Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Portable trailers were installed Thursday at Toronto South Detention Centre’s in advance of 12:01 a.m. Sunday strike deadline.

Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Normally, the sight of a construction crane swinging its boom over the razor-wire fence of a provincial jail would raise alarms among correctional workers. This week across Ontario, however, the sudden appearance of construction crews outside jails has prompted weary acceptance that a looming strike could be long and, according to the correctional union, dangerous for the managers forced to operate the institutions.

"I really do fear this is a tragedy waiting to happen," said Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president Smokey Thomas.

By Thursday, there was ample evidence that the province was preparing for protracted labour action.

Story continues below advertisement

A snaking line of trucks carrying furniture and other provisions waited for a spot at the Lindsay jail's crowded loading dock. At Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton, shipments of beds and chocolate bars poured in. Over at Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough, a mammoth crane lifted portable trailers over the institution's razor-wire fences in advance of a 12:01 a.m. Sunday strike deadline.

It's all part of the province's plan to call in managers from throughout Ontario's public service, offer them a quick training program in jail operations and house them in makeshift living quarters behind the gates.

"My members have seen millions spent on housing, food, portables, big-screen TVs for the managers and scabs who will run these places," Mr. Thomas said. "That money would be better spent reaching an agreement."

Both sides will be negotiating with the help of a mediator on Friday and Saturday. Workers voted 67 per cent in early December to reject a tentative agreement that had been recommended by the union. Should full labour action commence next week at the 28 corrections facilities run by the government, selected union staff – crisis response teams, crisis negotiators, inmate escort services and canine handlers – would be forced to cross their own picket lines, according to provincial spokeswoman Annie Donolo.

OPSEU's 6,000 correctional workers have seen their wages fall far behind those of police and other emergency workers in recent years. The debt-laden province, meanwhile, says its coffers are empty.

The lengthy negotiations have not only strained relations between workers and Queen's Park, but also between workers and their own union.

The key demand by workers is an essential-service designation that would remove their right to strike and place their collective bargaining power in the hands of binding arbitration. Right now, correctional workers operate under a strange hybrid arrangement that gives them the right to strike, while also requiring them to maintain skeleton staffing levels during work stoppages.

Story continues below advertisement

"OPSEU has neglected us," said Barry Roy, a correctional worker at Ontario Correctional Institute and member of a group that has hired a labour lawyer to press both OPSEU and the province to mandate essential-service status. "OPSEU is part and parcel of the reasons why we have not had wage increases. They have used us as their militant faction."

Essential-service status has helped drive up police wages to the point where a first-class constable in Toronto will earn at least $96,757 this year. By contrast, Ontario correctional workers logging 40 hours a week make a maximum of about $68,000. Many, however, log enough overtime to land on the Sunshine List, the province's annual inventory of public employees earning more than $100,000 a year.

Correctional workers currently bargain severance and benefits issues alongside 125,000 other OPSEU members. Wage and training issues are dealt with by a separate correctional bargaining unit. In a recent OPSEU poll, 98 per cent of correctional workers said they wanted their own bargaining unit to negotiate all issues, something that would require legislative change.

"We want our own separate collective agreement because we've been stonewalled by the central union," said Mark Sabada, a guard at Toronto South Detention Centre. "A lot of people want out of OPSEU because, for us, it's been a non-performer."

A secondary issue is safety. The union is asking for letters of agreement that would prevent overcrowding and the chronic understaffing that has led to frequent lockdowns and tinderbox conditions.

Those two factors apparently fuelled a Dec. 7 riot at Thunder Bay District Jail. By the time the riot was over, the top floor of the nearly 100-year-old jail was in ruins. Unbreakable windows were smashed; cameras and furniture were broken and then set on fire.

Story continues below advertisement

Tired of living three men to a cell, 68 inmates took control of the facility and held a corrections officer hostage for more than three hours. The officer was released and taken to a hospital. Twelve hours after the chaos began, the prisoners backed down.

For Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs, the scene was reminiscent of a 1977 riot when he and his police partner were the first to arrive on the scene.

"I've toured the jail twice in the last year and it's worse that it was in 1977," Mr. Hobbs said. "I wouldn't want to work in those conditions."

With a report from Allan Maki

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies