AUPE execs say province is already violating strike agreement

Only one day after promising to protect corrections workers from retaliation following the five-day illegal strike, Guy Smith, president of the AUPE, has accused the Deputy Solicitor General of taunting and goading staff at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
AUPE chair Todd Ross says the province has hoodwinked corrections guards by promising amnesty publicly and threatening action once behind closed doors.

Only one day after the province promised to protect corrections workers from retaliation following the five-day illegal strike, Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, has accused the Deputy Solicitor General of taunting and goading staff at the Edmonton Remand Centre.

The announcement comes on the heels of a CBC exclusive interview with Todd Ross,  the guard at the centre of Friday’s walkout.

Earlier Wednesday, Ross spoke out against the province’s management of the situation, saying that the province is not holding up their end of the bargain struck to end the corrections strike.

According to Ross and Smith, the striking guards were told that there would be no personal retribution made by the province against individual AUPE members who participated in the the illegal strike.

However, they say that while Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk has made public statements to that effect, a very different message is being relayed behind closed doors.

Ross said that when officers at the Edmonton Remand Centre gathered for muster Wednesday morning, Deputy Solicitor General Tim Grant told the assembled guards that that some of them would be disciplined, that others may even be fired.

Smith said he is furious with the government’s double message, which he calls "absolutely reckless."

"We only went back to work on the basis that there’d be no retribution, on an agreement that I had with the deputy premier that he has repeated publicly," said Smith. "And the fact they’re playing these games behind the scenes... they’re throwing gas on to the fire we’re trying to put out -- it’s reckless and dishonourable."

Smith said that while the AUPE was prepared to deal with the government’s retribution and fines, going after individual members of the AUPE who participated in the strike was not part of the deal.

"We knew the union would be fined and... we’ll deal with that in the courts... [but] if we knew that the government was going to break its deal that it has with us, we wouldn't have returned to work."

But Smith added the guards aren’t planning on walking out again. He says he would simply like to see the government uphold their end of the bargain.

"Our members are back at work and want to get on with the job," he said.

Personal retribution

"I think everybody’s been threatened by this," said Smith on Wednesday night.

"Nobody knows who’s going to have retribution against them, when in fact we had a blanket amnesty [in place]."

"All I see is intimidation and threats being made that there will be retribution to our members that were on strike."

Ross agrees. And he doesn’t think it will stop with just threats.

"I believe that they will be firing a great number of people across the province to make a point and to bust this union."

Smith said AUPE is now demanding that the government live up to its word.

"We’ve only been back to work since this morning, and already, the government is inflaming the situation that’s very volatile," he said.

"We need to have that agreement with the government enforced where there be no retribution against single members."

And they want to get that in writing, added Ross.

Suspended guard speaks out

As an elected chair with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Ross represents the 550 guards employed at the Edmonton Remand Centre. It was his suspension on Friday that triggered for the guards’ strike.

Ross said Wednesday that his union members have been "hoodwinked" by the provincial government in the wake of the strike’s resolution late Tuesday night.

"I feel that the government should be responsible for its employees and take care of them in a way that would protect them from... any trickery to try to discipline a few members."

"[The workers] should not be told one thing and have another be done to them."

"I know that the deal was done on an handshake," continued Ross, "but when it was written up, it was totally different than what we had expected."

"I believe that the [union organizers] thought when they left the table that they had achieved amnesty for all."

"We thought we had a deal that we could live with, and [this is] not a good deal for us."

While Ross acknowledged that he is not likely to be fired, he said he is willing to face the consequences of the province’s investigation into the strike and his own suspension.

All he is asking, he said, is that all other striking other workers be given amnesty.

The province has not yet responded to the offer.

For now, Ross remains on suspension. He said he is not sure he'll ever return to work as a corrections officer.