The standoff at the Barton Street jail has made it to the floor of the Ontario legislature.
During question period Tuesday, MPP Paul Miller urged the government to resolve the ongoing dispute between workers and management at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre.
“Is this minister going to make this situation bad to worse, or will she immediately take action to deal with this unsafe and potentially violent situation?” said the MPP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, addressing Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur.
Workers and management at the detention centre are at an impasse after a more than three-week battle. It started when on Aug. 13, workers noticed a missing piece of metal and wanted to don safety vests to look for it.
Management denied the request, saying it might intimidate or incite the inmates.
The jail guards return to work every morning but will not perform their duties without safety vests, says Dan Sidsworth, vice-chair of correctional services for OPSEU, which represents the guards. Meanwhile, managers brought in from across the province are running the jail.
The guards sat outside the jail Tuesday afternoon with tents and umbrellas to shield themselves from the rain.
The dispute now rests on whether guards who refuse to work without the vests will be disciplined. The ministry and OPSEU last met on Aug. 31.
There has been no movement since, Sidsworth said.
“The employer is still wanting to take reprisals against the members,” he said. “For the members to go back to work, we'd have to sign off on the manager's proposal that we accept the discipline.
“We've told them when they move off that position to contact us.”
The Ministry of Labour has assured that work conditions at the Barton jail are safe, said Meilleur in an email statement last week.
“We cannot let labour disruptions interfere with services, and we will work to resolve the issue while holding correctional officers accountable,” she said.
The jail is a “dangerous situation,” Miller said during question period.
The facility meant for 510 inmates now houses close to 600, he said. Cells are about eight feet wide by 12 feet long, and many have three inmates in them, with one sleeping on a plastic-coated mattress on a concrete floor.
“Instead of disciplining guards who simply don't want to work in unsafe conditions, won't this minister finally resolve this dangerous situation without any management retaliation?” he said.