OPSEU: New hires in Corrections a big step in the right direction

500 new full-time Correctional staff and new capital projects for Kenora and Thunder Bay will turn the tide on the crisis.

Toronto (19 June 2020) — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) says the Ford government’s decision to hire hundreds of new Corrections staff is an important step to easing the crisis in Ontario’s Corrections system.

A very positive step

“We appreciate the efforts made by the Premier, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and Ministers Phillips and Bethlenfalvy to keep a promise to address understaffing and safety for both the staff and inmates in Corrections,” said Thomas. “It’s a very positive step in challenging times and hopefully one that we can build on.”

The government announced that it would bring on hundreds of new staff throughout the Corrections system.

OPSEU/NUPGE, along with the Ministry Employee Relations Committee (MERC) and Provincial Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee (PJOHSC), has been tirelessly lobbying 2 successive governments for more resources in Corrections, and the announcement is the culmination of years of hard work.

“We have seen this government listen to front-line workers and the union on concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s encouraging to see this being carried over to other issues,” said Thomas. “It’s another example of what can be achieved when members in a strong union put their shoulders to the plow.”

'A historic moment for Corrections' after years of relentless advocacy

Chris Jackel, the head of OPSEU’s Corrections Division, says it’s a historic moment for Corrections. Jackel is Corrections MERC Co-Chair and an active participant in the ongoing meetings of NUPGE's Corrections Officers and Youth Facility Workers.

“This announcement, after years of relentless advocacy and dialogue, is fantastic news. It will allow us to better supervise offenders, meaning improved safety for them, the public and Corrections workers," said Jackel. "It’s also a real boost for our members to know they aren’t being forgotten and that some of their concerns are being addressed."

“These additional 500 new full-time Correctional staff and the new capital projects for Kenora and Thunder Bay will turn the tide out of crisis. The work to get this done has not been easy, but I'd like to extend a huge thank you to the Premier, the Solicitor General, the Deputy Solicitor General, and OPSEU for their continued collaboration and support.”

Jackel explains that "of the 500 new full-time positions over 80% are Corrections Bargaining Unit positions, including over 200 correctional officers, social workers, nurses, and recreation officers — to list but a few."

Brown congratulates OPSEU

Larry Brown, NUPGE President, extended his congratulations to OPSEU on this victory. "There is no clearer evidence of the power of the union than this announcement," said Brown. "This is the direct result of a strong, organized, and effective labour movement in Ontario, and we congratulate our OPSEU brothers and sisters for their outstanding work."

More staff will reduce injuries, health costs and violent incidents

OPSEU First-Vice President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, who has had a long career as a corrections officer, says the government will find this is an investment that will pay for itself.

“Our members in Corrections have faced high rates of PTSD as well as physical injuries, so more staff will ease the burden and likely result in reduced health costs,” said Almeida. “More staff also means we’ll be better able to detect and prevent problems before they start, reducing violent incidents, providing much needed inmate support, and making our province safer for everyone.”

Thomas says he will ask to meet with Solicitor General Jones to continue the dialogue on other critical issues.

But the work to improve public services never stops

“We are pleased with what we’ve seen today, but the work to improve public services never stops,” said Thomas. “All we have ever asked for is meaningful consultation to solve problems, whether they are in Corrections, or any other workplace in which we represent members. This is yet another hopeful sign that Premier Ford means it when he says he and his government are ready to work with its front-line staff and their union so Ontarians have the public services they deserve.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE