BILLINGS (AP) (8/17/04) � The Teamsters union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state Board of Personnel Appeals Monday, accusing the city of Billings of violating state law by firing probationary employees who refused to cross a picket line.
The city's refusal to guarantee the rehiring of those fired workers reportedly was the only remaining point of contention. The strike by more than 300 city workers began Aug. 7.
William O'Connor, a Billings lawyer representing Teamsters Local 190, said state law prohibits public employers from firing workers because they have taken action in support of a labor union.
Rick Harden, human resources manager for the city, said the union's complaint was being discussed with city attorneys and declined further comment.
Bill Slaughter, Corrections Department director, said the plan represents an attempt to change what government does with criminals.
��We want a strategy to deal with them in a cheaper and more effective manner than prison,'' he said.
Currently, about 75 percent of the 10,347 adults under supervision of the department are in community corrections programs, and most are nonviolent drug offenders. Slaughter wants that increased to 80 percent.
The increase for the next two-year budget would represent about a 17 percent growth from the current level of $104 million. That's in response to a projected annual increase of 4.5 percent in the corrections population over the next three years, to nearly 11,800.
Slaughter said $12 million would be used largely to pay the cost of additional cells at the privately run Crossroads Corrections Center in Shelby. The state wants Corrections Corporation of America to double capacity of its prison to 1,000 inmates. The state has about 400 prisoners there.
Joe Williams, who heads the department's centralized services office, said the agency is negotiating terms with CCA. The company wants a guarantee that the state will fill a minimum number of beds and the state wants a daily rate that gradually declines as inmate numbers rise, he said.
Williams said he hopes a deal can be struck with CCA by October, with the first 250 new cells at Shelby available by next summer.
Jim MacDonald, Crossroads warden, did not return a phone message left at his office.
Eventually, federal prisoners would use about 200 of the new beds, and transferring state inmates from county jails would fill about half the remaining 300 beds, Slaughter estimated. That would free space for law enforcement to begin serving arrest warrants for thousands of criminals who remain free because jails are full, he said.
Williams said the $6 million for community corrections would be used to add about 100 beds at existing prerelease centers and a new center in Bozeman, and to hire 19 additional parole and probation staff.
Some money may go to the Department of Public Health and Human Services to match with federal aid that can finance mental health and other services for criminals in community corrections programs, Slaughter said.
Despite plans to build more cells and accommodate additional criminals outside prison walls, Slaughter acknowledged it will be only a matter of time before the system will overflow once more and Crossroads will expand again to its maximum of 1,500 inmates.
He also knows that corrections will be competing again with education for scarce money in the Legislature. But, Slaughter said, ensuring public safety should be an equally important part of the politically popular push for economic development in Montana.
��If we're going to maintain any kind of business, visitor and vacation environment, that has to be there,'' he said.