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Strike Averted at GEO's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall

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A strike at GEO Group's Pearsall immigrant detention center was narrowly averted this week after close vote of union members, according to an article from KRIS TV ("Strike averted at South Texas detention center," February 11),

Guards at one of the nation's largest immigrant detention facilities have approved a new labor contract rather than strike.

Union workers at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall ratified the new deal late Wednesday that union leaders say promises improved equipment and increases the likelihood of wage increases. Chief union negotiator Howard Johannssen said the new three-year contract passed by a slight margin but declined to release the vote.

Negotiations with The GEO Group Inc. had been ongoing for months. Guards threatened to walk off the job unless a deal was reached this week, and brought about 100 picketing signs to the negotiating table.

About 1,400 detainees are being held at the South Texas facility because of their immigration status, and more than 300 workers there are union members.  A strike would have been the latest problem in Texas for GEO, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based private contractor disrupted by two recent inmate riots at a West Texas federal prison.

The Pearsall facility was rocked last year by allegations of sexual assault by guards on detainees as well as persistent accusations that health care at the facility is dismal.  Guards at the prison are organized under the Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America, and are the only union staff at a GEO prison in the United States, according to an article in the Associated Press ("Accord may avert guard strike," February 11),

Union workers said the safety of detention officers had been compromised by poor equipment and new guards who have not received proper training.

Located about 60 miles south of San Antonio, the Pearsall detention center is the only unionized GEO facility in the nation, union officials say. Workers sought increased wages, more affordable health benefits and improved working conditions.

We'll keep you posted on the latest from Pearsall.