Brandon Archer (c) prepares to meet with legislators to advocate for corrections at our DOC Lobby Day.

Just after coming on shift, Brandon Archer, a correctional sergeant at the Washington State Penitentiary, was met with a harrowing scene. Officers conducting a routine tier check alerted him to a critical incident in his unit. Not yet outfitted in protective gear, Archer raced to the location of the incident. "They were yelling down the hall for me," he recalls.

When he arrived, he encountered a man inside his cell covered in blood. He'd slit his wrists with a makeshift razor and tried to hang himself with shoelaces he'd strung together. 

After rapidly obtaining permission to enter, Archer rushed inside the cell and performed emergency first aid. He applied pressure to the wounds, instructed an officer to call an ambulance, and put the man in a recovery position, waiting for paramedics to arrive. 

To Archer's relief, the man survived. "I've responded to several suicides," he says, reflecting on the incident. "With each one, it becomes harder. You have trouble sleeping. All I was thinking about is wanting to save the dude."


For DOC staff, profound stress and trauma are often written off as part of the job. But exposure to critical incidents takes a toll on mental health. And suicide attempts, assaults, and fights in the yard have all been on the rise over the last few years. "When I started 11 years ago, a multi-man fight would happen once a year," Archer says. "Now, it's a regular occurrence." 

DOC data shows a threefold increase in the rate of serious assaults on staff from 2019 to 2023.

Correctional workers like Archer say DOC leadership in Tumwater has not done nearly enough to address safety concerns. In some cases, they've made matters worse. 

"DOC is not listening to staff," says Sarena Davis, our Union's Director of Corrections and Law Enforcement. "They're moving forward with policies without negotiating. They're failing to staff the prisons appropriately. And they're assigning individuals with a history of violence to less restrictive custody levels. This puts our members and the entire prison population at risk."


Now, with contract negotiations kicking off this month, the Union is looking to make safety its number one priority. 

“This contract’s going to be based on staff safety and holding DOC accountable," says Scott Williams, a correctional sergeant who has worked at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center for 18 years and serves on our Union's negotiations team. 


Our Union team represents classifications across DOC and facilities across the state.

The Union committee, consisting of 22 rank-and-file members, got together on Monday to develop proposals based on member feedback from contract surveys and demands meetings. “We went through all of the articles of the CBA figuring out what language changes need to be made," Williams said. 

On Tuesday, the group met with the State for the first time and presented a comprehensive language proposal. 


The Union is proposing to strengthen our contract’s health and safety provisions to hold management accountable and to provide more support for workers like Archer who are involved in critical incidents. So far, DOC has not responded to those proposals.

"It would make a huge difference with the incidents I was involved in," says Archer, who also serves on the Union team. "If you’re at home, you can decompress and reach out for resources. The prison is not a healthy environment to process your trauma."


Secretary-Treasurer Paul Dascher (second from left) brings a wealth of contract negotiations experience to the table for the Union.

Teamsters 117 Secretary-Treasurer Paul Dascher, together with Sarena Davis and Staff Attorney Eamon McCleery, is heading up negotiations for the Union. Dascher says improving prison safety is long overdue. "Our members at the Department of Corrections perform essential public safety work. They watch over, counsel, care for, and prepare the incarcerated population for the time when they return to our communities. Right now, DOC leadership is ignoring their concerns and not doing enough to keep them safe. That needs to change."