Controversy continues over wildcat strike by Alberta jail guards

Labour leaders decry 'draconian' punitive measures
||Last Updated: 05/03/2013

The wildcat strike involving prison guards in Alberta may be over, but the controversy hasn’t been put behind bars yet.

Labour leaders are worried about punitive measures — which they called “draconian” — that are being taken against the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

After the strike, which the union says was sparked by worker safety concerns, the AUPE agreed to pay $450,000 in fines, but it says the provincial government then brought additional punitive measures forward.

“The province announced on Wednesday that they would have AUPE’s dues withheld as a result of the strike,” the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) said in a press release.

“Every crisis presents opportunities and this situation is no different. The government could have addressed the workers’ legitimate safety concerns in a timely and balanced manner. This would have improved the important relationship between a government and these workers,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “But that opportunity has been squandered by threats, intimidation and now specter of punitive measures against the union. As a result, labour relations are worse now than they were before the strike.”

McGowan said going after the union’s dues was “unwise if the government wants to maintain a good relationship with its workers.”

“It creates a disincentive for a quick and reasonable resolution of conflicts. If the resolution of these kinds of job action results in punishment, then they’ll never get resolved because it will only mean more fines and more hostility.”

Tim Grant, Alberta’s deputy solicitor general, issued a statement following the end of the “five day illegal strike.”

He said AUPE employees received a letter from the Alberta Public Service Commissioner that contained the government’s position on the illegal walkout by corrections officers. In that letter, the government said:

“With respect to your request for amnesty for striking employees, it is not our intention to seek retribution and following a return to work we will consider all circumstances on a case by case basis and act thoughtfully and in a measured and appropriate fashion."

Grant said he met with the first shift returning to the Edmonton Remand Centre as they came on duty at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, and met with the second shift in the afternoon.

“We had discussed a number of issues of concern to the staff and made two decisions regarding issues that were of immediate concern to the guards. I will continue to meet with staff,” he said. “My actions since employees have returned have, and will continue to be, consistent with the contents of this letter. It is not our intention to seek retribution and there will not be retribution against workers who just participated in the illegal strike action. However, there was one report where the manner in which some employees left their posts may have put inmates, their fellow guards and management in danger. This incident will be investigated and dealt with appropriately as indicated in the letter the union received from the province.”

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