A tentative deal between Ontario's correctional workers and the province will pave the way to fix major problems at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, local union leaders say.
"People started cheering, so I think there's a sense of relief," said Denis Collin, with Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 411, of the response he received when he broke the news to picketing workers.
Early Saturday morning, the two sides struck an agreement to move to binding arbitration within the next 60 days — and to designate the province's nearly 6,000 jail guards, parole and probation officers as essential service workers.
That provision means the union has agreed to give up its right to strike, not just for this contract but for successive ones.
[This deal] will give us a chance to focus on the crisis and not have to be distracted by a labour dispute every three to four years. - Denis Collin, OPSEU Local 411 president
It's a tradeoff that leaders of OPSEU said their membership asked for because it would recognize them as essential service workers — and would see that all future bargaining is subject to binding arbitration.
Collin echoed that sentiment Saturday afternoon.
"We still have a crisis in corrections. [This deal] will give us a chance to focus on the crisis and not have to be distracted by a labour dispute every three to four years."
Elements of that crisis can be seen in a late 2015 report on major problems at OCDC, including overcrowding and the fact that spoiled and soggy food was being served to inmates.
'Step in the right direction'
Scott Forde, the union's vice-president, said while OCDC employees still work in a "poisoned" environment, the deal offered hope things could change.
"We're still short staffed. But it's a step in the right direction," said Forde.
"From here on in, we focus on getting our staffing levels up to par, we focus on getting our training up to date, and we move forward."
Correctional officers had been without a contract for more than a year before the deal was agreed to this weekend.
Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi said OCDC and other jails across the province should be back to normal by Monday.