The province’s goal in the Barton Street jail dispute is to resolve the labour disruption while “holding the correctional officers accountable,” says Ontario’s corrections minister.
Madeleine Meilleur met with union representatives Monday for guards at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, who have been embroiled in a two-week health and safety dispute with jail management.
Union representatives voiced “concerns regarding discipline,” Meilleur said in an email to CBC Hamilton.
“Despite Ministry of Labour assurances that the workplace is safe, the officers have repeatedly refused to perform their duties,” she wrote. “We cannot let labour disruptions interfere with services, and we will work to resolve the issue while holding the correctional officers accountable.”
The dispute started two weeks ago when jail guards wanted to wear safety vests to search the jail after a piece of metal went missing. Management denied the request, saying it would intimidate and instigate inmates.
Guards have been off the job since Aug. 13.
About 100 people rallied at Queen’s Park Monday morning in support of the guards. As for the meeting with Meilleur, the union is not sure the minister heard their concerns, said Dan Sidsworth, vice-chair of correction services at the Ontario Public Services Employees Union.
"She was listening, along with the deputy minister,” he said. “But I'm not sure she heard us.
"We indicated the health and safety concern that is not being recognized by the employer, and she was still talking about the search.”
The dispute lies with discipline for guards who have been off work, Sidsworth said.
"The ministry said, 'the discipline stands, the no work no pay, stands. It's all non-negotiable.'"
After a meeting Friday with the assistant deputy minister Steven Small, the government rejected the union's request for an arbitrator and halted negotiations.
The meeting Monday morning lasted about 30 minutes and included Meilleur, the deputy minister, OPSEU president Warren Thomas, local president Steven Smith and Sidsworth.
Jail management and the union have been meeting regularly, Meilleur said, and "I have full confidence ministry officials will resolve this matter."
Meanwhile, the day at the jail Monday began as normal, said Jim Mitchell, a Hamilton corrections officer and union representative.
“The officers here are reporting to work at the start of their shift. They're told we can't go in.”
NDP leader and Hamilton MPP Andrea Horwath said in a statement she wants the government to end the dispute.
“The current lockdown is not in the best interests of anyone — that includes corrections staff, management, inmates and the public — and threatened punitive measures against staff seem unnecessary and antagonistic,” said Horwath.
Sidsworth said the meeting ended with an agreement to meet again.