Teamsters Local 117, the Union that represents 6,000 State correctional employees, is seeking a court injunction that would provide relief for workers related to the mishandling of the Department of Correction’s planned closure of the Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt, WA. The complaint was filed yesterday in Clark County Superior Court. 

In the complaint, the Union alleges that the DOC, under the direction of Secretary Cheryl Strange, has committed a number of violations in the lead-up to the facility’s closure, which is slated for October 1, 2023. These include refusing to bargain over the closure, violating workers’ seniority rights, and improperly offering employment to bargaining unit members in exchange for ceasing Union activities. The complaint also contends that the DOC violated Governor Inslee’s Emergency Proclamation concerning the implementation of measures to address ongoing wildfires throughout Washington State.

The Union is seeking injunctive relief that would effectively halt the closure until contractual violations have been addressed in arbitration. The injunction would also enjoin the DOC from disassembling and relocating fire crew operations away from the facility. 

“The DOC has betrayed the trust of the entire community,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “Instead of engaging impacted stakeholders, the Department blindsided the public and continues to recklessly move ahead with a plan that will harm workers, incarcerated individuals, and their families. Closing Larch will disrupt the lives and progress of incarcerated individuals working towards reentry while endangering people across southwestern Washington who rely on the facility’s fire crews that have served and protected families in the region for 50 years.”

A broad coalition of dozens of community groups, non-profits, fire districts, labor organizations, municipalities, and elected officials have expressed their opposition to the Larch closure.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz has called the area around Larch “ground zero for catastrophic wildfires” in Washington state. In a letter to Secretary Strange, Franz urged the DOC to pause the closure until the State can properly address the impact, calling Larch fire crews “key to our state’s ability to perform initial attack on wildfires.” Franz estimates that  relocating fire crews could “nearly triple” the cost for the Department of Natural Resources.

Correctional counselors at Larch strongly oppose the closure as do educators at Clark College who offer GED classes to the facility’s incarcerated individuals. Lauren Zavrel. a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University who taught in the program for 7 years, said closing Larch would be “shutting down one of the most innovative and successful prison education programs in the country.”  

Since 2016, Larch has helped hundreds of incarcerated individuals earn their GEDs with current graduation rates for men in the program at 85 percent.