• Dennis Folk, president of the Tukwila-based King County Corrections Guild, issued the following press release Aug. 9 in response to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s decision to require all county employees to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or face potential termination:
The King County Corrections Guild believes the decision by Executive Dow Constantine to require all King County employees to be vaccinated against the COVID virus by Oct. 18, or face potential termination is a mandatory subject of bargaining.
In reviewing the executive’s vaccination timeline, we believe this does not provide enough time for King County Labor Relations to bargain the effects of this decision. With many of our members already vaccinated and the vaccination rate within the community being over 82%, why are we now mandating vaccines?
The men and women of the King County Corrections Guild have been working in our two detention facilities (in Seattle and Kent) during this entire COVID crisis. Our jail system has an extremely low transmission rate between those in our custody and our members. This has all been done while other county workers have been telecommuting and working from home for over a year now.
Our labor union represents over 550 corrections officers and sergeants in King County. With our jail system already facing critical staffing levels, the decision to terminate corrections officers or corrections sergeants for not vaccinating needs to be reconsidered.
Currently, our jails require the use of mandatory overtime to fill vacant shifts. This means these officers must work 16 hours shifts and are often mandated to work 3-4 days in a row. Additionally, these same officers are sleeping in jail cells to get more than a few hours of sleep a night, all while being away from their families for days on end. In the last 30 months, King County has mandated over 138,000 hours of mandatory overtime. The decision to terminate more employees will fall directly on King County residents to pay more taxes to cover these expenses and wages.
Our union is concerned for the safety and well-being of all our members to include those who have religious, medical, or personal vaccination beliefs. However, given the current staffing crisis and the already increase in violent crime and homicide rates in King County, does it make sense to terminate officers who are tasked to keep the county’s most violent offenders behind bars.