Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Union Reverses Position on Private Prisons

Last May, when a bill was introduced in the Tennessee legislature to privatize the state's entire corrections system, the private prison industry achieved a major coup by winning the support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a 1.3 million-member union that agreed to represent former state prison workers retained under private contract. CCA, the prison contractor behind the proposed legislation, boasted about its "labor friendly" relationship with the AFSCME. Now, however, CCA will have to find something else to brag about.

In October 1997, the president of the AFSCME, Gerald W. McEntee, stated in a bluntly worded letter to state lawmakers that the union will not represent private prison employees in Tennessee or anywhere else. McEntee indicated that the AFSCME's about-face on the privatization issue was due to concerns that correctional officers cannot maintain their professional image in private, for-profit prisons. He also cited the widely-publicized videotaped beating of prisoners at the privately-managed Brazoria County Jail as an example of the "stark" differences between public and private correctional facilities. "In the end," said McEntee, "we were not able to reconcile private prisons with our determination to uphold the professionalism of the correctional officer career." CCA took exception to McEntee's remarks and questioned the union's motives for withdrawing its support.

State Senator Jim Kyle, chairman of a committee reviewing the proposed privatization legislation, noted that the AFSCME's reversal does not mean that prison employees would not have union representation. But the Tennessee State Employees Association, which represents more than half of the state's prison workers, has strongly opposed CCA's privatization bid. According to TSEA executive director Linda McCarty, "Under privatization, all the savings that would be generated would go into the pockets of the privateers."

The Tennessean

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login