Potential strike not approved by union

By Anne Kyle, The Leader-Post, Friday 4 October 2002

The province's more than 1,000 correctional workers could be walking the picket line as early as Saturday afternoon.

However the strike by the correctional workers has not been sanctioned by the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Workers (SGEU) public service and government employees' bargaining committee, which represents the employees.

We received communications from the correctional guards Thursday afternoon of pending strike action and have contacted the union, said Shelley Banks, a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The union, which is bound by a contract that does not expire until Sept. 30, 2003, told us they had not sanctioned any job action and would be looking into it and getting back to us, Banks said.

Trish Elliott, SGEU's communications officer, who was caught off-guard by media calls asking about the strike notice, said union officials were unaware of any pending job action.

However, a Regina corrections employee, who spoke to the Leader-Post on the condition his name not be used, confirmed the guards were planning to walk off the job as early as 2 p.m. Saturday if their concerns were not addressed.

It's probably not sanctioned by SGEU, but that simply means we won't be getting any strike pay, which is basically peanuts anyway, the worker said.

The job action is legal because the correctional workers bargaining sector had a number of outstanding issues, which were not resolved at the main bargaining table and were severed from the SGEU agreement ratified in July of last year, he said.

The outstanding issues relate to changes to the pension plan, which would enable correctional guards to retire after 25 years of service without any loss of benefits, hours of work and flexibility in shift scheduling. These issues were referred back to the sectoral bargaining committee for further negotiations with the PSC, he said.

The government negotiators kept putting things off and nothing was getting resolved, he said.

But the straw the broke the camel's back, he said, was when correctional services raised the issue of red circling and bumping workers into a lower classification based on their minimal contact with serving inmates.

When they red circled one of our guys in admitting that was it. We said let's do something. Legally we don't have a contract so we can strike, he said, explaining that job action is the only way to get the message through to government negotiators that the correctional workers won't be pushed around.

When contacted about contingency plans in the event there is a strike, a spokesperson for the Justice Department referred inquiries to the Public Service Commission.