Larch closes to inmates, labor union pushes for stay of layoffs


Larch Corrections Center now no longer hosts inmates following a closure last week, though the labor union representing its workers put up a stand that received judicial approval to halt staff layoffs.

On Oct. 10, the minimum-security prison was officially closed. The day before, a Clark County Superior Court judge denied a motion that would have prevented the closure of the facility until arbitration between the union, Teamsters Local 117, and the Washington State Department of Corrections.

On June 26, the department announced the planned closure of Larch. Since then, numerous local governments, along with state lawmakers and fire districts, have come out in opposition to the decision.

Most recently, a Washington State Court of Appeals commissioner issued a temporary stay of layoffs of Larch workers until at least Oct. 16, Paul Zilly, spokesperson for the union, said in an email.

“We are hopeful that the court will reconsider our motion for a temporary injunction. An injunction will allow time for contractual disputes to be resolved in arbitration,” Teamsters Local 117 Director of Corrections and Law Enforcement Sarena Davis said, “It will also mitigate the harm that the DOC’s careless and needlessly hasty decision has wrought on corrections workers, incarcerated individuals and their families, and the broader community.”

On Sept. 13, the teamsters, which represents 6,000 state correctional employees, filed the lawsuit. The lawsuit names the department and its secretary, Cheryl Strange, and alleges the department, under her supervision, committed a number of violations ahead of the decision to close the facility.

The union alleges the DOC violated the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the DOC when the closure was announced. The suit also alleges the DOC used unfair labor practices in its approach to offering alternative positions for Larch workers.

The facility has been lauded by local government officials for its ability to combat wildfires in the area. Washington State Department of Natural Resources-trained inmates are a common fixture in firefighting operations in the area, including the recent Nakia Creek Fire last year.

Larch employed about 115 staff prior to its closure. The DOC stated the facility will be “warm closed,” meaning that it could become operational again if needed.

Previously, a department spokesman said Larch was chosen for closure because of its minimum security level, its remote location and the multi-million-dollar deferred maintenance it needs.