Correctional staff reject contract extension; other public servants accept deal

The Canadian Press
June 26, 2017
By The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Ontario correctional workers have voted overwhelmingly to reject a government offer to extend their contracts by four years with 7.5 per cent in raises.

Meanwhile, 27,000 other public servants represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union — such as administrative staff, enforcement officers, social workers, meat inspectors and IT systems officers — have accepted an offer with the same wage hike.

The Liberal government has offered deals to a spate of unions in the broader public sector, which would put off any potentially contentious bargaining until after the June 2018 election. Union leaders have marvelled that the offers come with no concession demands.

The public servants voted 81.7 per cent in favour of accepting their deal, but correctional staff voted 94.7 per cent to turn theirs down.

“Such a high number is really quite telling in what the membership of the division feels,” said Chris Jackel, the corrections bargaining team chair. “Clearly they were not satisfied.”

The correctional bargaining unit had recommended its members reject the deal, in part because they said it came about through closed-door negotiations without the elected bargaining team.

The bargaining team will now try to negotiate a new agreement with the government, looking at improvements to health benefits, severance packages, retiree benefits, as well as higher wages, Jackel said. The 7.5 per cent increase over four years doesn’t actually amount to a gain, he said.

“Once you do the math, taking into account such things as inflation, it’s actually a loss,” Jackel said.

“I think the government’s purpose was to create labour peace. This is the premier’s final year in office before an election is going to be called. I think she wants to go into this final year or months ... with the least amount of scandals or distractions so she can gear up for re-election.”

A government statement said the corrections deal rejection is “disappointing.”

Correctional workers’ previous contract removed their right to strike, meaning any future bargaining disputes would be sent to binding interest arbitration, like police and firefighters.

For the other public servants, their ratified deal means they will see their movement through the salary grid restored, as well as improved and new benefits such as catastrophic drug and out-of-country medical coverage.

The agreement extends their current deal, which lasts until Dec. 31, through to the end of 2021.

Treasury Board President Liz Sandals said the wage increases are modest, fair and align with economic and labour market trends.

“Through this agreement, the government is continuing to take a balanced approach to managing compensation in the provincial public sector,” she said in a statement.

OPSEU president Smokey Thomas said the workers were just looking for labour peace.

“They don’t want that countdown to a strike anymore,” he said. “The wages in the OPS are not unreasonable. Some make a little better than the private sector, a lot make less than the private sector, what they could make. But by and large, they just want to go to work and do their jobs.”

Teachers and education workers have already accepted contract extensions that give them four per cent raises over two years and more than $275 million in additional funding.

Professionals in the public service — represented by the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario — also received an offer of four-year contract extensions with 7.5 per cent raises. Results of their ratification vote are to be announced next week.

- Allison Jones

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2017

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