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Corrections Ministry preparing for a strike months before negotiations begin, OPSEU says

TORONTO – The union representing Ontario’s front-line correctional officers says that it appears the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) is gearing up for a strike in "significant fashion" despite the fact they are months away from contract negotiations.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union reports that many correctional facilities are constructing housing accommodations for the sole purpose of providing temporary living quarters for managers who would be required to stay at the facilities in the event of a labour dispute. The Ministry is being secretive about these so-called "building improvements," taking extreme measures to ensure that unionized staff are denied access to these areas.

Sudbury Jail, Central North Correctional Centre, Niagara Detention Centre, Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre, Monteith Correctional Centre, Thunder Bay Jail, Kenora Jail, Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, Central East Correctional Centre, Ottawa Carlton Detention Centre, Maplehurst Correctional Centre and Vanier Centre for Women have all confirmed that they have received, or are receiving, significant construction. Many others report that construction is pending at their institutions. None of this construction will be used for additional staff space or an increase to inmate beds.

Dan Sidsworth, the elected representative for correctional members, says that it appears the Ministry has already decided it won’t negotiate in good faith when bargaining begins. “The current collective agreement is not due to expire until the end of December 2014,” Sidsworth said. “This can only mean one thing: The Ministry’s intent is to "draw a line in the sand" and lock-out correctional officers before it even knows what issues are on the bargaining table.”

Chris Jackel, President of Local 369 at Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, said that after the 2002 strike the managers’ biggest complaint was the poor living conditions they had to endure. “It seems as though the Government is doing something about it this time," he said.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the Ministry should be spending money on increasing inmate beds and improving working conditions in the facilities instead of spending money preparing for a dispute. “The cost of the managers’ strike accommodations is estimated to be over $500,000,” Thomas said. “If they took that money and invested it in their front-line staff and facilities, it would go a long way in ensuring there weren’t any future labour disputes.”

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Warren (Smokey) Thomas

Dan Sidsworth