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Union calls for removal of Department of Public Safety director over COVID-19 surge at OCCC

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2015
                                The United Public Workers union has called for the immediate removal for Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, citing “months of inaction by the State” to stop the spread of COVID-19 at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2015

    The United Public Workers union has called for the immediate removal for Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, citing “months of inaction by the State” to stop the spread of COVID-19 at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

The United Public Workers union has called for the immediate removal for Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, citing “months of inaction by the State” to stop the spread of COVID-19 at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

UPW, which represents corrections officers and staff at OCCC, made the announcement today. There are 47 staff and 242 inmates who have tested positive for coronavirus at the facility, according to DPS.

Most of the facility’s cases were announced in just a weeklong span earlier this month.

“We’ve been calling for more PPE (personal protective equipment), more testing, and more realistic options for battling overcrowding. But we are no closer to getting this virus under control, “said UPW Administrator Liz Ho in a statement. “This is unconscionable. This is about the safety of workers and inmates – as well as the safety of the entire community. Under Espinda, the situation only promises to get worse. It is time for Governor Ige to take action and remove Director Espinda and put competent leadership in place at DPS.”

New, daily COVID-19 cases announced at OCCC have slowed since Thursday. DPS today announced that four additional OCCC staff members tested positive, but reported that no new cases among inmates. One staff member at the Women’s Community Correctional Center tested positive today as well.

DPS Spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said it is in discussions with UPW to resolve employee concerns.

“The Department of Public Safety will continue to engage in on-going discussions with UPW to resolve concerns expressed by our employees,” Schwartz said in a statement on behalf of DPS. “Together, we will navigate through the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our state and facilities.”

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, in solidarity with UPW, also called for “immediate leadership change” at DPS as well as “safety protocol improvements” at OCCC, the Honolulu District Court cellblock, the Hawaii Paroling Authority and at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

“It is outrageous that frontline workers in correctional institutions, the cellblock, Hawaii Paroling Authority and at our international airport are not properly fitted with N95 face masks, don’t have clear safety protocols, and are not properly notified when there is a positive case in their facilities,” said HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira in a statement. “Continued attempts to communicate with the administration have failed and with COVID-19 surging on Oahu, people’s lives are stake.”

The union said it is preparing a class action grievance on behalf of all affected employees.

HGEA said it has asked for months for practical guidance and standard operating procedures related to COVID-19 but has only received “vague generalities” from the state Department of Health.

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