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Correctional Officers work the toughest beat in any city

RE: Ontario prison guards get a raise in a time of restraint

The Globe and Mail May 24, 2011

I read with some interest your recent article “Prison guards pay gets lift during era of restraint” and felt I should offer some insight on details that you didn’t include. While it might be strictly statistically correct that the average sick time used by Ontario Correctional Officers in 2007 was 32.5 days, it is an inaccurate reflection of the many Correction Officers I represent as a union steward. I can certainly say that the average Correctional Officer never comes close to those numbers. And in my experience, Officers with extremely high sick time have often suffered a debilitating disease, such as cancer, hypertension, complications from diabetes, and so on. In my 30 years I have seen far too many coworkers leave the workplace with a terminal illness and never return. However, a significant part of the sick time they incur before dying gets factored into the average nonetheless.

Over the years, Correctional Officers have regularly been vilified as a group for their use of sick time. Meanwhile, the Ontario government never seems to want to look at the cause of the absences. Instead, at the last contract negotiations the Ontario Government approached Correctional Officers with one strong and overriding objective; Eliminate the sick leave benefit package in its current form, if not totally. To the average Correctional Officer working in any of the provinces aging, filthy, roach and rat infested – the list could go on and on – facilities, combined with a violent, hostile, clientele who often arrive sick, filthy, jumping with crabs/lice, etc., this was simply not an option. Correctional Officers must regularly deal with being spit on, bitten, punched, kicked, or contamination from urine, feces, blood, and other bodily fluids. But the government was relentless and eventually a strike vote had to be taken. In the end, the government compromised and the existing sick plan was left in place with provisions of which the bonus structure you reported was the only positive one.

What has not been reported is the punitive elements that come into effect should the attendance targets not be met. For example, the employer can take back overtime payments should a Correctional Officer call in sick within 28 days or two pay periods of the shifts. Additionally, at the beginning of 2009, the Ontario government implemented a pilot attendance program. This program has not allowed Correctional Officers to call in sick on more than 4 occasions annually (using a total of 7 sick credits) or they face a series of steps which would ultimately lead to being fired. The consensus has been that most Correctional Officers, who are now often coming to work sick, are doing so out of fear of being fired, not the monetary gain of the bonus structure as you have been lead to believe.

It is said that Correctional Officers work the toughest beat in any city, the work being challenging, poorly understood and fraught with personal liability. Imagine being a cop in a town where everyone’s a criminal and they all hate you. Few people work in an environment that is as negatively charged as ours and the average mortality/suicide rate of Correctional Officers is testament to this. Hollywood has for the most part ensured that Correctional Officers will forever be viewed as knuckle-dragging, uneducated, bullies. It would be nice if Canadian journalists, if nothing else, would at least stop calling us “jail guards” and maybe try to get a fuller picture of how things are and not just how they appear in some auditor’s report.

Thank you,

Robert Bujeya, Ontario Correctional Officer
Vice President, OPSEU Local 229