As a strike by Ontario’s correctional workers loom, the head of the union representing them says the provincial government is running out of time to strike a deal.
The union for correctional and probation officers has scheduled a final attempt at reaching a contract with the government this Friday.
“One person holds the key to all of this and that’s (Treasury Board President) Deb Matthews, ” OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said. “She controls all the collective bargaining. The managing team would have her nod to come back to the table and bargain seriously.”
Complaints have been filed by workers expressing the changes they need made in the facilities.
“They’re desperately short of staff. They have a hard time with retention and recruitment,” Thomas said. “Then you get hired and then you are a casual call-in (employee) for years.”
In order for change to occur, an agreement needs to be met between the two groups.
“If we could work on rebuilding and fixing the problems in corrections, then that starts with a decent collective agreement to start to address some of their very legitimate issues,” Thomas said.
One of the government’s contingency plans in the event of a strike is to have managers from other areas help keep the jails and probation offices running.
“These managers will be redeployed to correctional facilities and other work locations as needed to ensure that safe operations continue,” the government said in a statement.
“I don’t believe managers can run the jail safely,” Thomas said. “I don’t believe the managers can supervise all the parolees in the community effectively because probation officers have the highest case loads in Canada.”
Strike preparations have been in the works for a while as correctional and probation workers have been without a contract since December 2014.
During this time, the government has spent around $8.5 million on training and renovating spaces in the jails.
“The government has money for everything they want,” Thomas said. “If you think of all the scandals and all the money they wasted, if they had not wasted that money and put that back into public services, we would not be having this conversation.”
The government is not backing away from negotiations and is hoping an agreement can be made.
“The government remains committed to working together with our corrections partners to reach a fair and equitable agreement and to continuing to deliver the essential services that Ontarians rely on every day, in a way that keeps our communities safe,” The government said in a statement.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the workers, who rejected an earlier tentative settlement, will be in a legal strike position on Sunday at 12:01 am.