Lacking proper protective equipment is similar to soldiers on a battlefield with no weapon or a sailor with a pretend life vest

April 21, 2020 1:23 pm

The N95 respirator is a “respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.” Credit: U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

I, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

That is the oath taken by every federal correctional worker upon entering into our positions. It’s one similar to every man or woman enlisting in the Armed Services.

Along with professing an allegiance to and defending the Constitution,  a key obligation in that oath is to do the job and do it well.

As correctional workers, that often times translates into the essential duty of maintaining the security, custody and control of offenders in order to carry out our duty and obligation to protect society and communities in which we reside.

Most correctional officers carry out their duties so well they are often forgotten as a silent arm of the judicial system.

Through shutdowns (, staffing shortages, and violence (, COs continue to faithfully discharge those duties.

Chances are, they will overcome during this COVID-19 pandemic as well. While fighting the dangers and hazards already associated with a job, they also have to fight against a invisible threat, which has proven to wreak pure havoc (

However, to diligently carry out this oath, they must be given the proper tools.

No tool is more needed at this moment than “communication.”

A lack of legitimate and adequate Personal Protective Equipment — PPE —( ) in times like these, is similar to soldiers on a battlefield with no weapon or a sailor with a pretend life vest.

We must let our communities know how critical these items are and how hard they are to come by.

In locations such as FCC Oakdale, FCC Lompoc, or even FCI Elkton, it’s evident that poor communication among both administrative officials and labor leaders can have detrimental consequences.

In an agency where employees are deemed “the most valuable resource,” the time has come for those of us in leadership positions to show that we are truly supportive of our boots on the ground.

While there is constant mention of preparation and stockpiling of PPE, it’s evident that communication is lacking and that those supplies may not be getting to the field, where they are needed most.

Now is not the time to engage in grandstanding or the attempts to “pull rank.” Instead, now is the time to support our employees and work hand in hand, regardless of bargaining status, title, rank or position to make sure that we come out of this war against the invisible, victorious.

Anything less, will only lead to poor morale, feelings of abandonment, and unfortunately, more loss of life. No war is won when the troops have been abandoned; only chaos and casualties.

So I plead with the administration as well as our union leaders to put differences aside and communicate.

We must work hand in hand to do the right thing:

/Ensure that adequate PPE and critical “N95” masks, are afforded to each and every employee at each and every institution.

/Implement parameters to ensure those exposed to or infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease are able to quarantine away from the institution without having to decide between their health or their financial livelihood.

/Remove barriers that contribute to staffing shortages across the nation and rehire back to adequate staffing levels (prior to the 2017 hiring freeze).

Each of us have to show our leadership through positive action, working together to be the example and the blueprint for every state and local correctional facility; lead the way.

Remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Let’s work together and show that we, the people, are “the most valuable resource of the agency,” so that we may faithfully discharge the duty that we have taken an oath to carry out freely and without mental reservation.

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Ray Coleman Jr.
Ray Coleman Jr.

Ray Coleman, Jr. is president of AFGE local 1570, a labor union representing over 200 federal correctional workers in Tallahassee. He represents thousands of employees at 17 institutions in the Southeast Region as the Regional Fair Practice/EEEO Coordinator. His primary job is to teach and help offenders obtain their GEDs and learn life skills. Coleman is a service-connected combat veteran and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.