I have spoken a lot recently about problems in our correctional system. While there are many issues across every sector of our union, corrections keeps rearing its head because, quite frankly, it appears the employer wants the system to self-destruct.
Why do I say that? Actions by the employer over the past few months have defied any logical explanation. We have called repeatedly for the employer to address the overcrowding and deteriorating working conditions in our jails. Those calls have been largely ignored. We just finished a very contentious round of bargaining, and before the dust settles, the employer arbitrarily backs out of a decades-old agreement on compensating time owing for working overtime.
For years, correctional officers in our facilities have performed above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that their portion of the criminal justice system worked. One of their many responsibilities is to ensure that inmates are processed to go to court on a daily basis. But because of the overcrowding in our facilities, which worsens every year, correctional officers know what any rookie with two weeks on the job knows: If you follow the rules, the job will never get done.
So what happens? Some rules get ignored. Corners get cut. But all the inmates get out to court on time, and the judges have no complaints.
But now our members have had enough. Enough of having overcrowding in the jails ignored. Enough of the employer turning a blind eye to bad working conditions and spread of infectious diseases. Enough of cutting corners (and putting their safety at risk) so that the job will get done. Especially when all the employer seems to be interested in is destroying labour peace.
So now, our members ARE following the employer’s rules. And guess what? There are delays in the courts. And judges are getting angry.
Perhaps the Minister or these angry judges can answer some questions for our officers. Those questions are: What rules do you want us to break to get inmates out to court on time? What safety precautions do you want us to ignore? What security rules do you want us to breach? And lastly, what assurances will you give us that we won’t be hurt or disciplined if we do break those rules? Until then, I suggest that the judges talk directly to the Ministry and ask them why the system isn’t working. Don’t punish the workers for following the employer’s rules.
We remain willing and ready to work with the employer to solve these problems. In the meantime, our members are refusing to take any more chances with their jobs…and their lives. I will always support my members who are following the rules – even if the system breaks down because of it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas