A member of the OPSEU bargaining team remains doubtful a new deal can be reached for Ontario’s correctional workers ahead of Sunday’s strike deadline.
Both sides are scheduled to come together for a special bargaining session Friday, in hopes of preventing a walk-out that the union fears will jeopardize the safety of jail staff, inmates, and perhaps even the public.
“We had presented the employer previously a few weeks ago, which lead to this ‘no board process’ which is a 17 day process with what our members wanted, and the employer obviously turned us down at that time so unless there’s some significant movement at the bargaining table, I think the strike is a foregone conclusion,” said Monty Vieselmeyer with OPSEU’s bargaining team.
Vieselmeyer believes the province’s jail system is in worse shape than it was during the last strike 14 years ago.
“We’ve been dealing with issues across the province and it’s become termed as not just by ourselves but corrections critics as ‘the crisis in corrections,’” he said. “We’re seeing on a regular basis riots within our institutions, assaults on our staff, assaults on offenders, it’s become a very negative environment.”
The union represents roughly 6,000 employees from provincial jails, correctional facilities, youth centres and probation and parole offices.
Last month, 67 per cent of OPSEU workers rejected a tentative agreement that was reached on November 24th. It would have given workers what amounted to a 1.4 per cent salary increase this year and in 2017.
In the previous agreement, the province said the outcome would be net-zero and remained consistent with the fiscal plan in the 2015 budget. The previous collective agreement expired on December 31st, 2014.
OPSEU, aiming to one day have correctional workers share wage parity with Police, wants an immediate 10 per cent raise, followed by three annual hikes of two per cent.
They also want correctional workers to be declared an essential service, like Police Officers, so that they can’t strike and labour issues could be sent to binding arbitration.
Workers at Ontario’s 28 correctional institutions will be in a legal strike position at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday.
Earlier this week, President of OPSEU Warren Smokey Thomas issued an open letter to Deputy Premier and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews calling on her to first guarantee the safety of other unionized workers in the event of a strike.
Those workers include kitchen staff, maintenance workers and nurses.
Vieselmeyer remains skeptical.
“Our probation and parole officers supervise over 56,000 offenders in the community on any given day and now, you’re going to have managers who are probably less trained and experienced because they do more administrative jobs trying to now look after sex offenders and various other types of individuals living in our communities,” he said.
The last time correctional workers went on strike in Ontario was in 2002, and it lasted 51 days.
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