EDMONTON, Alberta — A massive five-day correctional officer strike ended last Wednesday with millions of government funds lost and the organizing union slapped with $350,000 in fines after the job action was deemed illegal.
The strike, headed by the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), was evoked by the suspension of two Edmonton Remand Centre (ERC) employees who voiced safety and security concerns regarding the new $580 million facilities controversial design. The strike cost the provincial government approximately $1.2 million each day. But the fines, said Guy Smith, president of AUPE, were well worth the amount of awareness gained.
“I think the attention drawn to the issues of health and safety for correctional peace officers, especially in a new facility, was so important,” Smith said. “Obviously, it wasn’t important for the government to address beforehand and those workers felt the need to go on the wildcat strike to press those issues forward and the union fully supported them.”
The 1,952-bed correctional facility was designed by Edmonton-based ONPA Architects and opened for inmates in April. According to workers and union officials, the open-concept design, a new design to Alberta, poses serious design flaws and risks to both staff and inmates.
“Basically it puts you in much closer proximity to some of the worst offenders in the country,” said Clarke McChesney, chair of AUPE Local 003.
Each pod houses 72 inmates, McChesney said, and with a maximum of two correctional officers securing each pod, the prison presents large risks for injury of staff or inmate.
“If our staffing patterns aren’t more geared to safety, we’re putting ourselves at risk,” McChesney said.
Deputy Premier Thomas Lucaszuk and other governmental officials, however, have maintained that there are no safety issues with the new facility.
The union will now look to place more focus on the country’s occupation safety programs.
“The next step is to do a huge blitz on occupational safety because now the government is aware that we’re genuinely serious about health and safety for all of our officers at all of our sites,” McChesney said.
An agreement was made the night before the end strike that the province would issue a new occupational health and safety review or ERC and no retribution would be made toward individual members of the union.
“To try and get the government to actually sit down and talk seriously about these issues was a challenge,” Smith said. “But I think at the end of the day they realized that they had to in order to resolve this.”