Look for the Union URL

At the federal supermax, it isn't just the inmates who think management is unfair.

At the hearing, Pugh admitted that he knew little about the Internet; in fact, he said, he didn't know how to turn on the computer in his office. But for several months, he monitored activity on the Web site on a regular basis, having a technician print out new postings and assemble them in black notebooks in the warden's office. In its FLRA complaint, the union maintains that Pugh used the information to retaliate against his critics and to make "coercive statements" to employees -- for example, by consulting the notebooks to gauge union members' "loyalty" when they came to him asking why they hadn't received an expected promotion or bonus.

During one such meeting last summer, testified employee Eric Nicholls, Pugh told him, "I don't think you're loyal. You're not a team player." Sean Riggins, a union steward, recalled a similar meeting in which he got the impression the warden was withholding a raise based on one comment he'd posted on the site: "He said that what we have here is some dirty staff within the union trying to get things stirred up on the Web site to take the heat off themselves."

Pugh has admitted suggesting that some members were using the Web site "as a shield" but has denied retaliating against anyone. Both Riggins and Nicholls received the pay increases they sought, but another user of the site, a harsh critic of Pugh's regime, has been reassigned to work at home for nearly six months; it's not clear what reasons were offered for the move, or what his current duties might be. Despite union claims that Pugh has threatened to investigate numerous employees based on inmate allegations of misconduct or the warden's own "hunches," a recent letter to the local from the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General indicates that none of the officers supposedly under suspicion are the subject of a current OIG investigation.

Mark Goodman


Previous Westword article

"The Killing Floor"
December 10, 1998
In Colorado's highest-security prison, two inmates beat Michael Garcia to death while a crowd of corrections officers watched. Why didn't anyone stop it?

One FLRA charge against ADX management, which dealt with the warden's alleged efforts to bypass the union in soliciting employees' input on work schedules, was recently settled in favor of the local. A ruling in a second action concerning Pugh's alleged efforts to silence the Web site is expected in a few weeks. The cyberspace vilification of Pugh has been toned down since the local issued a unanimous vote of no confidence in the warden last summer, but new controversies continue to erupt.

One stems from a memo Pugh issued last fall banning cups, bags, T-shirts and other staff paraphernalia bearing the logo "Alcatraz of the Rockies." "Many people associate the Alcatraz prison facility with a cold, brutal, abusive environment," Pugh wrote. The reference "sends the wrong message to staff, the public and the inmates, and is not consistent with providing a humane, safe, secure, and professionally run institution."

But many employees take pride in ADX's reputation as the New Rock, and the phrase "Alcatraz of the Rockies" is still featured prominently on the local's home page -- along with accusations that the warden continues to engage in "illegal, retaliatory, forced reassignments of union members" and other union-busting activities. In letters to high-ranking BOP officials (who have backed Pugh) and congressman Hefley (who has expressed some sympathy for the local's position), union officials have raised a rash of other charges, including possible security breaches, the alleged "squandering" of public funds on cash "loyalty awards" and improper investigations, and the warden's supposed penchant for asking employees off-the-wall questions such as, "Do you have any children born out of wedlock?"

Perhaps the most serious allegation to surface in recent months concerns the abrupt transfer of an ADX clinical psychologist to another prison in the Florence complex last November. Pugh reversed his decision two weeks later, but not before the employee began to raise uncomfortable questions about the reasons for the transfer.

According to union sources, the employee, Michael Morrison, had previously reported to his superiors that Pugh had violated policy by removing an inmate from a suicide watch without first having the action approved by a psychologist. No harm resulted to the inmate in question, but the issue is a sensitive one; ADX, which was designed to be virtually suicide-proof, had two inmate suicides in the last six months of 1999.

The union has requested yet another FLRA hearing on the Morrison affair. In the meantime, the embattled Warden Pugh continues to enjoy the support of the BOP hierarchy but not the union faithful.

"Morale is horrible," reports one ADX employee, who asked that his name not be used. "Sick leave has gone way up. People just don't like coming to work."

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