Pizza and porn? Union says jails preparing for long strike

The Ontario government is preparing for a possible jail guard strike beginning Sunday at detention facilities across the province, with efforts already underway to make life as comfortable as possible for the managers who will be watching prisoners during negotiations.

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Sleeping trailers have been set up in exercise yards, couches and televisions have been brought in on trucks, and managers have been promised large paydays to cover for the absent jail guards, in the event a new deal is not reached by 12:01 a.m. on Sunday.

"They are just coming in with supplies and trailers, and pretty much creating a small city in the back of the institutions," Denis Collin, President of OPSEU Local 411, told CTV News. "They're prepared."

Collin added that the province is bringing in managers from other ministries to help meet its staffing needs. "Some of them are actually replacement managers," he said. "They have no experience. They've been getting a crash course."

Negotiations have been ongoing between the province and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents 6,000 jail guards and probation officers in the province. OPSEU is demanding its members be paid on the same level as police and firefighters, and for jail workers to be considered an essential service. The union also wants Ontario to address issues of workplace safety, jail overcrowding and staffing levels.

OPSEU President Warren "Smokey" Thomas warned that an extended strike could put the public at risk, both in the jails and outside of them. For instance, if parole officers go on strike, supervision is expected to be cut in half for the 50,000 individuals currently on parole in the province.

"They expect a handful of managers to supervise them," Thomas said. "That's humanly impossible for the workforce as it currently stands, because we have the highest caseloads of probation and parole in Canada."

Disturbances broke out at facilities across the province the last time jail guards went on strike, during a 54-day strike by civil servants in 2002.

"There were a lot of riots, there were fires," Thomas said. "I fear that those jails will get out of control fairly quickly."

Thomas says he expects managers to use the same approach to placate prisoners that they used in 2002: "They'll feed them pizza, popcorn and porn."

Jail staff have been without a contract since December 2014.



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