If Sudbury's correction officers go on strike Saturday it could make for a dangerous situation, says a union representative.
On a typical shift between 20 and 25 correction officers work at the Sudbury jail, but in the event of a strike managers would take over those duties.
But the jail only has seven managers, and would have to bring in managers from other provincial government departments to help pick up the slack, said Nathan Aubin, president of OPSEU Local 617, which represents local correction officers.
“Managers who have never seen the inside of a correctional centre, or jail, will be trying to do the job 20 or 25 correctional officers have to do on a daily basis,” he said.
But a Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson said managers will have sufficient training to take over the duties of corrections officers in the event of a strike.
“As part of our contingency planning, managers from across the Ontario Public Service have received comprehensive training to perform work that is typically done by those who may be on strike either in a correctional facility or in the community,” Lauren Callighen said in an email to NorthernLife.ca.
“These managers will be redeployed to correctional facilities and other work locations as needed to ensure that safe operations continue. Our top priority remains the health and safety of our staff and inmates and that is why, in both our correctional facilities and probation and parole offices across the province, we will have experienced managers on staff, that will be there to assist non-corrections managers with direct contact with offenders to ensure that both our staff and inmates remain safe.”
On Jan. 9, 2016, around 5,500 employees, working in provincial jails, correctional facilities, youth centres and probation and parole offices, who work in a wide variety of positions in the Ontario Public Service including correctional officers, youth services officers, youth probation officers, and probation and parole officers, will be in a legal strike position.
The correctional services workers have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2014, and as of Jan. 4, negotiations remain at a standstill, said Aubin.
While wages are one of the issues on the table, health and safety is another major sticking point.
“The government wants to make this about wages, but it's not all about wages,” Aubin said. “There are a number of issues correctional officers face daily.”
Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas and Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, the NDP's critic for Community Safety and Correctional Services, got to see many of those issues firsthand when they toured the Sudbury Jail on Monday morning.
“It is just as filthy as it was before,” said Gélinas, who visited the jail previously in 2009, and again a few years after that. “What an awful place. We have to be able to do better than this.”
When the MPPs visited the jail, it was in lockdown, partly because a knife had gone missing from the kitchen over the weekend.
Aubin said lockdowns have become regular occurrences at the jail, because correction officers are often understaffed and cannot control the inmates any other way.
Gélinas and French said they noticed a lot of trash in the jail due to the lockdown. They also saw dead mice and mice droppings.
She said the jail smelled like a mix of marijuana and mustiness.
The facility was built in 1928 to accommodate 56 inmates, but now houses 186 beds in its cramped interior.
Despite her criticisms, some positive changes have been made since Gélinas' last visit. She said there were improvements to the jail's nursing station, which received a new examination table.
The jail is also expected to expand its nursing staff from four members to seven, including one nurse who specializes with mental health.
If the correction officers go on strike Saturday, the jail's nursing and kitchen staff, who have both reached collective agreements with the province, would continue to work.
In a press release last month, Yasir Naqvi, the minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said the province has a plan in case of a strike.
“Our government is committed to bargaining and to reaching a negotiated settlement, but we also have a contingency plan in place to keep staff, inmates and the community safe in case of any labour disruption,” he said.
“The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services will continue to be responsible for the health, safety and transportation of more than 8,000 inmates and staff that would run the institutions, and the monitoring of offenders on probation and parole.”