Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
Statement of the Problem: Why did the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers form as an independent union in 1971, and how did it develop over time and achieve its goals within a conservative labor climate? What does its history reveal about Rhode Island labor history and the broader trends in the American labor history since 1970?
Methodology or Procedures: This study utilized the personal recollections of labor leaders, lawyers, administrative officials, and other key individuals who were present during the most crucial events throughout the union’s history. The union also had a great wealth of documents to be examined. Newspaper archives (such as the Providence Journal) and state records were used to paint a broader picture and give greater context to the events. These were all compared to the existing historiography surrounding labor since the 1970’s and was examined within the context of larger trends in labor established by other historians. Secondary source material regarding corrections itself was utilized to give greater meaning to changes regarding the nature of the work of correctional officers.
Findings: The Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers formed in 1971 as an independent union in response to inadequate representation and dangerous working conditions. While other unions fell apart during the latter half of the 1970’s and the labor movement fell into a general state of disillusionment, RIBCO gained strength and momentum due to the increased funding for the prisons and the independent nature of the union itself. RIBCO was able to utilize the press to gain the sympathies of the citizens of Rhode Island, making them more willing to pass bond issues that would help to improve their working conditions within the facilities. The union engaged in various job actions and public discussions to make the dangers of their job known to the general public. In the 1980’s, the judiciary of Rhode Island took an active role in bringing more funding into the Adult Correctional Institution (ACI). Throughout the 1980’s, relations between the officers and management (under the effective leadership of Corrections Director John Moran) improved greatly as they began to work together more frequently to solve the problems of the prison. The union grew in strength and became a force to be reckoned with. Throughout the 1980s, the union engaged in aggressive bargaining in various contract negotiations which improved its pay scale and benefits, helping it to resolve some of its issues from the 1970s. In 1991, with a riot in the maximum security building, the officers (with the support of the administration) took back complete control of maximum security. This was a turning point for the ACI and the officers’ union as they attained a safe working environment. The union realized all of its goals from the early 1970s, unlike most other unions of that time period.
Johnson, Lisa, "A LABOR HISTORY OF THE RHODE ISLAND BROTHERHOOD OF CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS" (2012). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 97.