Organizing at Pelican Bay State Prison Continues


Nurses at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) have come together as a team to take a stand against the toxic work environment and to establish a workplace at which everyone feels comfortable and safe. After years of pushing to establish a Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC), members took action and got the attention of CDCR and CCHCS HQ, which in turn brought management to the table. However, as Bargaining Unit 20 DBUR Laura Slavec indicated, this measure hasn’t proven effective at solving the issues as yet.

“Management has refused to allow an LVN be present at these meetings to discuss the very issues that affect them day in and day out,” Slavec said. “We have had two JLMCs and both times management had almost a full month’s notice to release an LVN to attend the meeting.  Yet both times less than an hour prior to the meeting they gave us notice that they could not release them. How are we supposed to come up with solutions to the problems that face our nurses when LVNs aren’t allowed to be at the table?”

The issues at hand are extremely critical to the safety and well-being of the staff at PBSP. Meanwhile, the pandemic has led to an even more hardship for the nurses, who have been operating at only 25% capacity during this crisis. According to Slavec, “They receive no time off unless it is a protected leave, their requests for time off get denied almost every time, and they don’t receive their two 15 minutes breaks throughout their day either.”

While the nurses grapple with these workplace issues, they’re also dealing with the explosion of COVID cases, with little assistance from management. “Nurses have gotten no clear direction on whether to take their PPE with them to each housing unit, if they are supposed to be donning and doffing them in the building, and whether they should dispose of them in a normal trash bag or a hazardous bag,” Slavec said. “There’s been zero communication regarding these procedures,” leading to further confusion and unsafe conditions for frontline workers whose lives and families are already at risk.

The demand from the nurses is simple. “PBSP needs to treat their staff with dignity and respect,” said Slavec. “They need to communicate better and not have the mentality that they are management and our members are their subordinates. And they need to start to be leaders of their team, not bad bosses of their employees.”

In response to this failure by management to participate in good faith, the nurses at PBSP have worked on their own to respond to the crisis at hand. “Our nurses have come together and have created an information chain amongst themselves,” said Slavec. “Instead of just taking it from management, they have joined their voices and are pushing back.” With the nurses working together, the workplace has begun to change. “I’ve been at PBSP for 8 years, and this is the closest I’ve ever seen the nurses,” Slavec said, “They lean on each other and consult one another, proving that there is power in their numbers.”