While McGuinty has “knocked heads” at York University, he is conveniently ignoring a potential powder keg in his own back yard: Correctional workers who are taking a strike vote on the province’s latest contract offer.
A strategically-timed Auditor General’s report a few months ago highlighted that sick time for correctional officers and youth workers was high. At the same time, Corrections Ministry negotiators were at the bargaining table trying to hammer through a new sick time plan for these two groups of employees. This plan, in a nutshell, monetarily punishes these employees if they take any more than five sick days a year.
For at least 20 years, there have been huge problems with overcrowding in our provincial correctional facilities. Even the Auditor General acknowledges that many facilities are running at 135 per cent capacity. The result? High stress. Continual exposure to diseases. Daily assaults on staff. Combined with the deteriorating conditions in many of our provincial jails, the results are working conditions that are unimaginable to most Ontario workers.
For 20 years, successive governments have ignored the overcrowding, the exposure to diseases, the assaults and the mental stress endured by corrections workers. Yet the Premier feigns surprise that sick time is high.
The Premier now has the opportunity to tackle these problems. This is the time for positive action, not threats of punishment. Corrections workers are voting to reject the government’s punitive approach. And the bargaining team has already made plans to meet with the employer once the results are in.
Sick time won’t be the only item on the agenda. For Probation Officers, excessive caseloads continue to be ignored by the Ministry, leaving the public vulnerable. For the rest of the members in Corrections, there is little if nothing in the way of improvements for them.
This should be a no-brainer for McGuinty. In an unprecedented show of good-faith bargaining, the province has already reached a tentative agreement with the rest of the public service. Now, he just has to direct his staff to do the same with Corrections workers. There is no need for “knocking heads” in this case. There only needs to be a meeting of the minds.
Ontario’s Correctional Officers, Youth Workers, Probation Officers, Bailiffs, Recreation Officers, Rehabilitation Officers, Industrial Officers, Trades Instructors, Grounds/Maintenance Workers and Locksmiths, all members of the Corrections Bargaining Unit, have the experience, the knowledge and the solutions…if the government will listen.
Cooperation is the key to improving the working lives for the thousands of men and women who safeguard our facilities, our communities and the public, day in and day out. Correctional workers, whether in the institutions or in the communities, deserve better treatment. Dalton McGuinty owes them nothing less.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas