Ontario correctional workers and ministry move closer to contract showdown

A "no board" report has been issued in the negotiations between the Ministry of Labour and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Correctional Bargaining Unit, moving the sides one step closer to a strike or lockout.

Jan. 10 now the deadline to reach agreement after "no board" report

Ontario Correctional workers now have until Jan. 17 before they're in a lockout or strike position. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

A "no board" report has been issued in the negotiations between the province and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Correctional Bargaining Unit, moving the two sides one step closer to a strike or lockout.

A "no board" report is issued by a conciliator in negotiations when he or she decides that the two parties are not ready to come to an agreement. Once the report has been issued, there is a 17-day deadline before the parties enter into a legal strike or lockout position.

That gives OPSEU and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services until 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 10 to come to an agreement. They'll still be able to negotiate during that time.

"Although a 'no board' report has been issued, we still believe a negotiated settlement is possible," said Ontario's President of the Treasury Board, Deb Matthews, in a release. "That is why we remain available, willing and able to negotiate around the clock with the Correctional bargaining unit."

OPSEU's Correctional Bargaining Unit, which represents 5,500 employees in provincial jails, correctional facilities, youth centres as well as probation and parole officers, says no negotiations are scheduled between the two parties. But bargaining team chair Tom O'Neill hopes that the ministry will "bargain seriously" before the deadline.

"We're miles apart," O'Neill said. "There's still potential that would could get to the table but I'd say that (the odd's of reaching a negotiation) are slim."

O'Neill said the biggest points of contention in the negotiation process are structural issues: limiting the amount of people Ontario's probation officers must look after by hiring new staff, and making sure they don't lose future staff to more attractive positions like federal corrections officers or court officers.

As well, bargaining team member Monte Vieselmeyer, the Ontario corrections division chair for OPSEU, said members also want correctional officers to become an essential service, similar to police, paramedics and Toronto Transit Commission drivers. He said in an interview Tuesday that the province said publicly they were on board with the idea, but then said it was off the table once the two sides sat down to bargain.

Not allowing correctional officers to be considered essential "doesn't help anybody in Ontario," Vieselmeyer said.

OPSEU will be preparing its members in the next 17 days for a strike. O'Neill, who has been through this process a few times, said the other side will be preparing as well by bringing transport trucks of food and supplies in for the managers, who would take over operations during the strike.

This deadline falls almost two months after a tentative three-year agreement was reached in late November and then struck down by two thirds of the OPSEU's bargaining unit. At the time, Matthews said the ministry felt the agreement was "fair and reasonable," but O'Neill said there were lingering issues that forced the OPSEU to reject the agreement.

OPSEU was fighting for "Corrections only," which would give autonomy to the Corrections unit and they would have their own collective agreement. He said they were offered a lower wage package in exchange for Corrections only, thus the two-thirds strike down.

"Our members are determined to be treated fairly, and will take whatever action is called for, up to and including going on strike," O'Neill continued. "It's certainly safer than going in to work."