Alberta gov’t to use arbitration to recoup costs of prison-guard strike
Published Wednesday, May 1, 2013 8:09AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 1, 2013 3:22PM EDT
The Alberta government says it plans to use arbitration to recoup the costs of a recent wildcat strike that saw hundreds of jail guards walk off the job.
Guards at corrections facilities throughout the province returned to work Wednesday morning after the Alberta Union of Public Employees struck a deal with the province on Tuesday night, bringing the illegal five-day strike to an end.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford said she was pleased the AUPE ended the strike, which was estimated to cost more than $1.2 million to pay for RCMP and municipal officers to replace the striking guards.
“The government will do everything within our means to ensure taxpayers are not on the hook for the millions of dollars this illegal job action cost,” she said in a statement released Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, Solicitor General Jonathan Denis said the provincial government will insist AUPE reimburse taxpayers, noting the collective bargaining agreement reached by Alberta and the union allows for an arbitration claim.
Meanwhile, after announcing the strike’s end, AUPE president Guy Smith said addressing the safety issues with provincial officials was a trying process.
“It has been frustrating, absolutely. To try and get the government to sit down and talk seriously about these issues was a challenge,” Smith told reporters on Tuesday night. “But I think at the end of the day they realized they had to in order to resolve this.”
The wildcat strike was triggered Friday when an employee of the newly-build Edmonton Remand Centre was suspended after complaining about health and safety concerns. Workers at the mega-jail refused to enter the building Friday afternoon, and the job action quickly spread to nine other correctional facilities throughout the province.
On Monday court sheriffs, social workers and clerks in Edmonton Calgary, Lethbridge and other communities walked off the job in a show of solidarity with the striking guards.
Throughout the strike, the government maintained it would not negotiate with the AUPE until the guards returned to work. On Saturday, the Alberta Labour Relations Board issued a back-to-work order, which was largely ignored by the guards.
A Court of Queen's Bench justice fined the union $100,000 Monday night, a penalty that increased to $350,000 at noon Tuesday.
The union had been told that fine would jump to $500,000 on Wednesday and climb by half a million dollars each day after that.
Smith said the agreement specifies the government will hold an occupational health and safety review to investigate concerns that have been raised about the new $580-million Edmonton Remand Centre.
The deal also guarantees there will be no retribution for individual workers who have been involved in the strike.
“I think the attention drawn to issues of health and safety for correctional police officers, especially at the new facility, was so important,” Smith said. “Obviously it wasn’t important enough for the government to address beforehand and those workers found the need to go on the wildcat strike.”
Redford said her government will investigate all “new and specific” occupational health and safety concerns raised by the provincial guards.
The guards were supported by the NDP and the Liberals on the grounds that the workers were left with little choice but to strike to get Redford's government to take their safety concerns seriously.
"I think these people do care about their jobs. They also care about making sure that the inmates are safe, too," NDP critic Rachel Notley told The Canadian Press.
"But they are just desperately frustrated because they have got an employer who is acting like basic fundamental worker rights simply don't exist, and at a certain point you have to stand up for those basic fundamental rights."
With files from The Canadian Press