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Health and safety – a casualty of penny-pinching at violent institutions

Toronto – Until this week, Ontario’s most violent correctional institutions had a full-time local union health and safety co-chair. But from now on, Toronto South Detention Centre and the Central East Detention Centre in Lindsay will have to get by without these full-time positions.

The presidents of Local 368 (Central East) and Local 5112 (Toronto Central) received letters to this effect from their respective superintendents. The letters gave no reason for the cuts, but it was understood that the decision had been made at the ministerial level.

“The letter to Local 5112 said the employer was committed to working with the union to improve health and safety,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “That is just pure hypocrisy and adds insult to injury. “This Premier orders the OPP to get him a luxury camper built to his specifications. Then he nickels‑and-dimes correctional officers by removing their full-time health and safety co-chair. Doug Ford is completely out of touch with Ontarians. This is not what they voted for.”

Mike Lundy, chair of the Provincial Health and Safety Committee, said cutting the positions would make two very violent and volatile institutions into potential powder kegs. “Right now, when there’s an urgent health and safety issue, the union can address it immediately. But when the position stops being full-time, problems may not be dealt with right away – potentially putting lives at risk.

“At a time when the Ministry of Correctional Services should be dedicating more time for workers in all corrections institutions and offices to address health and safety concerns, they’ve instead gone in the opposite direction.”

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer and himself a correctional officer, said he was stunned that the Premier would risk correctional officers’ health and safety to “save a few bucks.”

“I know from personal experience how important the health and safety committee is in correctional institutions, and especially the more violent ones,” he noted. “That Ford would cut funding for union co-chairs is beyond belief. He must get a grip on priorities.”

OPSEU has vowed to fight the measures. “There’s no way I’m going to let Doug Ford put luxury camping ahead of ensuring my members make it home safely at the end of the day,” Thomas said.

“He clearly doesn’t understand the enormous pressure that frontline workers face in correctional institutions. This is just another reason why he should be meeting with OPSEU before pushing through these kind of decisions.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931