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Union leader says prison guards face less-safe work conditions

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MADISON (WSAU)   A union leader says Wisconsin prisons have become more dangerous, after employees lost their union protections in 2011. Marty Beil, head of the state’s largest employee union, told lawmakers yesterday that seven guards were assaulted by prisoners since Christmas Eve. He said a Waupun guard was stabbed through the cheek by an inmate who’s doing time for homicide.

State Corrections’ Secretary Ed Wall said none of the workers Beil mentioned were admitted to a hospital. And Wall told a state Assembly committee hearing that there were no serious assaults of state prison workers in the last 10 months. The union bargaining limits allowed management to set all the work rules. And since they took effect a year ago, Beil told the Assembly corrections’ panel that prison workers generally feel quote, “de-valued and at risk.” He said the changes in working conditions have spilled over into the working environment. The union chief said the guards don’t get enough training – and the process for raising concerns has become less formal and less effective.

Leaders on both sides also said workers are feeling the stress of working overtime to cover the nearly six-percent of prison jobs that are vacant. Wall said the workers are tired, and Beil said some are spending more time with the inmates than with their families.

Meanwhile, an election may take place later this year by guards who are trying to form their own union. They say their communication has broken down with Beil’s group. Beil wouldn’t comment.

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