My first article for my union website. I need some feedback and some editorial expertise. If you have a few minutes can you help a Jezzie out?!

AUPE Walk Out

By now you may have heard about the strike action at the Edmonton Remand Centre that began this weekend, and that as of this morning there will be other corrections centres in Alberta walking out in solidarity.

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As you may have heard the Edmonton Remand Centre is a new facility that was built to house those who have been arrested and awaiting trial. The facility is meant to hold about 24,000 offenders and was built as an “open concept” (meaning a large open space with few areas for Corrections Officer’s as safe and separate space, or to maintain control over the inmates). At the time of the walk out, there was just more than half that amount of offenders in the facility and most often the number of inmates often outweighs the number of guards. This design concept leaves both the Corrections Officers and the inmates vulnerable to a number of safety issues not least of which is assault.

Before the new facility was ready to open its’ doors, AUPE (Alberta Union of Provincial Employees) notified the government by filing a formal complaint with Occupational Health and Safety officials. AUPE had discovered flaws in the design and requested that the province delay the transfer of prisoners from the old remand centre and address the issues (1). A request the province refused. The employer continued with its plans and began the transfer of inmates and workers were expected on the job. Two guards who were expected for an afternoon shift refused to report for duty citing the safety concerns as well as the Alberta government's refusal to listen to their counsel. In response these two individuals were reprimanded and suspended.

The Alberta government has made two serious mistakes in dealing with the Edmonton Remand Centre workers. First, and most obvious, is the employer’s refusal to cooperate with AUPE regarding Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) concerns for both its employees and the inmates the province is responsible for. AUPE gave the province ample information and ample time to ensure the safety of all those housed in the centre and the province blatantly ignored them. Secondly, workers have the legal right to refuse work that involves imminent danger without punishment by the employer (i.e. cannot be fired or disciplined by the employer). Further to that point the employer is obligated, upon notification of unsafe work conditions, to ensure that no other worker is exposed to danger and that the danger itself is removed (2).

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The province has demonstrated an unwillingness to cooperate with both AUPE by ignoring AUPE OHS complaint. As well as taking action that contravenes the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act. In light of this AUPE had little choice but to stage a walk out in order to gain the attention of the province. Technically a union is not to go on strike for the life of the collective agreement. It is that technicality that the province has used to assert that the workers are on an illegal strike when they requested an injunction against the workers at the Alberta Labour Board hearing, which as on Saturday the employer won and the workers were ordered back (3).

As of today Edmonton and Calgary sheriffs will be joining the picket lines and nine other facilities (in Alberta) will be on walk out in a sign of solidarity(4). And the province is still refusing to discuss job safety with the effected workers, preferring to paint the action of these workers as intimidation and describe this event as illegal (4).

I’d like to disclose that a good friend of mine works for the Province of Alberta at a youth corrections facility in Calgary. It concerns me that the province is unwilling to address these kinds of issues knowing the potential threats that these officers face each time they go to work. These facilities house offenders, medical staff, teaching staff, administrative staff, as well as corrections officers and it is the job of the province to ensure the safety of every individual. They cannot take this lightly and should not be allowed to ignore the needs of these people. Nor should they be allowed to ignore the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or reprimand an employee for asserting the rights granted to them under provincial law. I hope that you will support these workers.

If you would like to inform the Alberta Province that you support these workers then send a note to the following:

Première Alison Redford, Calgary.elbow@assembly.ab.ca

Minister of Justice, Jonathan Denis, Calgary.acadia@assembly.ab.ca

Or you can go to Alison Redford’s twitter https://twitter.com/Premier_Redfor…

Sample Note:

I’m writing in support of Alberta’s Corrections Officers. The safety of those in the penal system should be of paramount concern to your administration and it is disappointing to see that your government has not only ignored the AUPE official complaint with the Occupational Health Safety Board, concerning the Edmonton Remand Centre, but you also allowed the two employees to be suspended when they exercised their lawful right to refuse work under dangerous conditions. I urge you to make amends and begin talks with AUPE to address the safety issues that both the workers and offenders face in this new facility.

Links:

(1) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/st…

(2) http://www.qp.alberta.ca/1266.cfm?page=…

(3) http://www.thewhig.com/2013/04/27/alb…

(4) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ed…