobs. Then Scooter can hire private companies to do the work for twice the cost - after agreeing to give Scooter a big campaign contribution.
  7. JimBob1
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    JimBob1 - December 03, 2012 8:14 am
    I am a retired Corrections Officer (Not Guard). WSEU never did me any favors. They lied to me a lot. Do you remember when the WSEU tore up 500 arbitrations to swettle a crap contract? I DO!! Or when they refused to back me when I complained about security issues, that later got a civilian worker raped. In 13 years I don't recall ever having a good contract. Look at Beil's pay check and you'll see why he doesn't want to shrink his rank and file. They are all dollar signs to him and the other union higher ups.

    Jim Licari
  8. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 03, 2012 7:04 am
    And how would they get their pay and benefits back if the union isn't allowed to bargain over those matters?

    But that's not the point. You indicated your opinion that the main reason — if not the ONLY reason — for the decline in union membership was that members didn't think they were getting their money's worth out of the union. I merely pointed out that there was another perfectly good explanation that you chose to ignore, namely that they no longer had the discretionary income AVAILABLE for paying those dues. Thus I think your claims of widespread discontent with the unions is an unjustified inference based on faulty analysis.
  9. Roundtable
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    Roundtable - December 02, 2012 7:42 pm
    This new 'break-off' union seems to forget where their roots are. A union is only as strong as it's members are.. Mr Bie has been at the forefront of worker's rights for decades now, he and his members deserve more from us than just 'they cost us money'. If the new guard union thinks that the administration will recognize them as an entity,they should reevaluate that thinking.Blaming the state employees and all public unions for all of the states financial ills is short-sighted and it gave them one of the most easiest ways to confront it, by passing legislation without telling the union OR the general public beforehand.If this is what has become 'the new norm' with Republicans these days, no wonder the voters pulled the plug on them in November nationally. And here they tried but were outmaneuvered by the gerrymandering.Sometimes when you think something won't work for you, you resort to unfairness.2014 is right around the corner.
  10. consRcrazy
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    consRcrazy - December 02, 2012 6:46 pm
    yeah - there's lots of armchair fascists posting on this site
    Report Abuse
    REALTHUG - December 02, 2012 5:03 pm
    The prision guards are merely a bunch of Waupun area spoiled brats that refused to accept democracy when they got their butts handed to them in WSEU Officer elections this year.And they had observers in the election process that had no concerns and agreed it was a honest election. They lost face when 3 women beat out their candiadates.The women won because a majority of WSEU members believed that they would represent all members interests and not just the guards. And the proof in the pudding is that when they lost they took their toys and went home. And also stole massive amounts of monies from the WSEU local treasuries they swore to protect when they were officers and members.
    And now that Marty Beils magic wand doesn't work for the guards because of Walker and the guards cowardice, they throw a fit and want to stab every other WSEU member in the back and kiss Walker's backside all in one giant loud public whine.
    Time to outsource Corrections and give these boys a taste of what every other state employee faces. It will be much easier now.
  12. whatistruth
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    whatistruth - December 02, 2012 4:51 pm
    Some years back I responded to a WSEU request for help with a mailing... i.e. asking members to help out at the WSEU headquarters. I took prescheduled, paid leave on a weekday to do it.

    While at the headquarters, I observed clerical staff not engaged in what appeared to be working activities (they are paid from union dues).

    And over the years I have seen many instances were they are very unresponsive to membership suggestions for improvements, perhaps coming from a top-down management that continues to sing the song "But we've always done it this way and will continue with that".

    The WSEU needs to doing a serious examination of the needs and wants of its members and a culture that the organization is board dominated rather than management dominated... this is a CLASSICAL organizational problem.

    Just as individuals can become mentally ill, so can organizations.

    There are so many indicators for change... that beg someone to speak "we have a problem". Once over the denial of this, change WILL then result.

    The problem is not that someone is standing up to the pols, the problem is that someone is needed to change the script... the current scrips seem to have worn out and disintegrated.

    It will happen.

    WHEN is the key element.
  13. windy33
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    windy33 - December 02, 2012 3:56 pm
    these that bit$h about unions have a clean chushy life of a job they have no clue what it's like to do reaql dirty grunt work. but they will be the first to yell really loud when their employer cuts their hours to part time and they no longer have paid vacations and paid holidays. they will beg for union help.
  14. windy33
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    windy33 - December 02, 2012 3:53 pm
    and the new norm is on it's way. they cut the hours of fulltime people nd make them part time. so it will be comeing your way sooner or later then you will no longer have paid vacations and paid holidays. pay attention to the news many companies are now doing this they demand more of you and take more of you while you get less. people will be screaing for unions. WAIT AND SEE
  15. epic
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    epic - December 02, 2012 2:56 pm
    These problems exist even in maximum security facilities unless there is 24-hour lock down. Politicians and "enlightened" prison administrators saddled prison workers with dorm-type prison facilities when they should have been building more steel cages for felons. My question is why there are not more swift and severe penalties for those that break prison rules. Convicts that hurl feces and urine cocktails should be handled "Singapore style" and that would be severe canings and bread and water rations. If convicts continually break prison rules, what are they going to do when they are released? Write poems and volunteer at nursing homes?
  16. Cheezer
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    Cheezer - December 02, 2012 2:24 pm
    Feeling better now?
  17. Thurston Howell III
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    Thurston Howell III - December 02, 2012 2:07 pm
    He holds the position of chief union leech.

    He sucks the membership dry, while running their entire cause into the ground. Thanks to Mary, Mary, and all the singers, bell ringers, and other capitol clowns, they've exposed what they are to all of the people in the state. And those people didn't like what they saw.
  18. Thurston Howell III
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    Thurston Howell III - December 02, 2012 2:04 pm
    So your theory is that they ended their membership and support of the group, the WSEU, that would be their greatest hope for restoring their pay "cut" and fringe benefits?

    Ahh, that wouldn't make any sense.

    What would make sense is to increase your support for the WSEU as the best way to get your pay and benefits back. But that's not what's happening, is it?
  19. epic
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    epic - December 02, 2012 1:34 pm
    Are there any UNION state employees are in the +$100,000 category? What position does this man hold? Bureau directors, section chiefs, etc. may be in this pay range, but union folks? I think not. What is this person's classification?
  20. Fartinthewind
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    Fartinthewind - December 02, 2012 1:31 pm
    Unions and the republican party have a lot in common right now. They are going through a period of self-reflection and reevaluation in the wake of stunning election losses.

    I think this bit from Marty says it all. Leaders of the break-away effort are veteran union members, Beil said, but they won't have the experience or financial resources to serve members in complex arenas such as the Legislature and the courts.

    "They are going to get slaughtered, but they won't listen to anything, and I just don't know how to stop them from walking down that path," Beil said.

    Wake up marty. You've been getting slaughtered for a while now.
  21. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - December 02, 2012 1:27 pm
    After several years of pay freezes, state workers got hit with a whopping pay CUT, in the form of the state bailing out of direct payment of their fringe benefits — something they had no way of planning for, because it wasn't as if Walker said during his campaign that that's what he'd be doing — so, like working-class families everywhere, they look for something discretionary they can cut back on. Not surprising that union dues were among the victims, along with upgrades to cars, kids' college savings, and a nice vacation every once in awhile. The upside? They get soooooo much more respect from people like you in appreciation for their sacrifices.
  22. SoylentGreen
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    SoylentGreen - December 02, 2012 1:13 pm
    Good. Marty Beil is an embarassment to ALL state employees, not just those in WESU. I was in WPEC and every time that idiot opened his mouth, it made me cringe. No wonder so many people have a bad opinion when you have a wannabe thug as your spokesman. If any good thing came out of Act 10, it was clipping Beil's wings. I'm no longer in WESU but for the sake of all remaining state employees, I hope he's kicked to the curb and a real leader comes in who can work with the Admin (whomever it may be) instead of acting like a spoiled child who only demands from the Gov and refuses to work with them.
  23. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - December 02, 2012 1:11 pm
  24. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - December 02, 2012 1:10 pm
    What? How about you think for yourself and make your own decisions...wait, then you would be accountable for your choices...scary stuff!
  25. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - December 02, 2012 1:08 pm
    Perfectly said.
  26. JohnGalt2016
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    JohnGalt2016 - December 02, 2012 1:08 pm
    Move away Prison Union. I'm with you [the little guy]. The state union is too "elite" to worry about you.
  27. Thurston Howell III
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    Thurston Howell III - December 02, 2012 12:42 pm
    Without compulsory membership and forced payment of dues, WSEU's membership declined form 22,000 to 10,000?

    Doesn't sound like many people thought they were getting their money's worth out of the WSEU.

    Marty Beil's loud mouth and bullying-style leadership are no substitute for actual representation or collective bargaining....they're just loudmouthed bullying. And, loud mouth bully's always seem to get their comeuppance. Marty's day has passed. The public's tolerance for loud mouthed union goons has run out - and it looks like the WSEU member's tolerance has run out as well...what members they have left.
  28. happydays
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    happydays - December 02, 2012 10:59 am
    WSEU has deployed its seven field representatives and five organizers from other states to persuade the guards to return to the fold - (that sounds threatening) - oh - and irregularities in the voting - NO WAY - couldn't happen - there is not voter fraud - especially pertaining to unions LOL
  29. Victor Zeller
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    Victor Zeller - December 02, 2012 10:39 am
    Unions all across the country have lost members and have been declining over the past 50 years. unions are dinosaurs. The economic climate has changed. Honest, hardworking taxpayers are tired of the UNcivil servants craying and moaning about every little thing. Now you get to pay more for YOUR health insurance and YOUR pension. You keep feeding at the trough of the taxpayers and sooner or later you will starve because there is nothing left.
    Teacher's unions need to be abolished along with tenure. Unions protect the lazy and the incompetent.
    ONLY about 12% of the entire workforce in the USA is union. 8% of that are the UNcivil servants.
    Game wardens need a union? Really? I have a friend that is a detective with the DNR. He cried and moaned when Act 10 went into effect. He is making over $100,000 a year and didn't feel he should pay for his health insurance and pension. I set him straight. WE, the taxpayer should have to pay for HIS benefits. Taxpayers don't pay for mine.
    Unions your day has gone away.
  30. cscrash
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    cscrash - December 02, 2012 10:26 am
    You get what you pay for.
  31. cscrash
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    cscrash - December 02, 2012 10:20 am
    A fool's errand run by Walkerites that will result in less power for workers, in a world where they have already been effectively neutered. Selfish minded leaders will eventually be exposed.
  32. tranktn
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    tranktn - December 02, 2012 10:05 am
    The point is that we NEED a voice. We NEED to be able to go to management and say that certain policies or actions are not safe. That is what i have seen OUR union used most for. Yes, they bargain for benefits. Who WOULDN'T want that? Would you see a deal at a store that was 4 for $1 and only buy 1 at .75? Probably not.
  33. tranktn
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    tranktn - December 02, 2012 10:02 am
    Some don't completely understand what goes on inside a prison. What us "guards" put up with on a day to day basis. Offenders are not always locked in. In fact, 75% of the units where i work there is no way to lock them in because they have their own key to their dorm style steel door. You're outnumbered roughly 68 to 1 and you get to try to enforce ALL of the rules. You get to tell an angered guy who everyone calls "tiny" that stands 6'5 and weighs 350 that he has to get rid of pictures and letters from his loved ones because he has too many. You get to deal with cocktails of feces and urine thrown at you. You get to hear very creative threats toward you and your family. Need i go on?
  34. Mike Myszka
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    Mike Myszka - December 02, 2012 9:07 am
    Maybe they should sing songs about "solidarity." Because as we all know, singing songs about solidarity with a clenched fist is the solution to all of life's problems.
  35. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - December 02, 2012 9:03 am
    Thank you. Apparently any monkey can run a prison, according to some people.
  36. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 02, 2012 8:53 am
    It is time to worry about the other 98% of Wisconsin. The unions have to understand that things have changed. Move on. If you are going to play big money politics, don't expect different results. Big money means big wins or big losses. Go do good work. And if you don't like your pay,hours or benefits, seek work elsewhere. Just like the rest of us.
  37. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - December 02, 2012 8:52 am
    I'm a bit confused as to why you can't see these folks want to forge a different, more cooperative path on their own. Instead you just resort to state employee bashing. Look what happened when they dissolved the Department of Commerce, or haven't you been paying attention? Lack of oversight by properly trained employees who care about working for their fellow citizens has resulted in millions of dollars gone missing from this new, "better" private entity. .
  38. samster
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    samster - December 02, 2012 8:51 am
    Even more amazing is the spineless wonders like cheezer making comments like this with the lack of realization just what these guards put up with every single day. No doubt cheezer wouldn't have the guts to step inside and stand toe to toe with a 100 unknown convicts walking by. Officers are also tax payers. Our prisons are what they are DUE to its officers. Besides pay and benifits,many safety issues are resolved when presented as a group [READ UNION]. They are no longer. Management is management and they have done many brainless changes already to save a "BUCK". Most of the changes are to make things "UNIFORM" between prisons and do not save anything. What they really do is FAIL to recognize that each institution is different.. At some point in time someone will get hurt [or worse]. Also sorry to say that these benefits aren't all that great when compared to the higher pay available in the private sector. I'd gladly move along but have to many years commited. We have lost several good officers to other jobs though. Most recently-WALMART!! Having spent over 28 years in uniform both USMC and WIDOC it is the unfortunate truth when I say I no longer give a SH*t.
  39. BananaSplitz
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    BananaSplitz - December 02, 2012 8:49 am
    You nailed it! If anything, that union won't listen to anything or anybody, including their own stewards. I'm rooting for the little guy in this one.
  40. bananahammock
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    bananahammock - December 02, 2012 8:39 am
    "They are going to get slaughtered, but they won't listen to anything, and I just don't know how to stop them from walking down that path," Beil said.

    Perhaps they'll pick and choose the battles that really matter to their members and spend their resources on those battles rather than nitpicking at every single issue just to try and remain relevant.
  41. Cheezer
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    Cheezer - December 02, 2012 7:21 am
    What is amazing in all of this is the lack of realization that -

    Wisconsin taxpayers pay a lot in taxes,

    public employees have excellent benefits

    Yet all we read about is some fat Unionista complaining about this or that

    Getting old guys, it is getting old!

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