Settlement Found in Nevada Prison Guard Dispute

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An employees' group and Nevada prison officials announced a settlement Tuesday of a lawsuit alleging guards had been suspended for complaining about safety and security.

The U.S. District Court lawsuit that had been filed in late 2002 by the State of Nevada Employees Association also claimed union members were denied their rights to free association, to advocate for benefits and to make comments about public concerns.

Besides the lawsuit, guards staged protests to bring attention to what they considered staffing shortages at various prisons.

State Department of Corrections officials denied the allegations, and in settling the lawsuit admitted no wrongdoing.

"This is a closed chapter. I want to move forward," prisons chief Jackie Crawford said. She attributed much of the problem to low pay earned by guards, and plans to work with SNEA representatives to get the 2005 Legislature to improve the guards' pay.

Under terms of the settlement, the prison will post notices describing guards' First Amendment rights and affirming that they are free to join any employee associations or unions.

Crawford and SNEA executive director Scott MacKenzie said the settlement also will require wardens at all prisons to hold monthly meetings with union panels, to ensure that employee concerns are aired.

Other terms include publication of procedures followed in probes of Department of Corrections employees accused of misconduct. The agency also said it keeps no secret files on workers and will adhere to uniform policies in worker disciplinary cases.

Also under the agreement, prison critic and SNEA leader Sam Covelli will get paid administrative leave and benefits until next September, when he'll retire. In the interim, he won't face any disciplinary action.