More than a dozen state prison employees have resigned and 11 others’ terminations are pending as a result of a state mandate that requires workers in congregate care facilities to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of Thursday, 2,234 of the 2,395 people working in the state prison system were vaccinated, according to New Mexico Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison.

Harrison wrote 139 employees have been granted exemptions, 11 are awaiting dismissal, 11 are on extended leave and 19 have resigned “due to the public health order.”Robert Trombley, public safety coordinator and longtime staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18, said the requirement has put the union in a difficult position as it attempts to deal with fallout from the mandate and protect the rights of the approximately 900 correctional officers and support staff it represents.

“We have a governor’s mandate; we have to follow the mandate,” he said. “Unions don’t like mandates; they like to negotiate these types of things. But we are kind of stuck. A lot of our members are upset and confused to some extent. Some of them are drawing a line in the sand. And we have to look out for everyone’s interests.”

Trombley said the mandate has worsened staffing shortages in the prison system.

The union representative said the department has adjusted rosters, reducing the number of employees called for on any given shift.

“But,” he said, “the most fatal thing is they are not filling the mandatory posts they need to be safe, to avoid [paying] overtime.”

He continued, “The Department of Corrections has a large budget. The need to fill a mandatory post is worth more than the need to save a couple of bucks. Our members’ lives are worth it.”

Harrison, when asked to respond to the union leader’s comments Thursday, said in an email: “Public safety continues to be of upmost priority to the department. This includes appropriate staffing at each of our 11 prison facilities.”

According to the Legislative Finance Committee, state-run prisons were operating with a 27 percent vacancy rate and privately run prisons had a 25 percent vacancy rate in the fourth quarter of 2021.

(4) comments

Robert Novak

If your “members lives are worth it”, maybe they should get vaccinated.

Robert Fields

The guards and staff are there to preserve order while inmates do their time - not to sicken and kill random inmates. I’m sure prisons aren’t happy places but there is some level of care and protection implied in correctional situations or else inmates could just be lined up and shot.

The staff don’t have to get the shots, but they also don’t have a right to that job. They can be fired or let go for any number of transgressions and putting the lives and health of inmates in their care at risk is one of them.

It’s amazing how many people are so brainwashed about the vaccines. They save lives. Vaccinated are much less likely to transmit covid to others if they get infected, have much reduced symptoms if they get infected, and are much less likely to die. In this country, one in every 500 people is now dead from covid. Over 700,000 in total. We were coming out of the pandemic when delta hit and plunged us back in thanks to all those who thought they didn’t need the vaccine. Delta raced through the unvaccinated.

People need to stop “doing their own research” (stalling tactic) and get the shots. In locations with high vaccination rates, life is returning to normal. It would be nice to see that everywhere but some are more trusting of college dropout Fox hosts, facebook, and tiktoc than the CDC for some bizarre reason. Those dying are almost all unvaccinated or those who got infected before the shots were fully effective, or just got one shot of a two dose version. All anyone should need to do is look at that statistic to know getting vaccinated is their best bet to live.

Aurora Sanchez

Seriously, nmcd staff stand together to protect each other. Think of this as protection against a threat to your fellow officers. Each if you would suit up and stand next to your brother or sister to defend and protect because you have CRED.

Robert Fields

Ah, I assume you are standing up for protecting our corrections staff by encouraging them to stand together and get the shots. That is what will protect them and the inmates in their care. It could even save their lives.

Or do you mean to stand together in ignorance and danger to themselves and others?

“CRED” doesn’t count for much when you’re in a hospital on a ventilator.

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