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Judge Approves Closure of Washington State Prison

Larch Corrections Center in Washington will close Tuesday, despite efforts by the union representing employees to keep the minimum security state prison open until a round of labor negotiations ends. Teamsters Local 117 sued the Department of Corrections alleging violations of fair labor practices ahead of the department’s decision to shutter Larch, according to Washington State Standard. Clark County Superior Court Judge Derek Vanderwood ruled Monday against the union. “DOC’s decision to close Larch falls within its sound discretion and authority,” Vanderwood wrote, adding that the department engaged in “an appropriate analysis that considered a variety of factors prior to making its decision.” Citing a shrinking incarcerated population, the facility’s remote location, and the high cost of needed upgrades, the department announced in June that it would close the prison. Corrections spokesman Chris Wright said prisoners at Larch had been transferred to other facilities. The department said it would offer employees positions at other corrections facilities or work with other agencies, such as the Washington State Patrol, to find them jobs nearby.

The union alleged that the department refused to bargain on its closure plan and improperly offered jobs to members in exchange for them ceasing union activities. Ben Berger, attorney for the union, argued that collective bargaining on the effects of the closure was ongoing, but layoffs were still scheduled to begin this week. “The Department of Corrections is moving at breakneck speed to complete the unlawful closure,” Berger said. The department argued it has been bargaining with the union in a timely manner and remains “committed” to the ongoing process. Assistant Attorney General Kelly Oshiro argued that the department has made an effort to negotiate over the closure, but said the union doesn’t hold any sway over the decision to shut down Larch. Vanderwood said the union failed to demonstrate that the agency took part in unfair labor practices and breached the workers’ contract.


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