By ELIZABETH DONALD
Union workers at Vandalia Correctional Center in Illinois will not be facing reduced capacity or layoffs in the near future, following protests from AFSCME and local officials.
AFSCME members had mobilized in recent weeks with petitions and appeals to elected officials after an announcement that the state was considering consolidation of populations within the prison that the union felt would lead to a reduction in employees and possibly closure of the prison in the future.
Council 31 pressed the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the governor’s office to reconsider while invoking the union’s right to bargain over the impact of the changes.
“This is the culmination of months of work,” said Eddie Caumiant, regional director of AFSCME Council 31 and the union liaison to IDOC.
IDOC’s statement insisted that closing Vandalia was not the intent of the consolidation and conversion review, but that the department was only seeking ways to more efficiently operate the facility as the prison population has declined under recent sentencing reforms in the criminal justice system. Vandalia’s population has dropped from 525 on June 1 to 458 this week, while in February it was as low as 301, according to IDOC.
“At this time we have decided to hold off on the consolidation/conversion at Vandalia,” read the statement from IDOC. “If it is decided in the future to revisit this plan, we will notify AFSCME Council 31 and continue discussions.”
That last part is key, according to Caumiant, as union leaders had made it clear to IDOC that they could not make unilateral changes in the workers’ jobs and working conditions without negotiating.
“We have to remain vigilant and always ready to spring back into action,” Caumiant said.
Vandalia Mayor Ricky Gottman also released a statement in favor of the decision, as he said he has been working with the governor, IDOC and staffers to come up with a solution.
“In my tenure as mayor, I have always worked for the betterment of our great city and its residents and employees,” Gottman said. “Supporting and maintaining the Vandalia Correctional Center is not a political matter, it is a community matter.”
AFSCME Local 993 president Ryan Tompkins said that the community, the mayor, Council 31 and the local stepped up and came together to make sure IDOC knew the value of keeping Vandalia open.
“Everyone agreed we cannot let this place close, but it takes the whole entire group to make any of this work,” Tompkins said. “It takes a lot of legwork, but you can’t sit back and count on someone else to do it. That’s what solidarity is, and solidarity works.”
Established in 1921, Vandalia Correctional Center has a maximum capacity of 1,300 minimum security adult males. Located 70 miles northeast of St. Louis, it was originally a prison farm operation for misdemeanor offenders and has a dorm-type setting with 113 buildings over 1,520 acres.