Press-Republican

April 18, 2009

Officers pay tribute to 1979 strike

[-BULLET-] Historic statewide effort marked beginning of change, improvement within system

By ANDREA VanVALKENBURG

PLATTSBURGH — It was a tumultuous time 30 years ago when thousands of correction officers united and walked off the job.

Across the state, hundreds of officers stood on the picket lines, fueled by years of unrest and divided communication between administration and labor.

For more than two weeks, officers kept their ground, advocating for better work conditions, improved safety and stronger negotiations.

In the end, they received the same contract, kept their jobs, had to pay back double their daily wage for the lost time and were plagued by years of unsettled emotions that ran rampant on the line.

But they made history as the first statewide corrections department in the nation to strike, marking the beginning of widespread change and improvement within the system.

It was in their honor that dozens of officers stood on a damp cold Saturday to pay tribute to their efforts and commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1979 strike.

"If it wasn't for what they did back then we wouldn't have what we do today," Mike Mussen Sr., a 22-year officer, said as he gathered with fellow officers outside Clinton Correctional Facility.

"They put a lot on the line back in '79 and we're here to thank them for what they did."

Pat Buckley, who joined corrections shortly before the historic strike, said turmoil ran strong within the department in the 1970s when conditions seemed unchanged after the infamous and deadly Attica prison riot years earlier.

So officers took a stand and launched what inevitably led to overwhelming strides in health, safety, negotiations and the grievance process.

Though changing policies have brought a new wave of issues currently concerning officers, those who turned out Saturday said the demonstration was organized solely to honor the officers' efforts three decades earlier.

Bernie Phaneuf said the peaceful event was to "remember the sacrifices they made for our future.

"We want to remind the public and fellow employees what they did for us."

As passing drivers honked and shouted in support, Greg LaFrance said "We just want to recognize the men for the sacrifices they made back in '79 to make things better for all of us."

E-mail Andrea VanValkenburg at: avanvalkenburg@pressrepublican.com