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OPSEU president’s letter to Deb Matthews on Unified workers’ safety

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the letter below to Ontario Deputy Premier Deb Matthews today.

The Honourable Deb Matthews
Deputy Premier and President of the Treasury Board
Room 4320, 4th Floor, Whitney Block
99 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1W3

Dear Deputy Premier:

I bring to your attention, as President of the Treasury Board, a matter of great importance and urgency.

I understand that you have ordered that furniture and provisions be brought into correctional facilities to accommodate managers recruited from the OPS. Their role will be to take the place of correctional officers, should they go on strike.

This measure will be of concern to all Ontarians. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services website states: "Correctional officers receive a thorough training program, both on the job and at a ministry training site. Training includes search procedures, self-defence and emergency response."

A qualified correctional officer has completed the rigorous Correctional Officer Training and Assessment program at the Ontario Correctional Services College. Before becoming a full-time employee, they may have worked up to 10 years as a fixed-term employee, thereby acquiring a wealth of skills and experience.

OPS managers recruited as replacement correctional officers cannot acquire the abilities of a qualified correctional officer after – at best – three weeks' training. These individuals manage IT workers, policy analysts and correspondence writers. They are in no way qualified to supervise the shrewd and violent criminals incarcerated in Ontario's jails.

Under these circumstances, without experienced and properly trained staff, the ministry may be forced to resort to lockdowns, which in turn greatly increase tensions and the risk of violence. By allowing OPS managers to take the place of correctional professionals, you endanger their lives, the lives of inmates and the lives of Ontarians in the community.

You also jeopardize the safety and security of employees in the OPSEU Unified Bargaining Unit working in correctional facilities. They include kitchen staff, maintenance workers and nurses.

It is for this reason, Deputy Premier, that I ask you to guarantee in writing that Unified Bargaining Unit workers will be at no increased risk of harm during a strike. If you will not guarantee their safety in writing, then I will have no choice but to prohibit their entering correctional facilities.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my offer to tour the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre with you. It would give you a remarkable opportunity to experience at first hand the conditions in which correctional officers work and the issues they grapple with every day.

I look forward to your reply.


Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

Related: Crisis In Corrections Index Page