Ruling pours cold water on jail employees’ free hot meals

The state Public Employment Relations Commission reversed an earlier ruling for union members.

EVERETT — The hot breakfast special at the Snohomish County Jail can come off the menu.

A state commission that oversees disputes involving public employees has overturned a ruling that required the sheriff’s office to feed corrections officers fresh-cooked fare during early morning shifts. Instead, union employees are welcome to the same cold sack meals that inmates get — gratis.

“The past practice is that the employer provided the employees with the same meal that was provided to inmates,” three commissioners wrote in a June 15 decision. “The past practice is not, as the union contends, providing the employees with a hot meal.”

The food fight stems from a decision that county officials made in 2016.

To cut costs, jail administrators opted to stop having hot meals prepared for the 850 or so inmates who wake up each day at the county lockup in downtown Everett. Serving a sack lunch that can be fixed the night before reduced prep time and costs.

The hot-meal issue was among a dozen complaints the Snohomish County Corrections Guild brought to an examiner with the state Public Employment Relations Commission, or PERC. The guild represents more than 200 corrections employees.

Calls and emails to the guild president were not returned last week.

The county’s labor contract with the union provides corrections officers with the same food as inmates, for free, during their shifts. It specifies that they get “the meal provided to confined jail inmates for each day the employee is on duty and remains within the jail facilities during the meal period.”

In January, PERC examiner Stephen Irvin ruled that the change to cold meals violated labor law. He ordered the county to “cease and desist from unlawfully implementing changes to meals provided.” The county should have given the guild notice about the change and the opportunity to bargain, the examiner wrote.

To comply, the jail began putting out a free pot of oatmeal every morning for employees to fill up. That was in addition to a sack-lunch-style meal they offered with items such as fruit and breakfast bars.

“To be honest, we’re not missing much oatmeal every day,” corrections Bureau Chief Tony Aston said.

Both sides appealed aspects of the earlier decision to PERC. In last month’s decision, commissioners largely sided with the county. Other points in dispute included issues such as staffing, a requirement to help with blood draws and holiday meals.

Though no longer required, Aston said the jail will continue to provide the oatmeal. For now, at least.

Costs associated with the food changes weren’t immediately available.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@herald Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Students arriving off the bus get in line to score some waffles during a free pancake and waffle breakfast at Lowell Elementary School on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
800 free pancakes at Everett’s Lowell Elementary feed the masses

The annual breakfast was started to connect the community and the school, as well as to get people to interact.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring speaks at the groundbreaking event for the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$123M project starting on Highway 529 interchange, I-5 HOV lane

A reader wondered why the highway had a lane closure despite not seeing work done. Crews were waiting on the weather.

Justin Bell was convicted earlier this month of first-degree assault for a December 2017 shooting outside a Value Village in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
Court: Snohomish County jurors’ opaque masks didn’t taint verdict

During the pandemic, Justin Bell, 32, went on trial for a shooting. Bell claims his right to an impartial jury was violated.

Gary Fontes uprights a tree that fell over in front of The Fontes Manor — a miniature handmade bed and breakfast — on Friday, May 12, 2023, at his home near Silver Lake in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s mini-Frank Lloyd Wright builds neighborhood of extra tiny homes

A tiny lighthouse, a spooky mansion and more: Gary Fontes’ miniature world of architectural wonders is one-twelfth the size of real life.

Will Steffener
Inslee appoints Steffener as Superior Court judge

Attorney Will Steffener will replace Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis, who is retiring in June.

News logo for use with stories about Mill Creek in Snohomish County, WA.
Police: Mill Creek man fatally stabbed wife amid financial woes

After quitting his job at Amazon, the man amassed about $50,000 in debt, triggering a discussion about finances, he told police.

Outside of the current Evergreen Recovery Centers' housing to treat opioid-dependent moms with their kids on Thursday, May 25, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$8M in behavioral health grants to benefit children, youth, families

Snohomish County awarded one-time federal funding to five projects that will reach at least 440 new people each year.

A PUD vehicle drives along Lovers Road under newly-erected power poles that will eventually connect Stanwood and Camano Island on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
To keep Camano lights on, PUD builds a new power line

The new line establishes a second electrical connection to Camano Island, which will help maintain power in windstorms.

Highway 9 is set to be closed in both directions for a week as construction crews build a roundabout at the intersection with Vernon Road. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Weeklong closure coming to Highway 9 section in Lake Stevens

Travelers should expect delays or find another way from Friday to Thursday between Highway 204 and Lundeen Parkway.

Most Read