MP: fair deal needed for workers, taxpayers
© Eric Sparling – Amherst Daily News.
Corrections officers from Springhill Institution staked out across from MP Scott Armstrong’s office in Amherst on Wednesday over lunch. The union has a number of bones to pick with the federal government, and has been invited back to the bargaining table by the Treasury Board.
AMHERST – It’s a different world inside, and corrections officers want higher pay to police it.
“We’re in front of the local MP’s office,” said Doug White, regional president of the union representing Springhill Institution’s officers.
UCCO/SACC/CSN Springhill Local held an information event Wednesday over lunch in the parking area on Church Street in Amherst, across from Scott Armstrong’s office. Just before noon a barbecue was turning out food – available for a donation, with the plan being to give the proceeds later to a barbecue outside First Baptist Church – while across the street, in Armstrong’s office, the MP was absent but expected later.
White listed a number of issues, one of which was pay.
“We’ve been three years without a contract,” said White.
The pay discrepancy between RCMP and corrections officers in 2006 was less than six-per cent, according to White, but that gap has grown to 13 per cent. Successive Conservative governments have “absolutely” been bad for their wages, according to White.
The union leader also took issue with comments he attributed to Tony Clement, claiming the president of the Treasury Board expressed regret in May for not making more cuts to the civil service.
Sick leave is another point of contention. White claimed the government wants to take away sick leave for officers and replace it with short-term disability. Also, he said, the government wants to change what it provides in severance pay.
The job has changed, too, he said.
Budgets have been cut by $250 million, he argued, at the same time as the government has committed to getting tougher on crime. Overcrowding is a problem. He said programming and employment for inmates has diminished, and offenders are just being warehoused.
“They’re not rehabilitated,” he said.
As for the practice of double-bunking, “It’s more dangerous for us,” he said.
White said his members provide a valuable service to the public.
“Walk a mile in our range boots,” said Dave Harrison, the local union president, when asked how he would respond to citizens who take issue with civil servants asking for more pay.
A correctional facility is like a little city, according to Harrison, but a little city with an above-average number of tough bad guys.
Scott Armstrong, MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Harbour, was reached by phone later in the day.
“I think they do a very valuable job…,” said Armstrong, who has two federal institutions in his riding.
The MP said it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss details of contracts when the union has been invited back to the bargaining table by the Treasury Board. But he said contracts are a balancing act, needing to be fair to the union and fair to taxpayers. He said the treasury board is trying to make civil servant compensation more reflective of what taxpayers can afford and what the private sector offers, and that the government is moving forward in its commitment to balance the budget by 2015 in part by looking for efficiencies within systems.
He called the government’s tough on crime agenda “very successful,” claiming it hasn’t seen a large increase in inmate numbers but has seen a reduction in revolving doors for prisoners who should be behind bars.
“It’s a tough job,” said the MP of the work performed by correction officers.
Armstrong said he had a very positive discussion Wednesday with White and two local union members.