R.I. Guards Go Out On 'Illegal' Strike

Gov. Lincoln Almond called in the National Guard and filed an injunction against the state's prison guards' union after it went on strike Wednesday, leaving state prisons short-handed.

Almond asked 130 guardsmen to assemble at the state prison. The director of the state Department of Corrections will decide what role the guardsmen will play.

Almond was awaiting a hearing before a state judge in his attempt to get the 1,300-member union back on the job. Skeleton staffs are guarding the state's prisoners.

The union, angry over a four-year contract dispute, went on strike Wednesday, leaving the state prison with a short-handed crew. The two sides are under binding arbitration, and they both acknowledge the strike is illegal.

Richard Ferruccio, president of the 1,300-member Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, said he would wait to hear directly from Almond before responding to his demand.

He would not say whether his members would disobey a court injunction. Asked if he was worried that the guards could lose their jobs, he said, "It's not even a concern at this point."

The union told workers at the state prison complex, the Adult Correctional Institutions, not to report for the first shift, which began around 7:30 a.m., and asked them to gather outside the maximum security building instead.

After a rally, the union members were told to strike.

State Police Maj. Steven Pare said guards from the overnight shift were kept over to fill the gap left by the striking day-shift workers.

"They have the ability to run the institution, so it's secure," he said.

About 200 guards inside will remain at work until some agreement is reached, Ferruccio said. But the union said the workers made up only a skeleton staff. The prison is on lockdown, which means most inmates will remain in their cells.

About 15 state troopers circled their cruisers around the prison complex. Cranston police joined them. Correctional officers blocked entrances and carried signs that read, "On Strike" and "United We Stand."

"They don't give us any respect whatsoever," said Chris Travers of Pawtucket, who has worked at the state prison for 17 years. "We all have kids, wives and education to pay for. We're still living on 1995 wages."

The last Rhode Island prison strike was in the 1970s when the state was forced to call the National Guard to man the prison. The governor has not called on the National Guard at this point.

The arbitrator earlier this month issued some conclusions on contract issues, including allowing the state to privatize some non-security prison work, such as the prison kitchen and store.

But the agreement did not include a determination on pay raises and more talks were needed.

The union says a meeting with the state Tuesday was unsuccessful.

The state prison is a complex of several buildings that has a capacity to hold 3,858 inmates. It was not known how many prisonrs were being held, but officials have recently said that the complex was below capacity.

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