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Dec. 03, 1999
Privatization Q&A

For over three years, the Ontario government has talked about privatizing correctional services.

In their first term, they sold off some young offenders' facilities and set up a youth "boot camp." Now, with four years to the next election, they're planning to go all the way.

We've all seen the Nov. 19 memo from the two Assistant Deputy Ministers in the Corrections Division. In it, they say they plan to privatize:

  • operation of the new, 1200-bed Penetanguishene
    correctional facility;
  • offender transportation services;
  • expanded strict discipline programming;
  • food preparation in the new Cook/Chill facility at Maplehurst; and
  • Trilcor Industries.

If these changes go ahead, what happens to OPSEU members in correctional services? Here's what we know to date.

Q. Why is the government making these changes?

A. It's not to improve services. It's not even to save money. In the words of Mary Lou Daniels, spokesperson for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, "This was never meant to be a cost saving exercise! It was about the province getting out of the business of delivering services."

The Harris government believes in cutting public services to open up investment opportunities for business. They also believe in busting unions to keep costs down for business. That's the real push behind privatization: profits for big business and low wages for workers.

Q. What happens to jobs if these changes go ahead?

A. First, there will be a lot fewer. The overall move to adult "superjails" could cost up to 1,800 jobs for correctional officers alone, according to the Corrections Ministry.

With private jails, the jobs that remain will move out of the Ontario Public Service. Workers in a private jail will not be covered by the OPS collective agreement.

Q. What happens if my work is transferred to a private jail?

If the new Penetanguishene facility is private, Appendix 9 of the OPS Collective Agreement (the “reasonable efforts” clause) would apply. Here's what happens then:

  • Before the Request for Proposals (RFP) goes out, the employer will determine which employees' jobs are linked to the private superjail.
  • Members who opt out of the RFP receive their pay in lieu and all severance payments but they do not have the right to bump or go to a vacancy in the OPS. If the staffing level at the private superjail is 400, the employer will offer only 400 jobs to the almost 700 workers who may be affected.
  • Appendix 9 says the employer must offer wages that are at least 85 per cent of current wages. The Appendix does not explicitly set out what the benefits, pension entitlements, or working conditions must be.
  • Members who do not opt out of the RFP, receive a job offer, and then refuse the job offer do not get pay in lieu or enhanced severance. The collective agreement says: "Other employees who decline job offers to the extent that the full complement of positions created cannot be filled, will be deemed to have resigned and no other provisions of the Collective Agreement will apply except for Article 53 or 78 (Termination Pay)."
  • The employer says that employees who accept a position at Penetang would have to relocate at their own expense. The union disagrees. This issue is at arbitration right now in relation to the closure of the Cobourg, Haileybury, and L'Orignal facilities.

Q. My superintendent says I will make more money at a private jail. Is this true?

On March 1, 1999, the government privatized Arrell Youth Centre, a young offenders facility in the Ministry of Community and Social Services. A local non-profit organization took over the service. Five employees stayed at 85 per cent of their OPS wage. Of those who took the severance package and re-applied to work at the Centre, we understand that none were hired. The Correctional Officer salary for new hires dropped from $44,500 to between $31,168 and $34,058, according to the Hamilton Spectator.

At the same time that salaries were being cut by $10,000+, the government gave the private operator an extra $300,000 a year to run the operation. The budget went from an existing $2.2 million to $2.5 million a year.

How far will the government go with privatization?

There is no reason to think they will privatize the Penetanguishene superjail and then stop. Garfield Dunlop, Tory MPP for Simcoe North (Penetanguishene), said, "If we see that the one in Penetanguishene is operating very efficiently, and there were no problems, and there were better savings for the taxpayer, I think we would eventually privatize Lindsay " (The Mirror, Nov. 24, 1999).

The only thing standing in their way is public opinion - and 6,000 public correctional workers.

Q. Is privatization a done deal?

Absolutely not. Public opinion supports safe, professional, publicly-run correctional services. It is our job to build on that support and stop privatization.

In conference calls this week with local leaders in Corrections, we talked about our plan (already under way) to fight privatization through internal, political, and public pressure.

Q. What can we do?

1. It's time for all of us to get active at work. In August, 1998, our employer agreed to fill all institutional management vacancies by early 1999. The employer is now refusing to fill bargaining unit vacancies as well. Acting as a manager only helps the employer continue this abuse.

Recent cuts to recreation programs and longer lockdowns combined with planned staff cuts are making many facilities much more dangerous. A recent riot at the Whitby Jail nearly resulted in a hostage/serious injury situation for our members. Locals are asking ICIT members and CET members to step down until safety concerns are addressed.

2. It’s time to get active in our communities. Make arrangements to make a presentation to your local town or city council. Urge them to pass a motion to oppose private jails. Here is a sample wording that we can use right across the province.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Council opposes private ownership and operation of provincial correctional facilities (including jails, correctional centres, detention centres and strict discipline facilities).

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council supports provincial correctional facilities run by and for the Ministry of Correctional Services, staffed with professional, public correctional workers, and fully accountable to the Ministry and the citizens of Ontario.

Lobby your local council before the end of the year or early in the new year.

Q. What happens next?

Over the next few weeks, we'll be asking all OPSEU members to help save our jobs, keep Ontario correctional services public, and restore safety in the system. A little effort by a lot of people will go a long way.

Stay tuned for details as plans develop.

Send us your e-mail address and fax number!

We are updating our Corrections e-mail and fax lists. Send your e-mail address and/or fax number to Mary Anne Diadamo at (fax) (416) 448-7454 or (e-mail) mdiadamo@opseu.org.

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