TRURO – It’s been three years since members of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers have had a signed contract, and they don’t want to wait any longer.
That’s why about 50 union members gathered outside Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP Scott Armstrong’s office her on Monday morning and into the early afternoon.
“Right now, some of our biggest concerns are sick leave and layoffs, and being closer to the RCMP in comparison,” said Olivia Tynes, local president of correctional officers at Nova Institution in Truro.
“In 2005, there was a comparable study done with the RCMP and the (federal) government agreed to it,” added Dave Harrison, with the Springhill Institution. “Some of the things we had to agree to were going from 37.5 hours a week to 40 to be on par with the RCMP, and they raised our pay almost six per cent.
“But now the government wants a new comparison with provincial jail guards.”
Tynes said federal correctional officers have different duties than provincial guards, such as armed escorts.
“We also do NPB paperwork – National Parole Board paperwork, we release prisoners out into the streets and bring them back if need be, and we also keep a list of dangerous offenders,” she said.
Provincial inmates are those serving sentences of two years less a day, while inmates are any above that.
While Armstrong wasn’t available for the day – he was on his way to Digby at the time for an announcement about the Digby-Saint John Ferry according to his Twitter feed – the union members still wanted to spend some time outside his office to bring light to the issues.
Harrison said another issue the union is bargaining for is to keep the Blood Samples Act in place, an act introduced by a private member on the union’s behalf.
“If, for example, a correctional officer were to get poked with a needle an inmate had used, we would need the inmate’s permission to do any testing to see if they had any diseases,” said Harrison, noting the Blood Samples Act would give officers the opportunity to go ahead with testing without the inmate’s permission.
He said there is a drug cocktail that treats those infected with HIV and hepatitis C, however it weakens the immune system.
“Most of the time, anyone taking this cocktail is only a fraction of themselves and doesn’t want to come back to work. Having the ability to test means that the officer would know right away if they need that cocktail and not have to go on it before knowing.”
With both the Springhill and Truro institutions falling under Armstrong’s riding, Harrison said that means between 400 and 500 staff fall within the MP’s constituency.
Tynes said the union had been back to the bargaining table with the Treasury Board on June 4 with a “reasonable proposal,” however that was rejected. The union doesn’t know when it will meet again.
Harrison couldn’t lay any fault on Armstrong for not being able to meet with the group because of other commitments on Monday, and he’s hoping to reschedule a meeting to discuss the issues.