BRIDGETON — The union representing correctional officers at the Cumberland County jail has endorsed Freeholder Jack Surrency and his two running mates.
“Jack Surrency, Donna Pearson and Tracey Wells-Huggins have the full backing and support of the men and women of PBA Local 231,” Victor Bermudez said in a statement released Monday. “They understand our issues, can articulate our needs and have the fire and passion that’s needed to fix the systematic flaws in the county jail.”
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Bermudez, who serves as president of the local and is on paid suspension pending termination from the facility, represents about 132 officers who work at the jail, according to the statement.
For the past year, Bermudez has been fighting with the county for a fair contract, workplace protections and answers on how the new coronavirus is being handled within the jail.
So far, county officials have reported 14 positive cases in jail employees, but none in inmates.
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“For us, this is a great honor, and we do not take this endorsement lightly,” Surrency said. “Our correctional police officers are on the front lines of county government, fighting for us every day during a pandemic. They’re heroes.”
“The support of PBA Local 231 tells us something: We’re fighting the right fights, and we’re doing it for the right reasons,” said Pearson, a former freeholder.
“PBA Local 231 represents working class men and women of Cumberland County,” said Wells-Huggins, a nurse and juvenile justice advocate. “We’re proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in this campaign.”
Friction continues to grow between other county leaders and Surrency, a Democrat, as he advocates for changes to procedures at the jail amid the pandemic.
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Last week, county Democratic Chairman Steve Erickson called for an apology and, if not, Surrency’s resignation, after a batch of jail reforms proposed by Surrency was tabled the previous week.
And, in April, attorneys for the union filed a civil lawsuit alleging jail officials failed to develop policies and provide necessary equipment for corrections officers ahead of the pandemic.
The five-count lawsuit alleges violations of the state’s constitution, including rights to free speech, organize and collectively bargain, enjoy life and liberty, pursue safety and happiness, and failure to train.
Warden Richard Smith, Deputy Warden Charles Warren, the county, the county freeholder board and its members, including Surrency, are named in the suit.