1,500 Ontario public service managers could replace striking jail guards

CBC News has learned some of the secret details of the plan to have managers from an array of Ontario government departments —including lawyers, finance officials and speech writers — step in if 6,000 jail guards and probation officers walk off the job Sunday morning.

Some 6,000 Ontario jail guards and probation officers could walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sunday

CBC News has learned the secretive details of the plan to have managers from across the public service fill in for guards and probation officers at Ontario's jails if they go on strike. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

CBC News has learned some of the secret details of the plan to have managers from an array of Ontario government departments — including lawyers, finance officials and speech writers — step in if 6,000 jail guards and probation officers walk off the job Sunday morning.

Over the last couple of days, human resources representatives have contacted 1,500 of these managers to be prepared to go to jails around the province, an individual preparing to deploy to a jail in case of a strike claimed to CBC News.

This individual says these managers have been told they will live at the jails they are sent to, and have been told to pack at least five days' worth of clothing. They will be allowed to bring a cellphone and laptop to the jail, the source claims, but cannot have them in areas with prisoners.

The managers, many of whom earn significantly more than the $67,000 average salary for a corrections worker, will be paid their regular salary for the first 40 hours of work and then receive double time, the source claims.

They will be on call as of midnight Friday.

The source has been granted anonymity over concerns about professional repercussions for revealing the government's plans.

Late Friday, a spokeswoman for Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi issued a brief statement about the pending strike and the plans to bring in managers from other departments.

"As part of our contingency planning, experienced corrections managers will be working to ensure the continued operation of our correctional facilities and probation and parole offices across the province, with the assistance of non-corrections managers from across the Ontario Public Service, that have received comprehensive training to ensure both the health and safety of staff and the proper treatment and supervision of individuals in our care, and the communities we serve," Lauren Callighen, Naqvi's press secretary, said in the statement.

Because negotiations are continuing, Callighen said, "it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Managers easily identifiable

According to the source, managers have received telephone calls over the last couple of days from human resources informing them of a password that gives them access to an email.

This email contains little information, the source says, but tells them to await a telephone call to tell them which jail they will be assigned to.

They have yet to be told where they will meet in order to be ferried by bus or minivan to their assigned facilities, the source says.

These managers have already received two days' worth of training, a sort of crash course in what to expect, the source claims. They will receive more specific training once they arrive at the jail.

However, they have already been told not to engage with inmates in conversation, including not to ask them why they are incarcerated, the source claims.

The managers will not be in uniform, so will be easily identifiable to inmates, and will not be given batons, handcuffs or pepper spray, according to the individual.

Correctional managers will not be on strike, and they will run each jail's control centre, the source says. The managers being parachuted into the jails will be assigned to a corrections manager who will conduct patrols and go on rounds.

According to the individual, the managers have been told that if a riot or any trouble breaks out, they will be placed behind protective doors and the correctional managers will have to deal with the issue.

The managers could be on site at the jails for a minimum of two weeks, the source says, in which case they would work for a week, be let out for one day, and then sent back in.

Negotiations continue

Negotiations were continuing between the government and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union late Friday and were scheduled to continue Saturday in the hopes of avoiding a strike. Last month, workers voted against a tentative deal that had been reached in November.

At the time, the union said that deal failed to address members' most pressing concerns, including high caseloads for parole and probation officers, worker safety and wages.

The correctional bargaining unit collective agreement covers approximately 5,500 employees, employed in provincial jails, correctional facilities, youth centres and probation and parole offices.

The previous collective agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2014.


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