EDMONTON – The Alberta government is suggesting it may discipline some jail guards who took part in an illegal strike, a move their union says would threaten labour peace.
Deputy solicitor general Tim Grant says there’s a report that some guards who left their posts at the new Edmonton Remand Centre when the strike began may have put inmates, managers and other guards in danger.
“This incident will be investigated and dealt with appropriately,” Grant wrote in a statement released Thursday.
Grant, a former Canadian Forces major-general who commanded troops in Afghanistan, did not say what “appropriately” means.
He said it is not the government’s intention to seek retribution against guards who “just participated in the illegal strike.”
Grant said he met with guards at the new $580-million facility twice on Wednesday to discuss what he called issues of concern and was to meet with staff again Thursday.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said the threat of discipline breaks a promise of amnesty the government made that helped end the almost five-day strike at 10 correctional facilities across the province.
Premier Alison Redford confirmed that pledge, but also suggested it might not apply to all union members.
“We certainly did say to the union that we were going to make sure there were no acts of retribution,” Redford said.
“I think the deputy minister of the solicitor general was very clear today … that if there were acts that were committed that put people’s safety at risk, than those needed to be dealt with at a management level.”
Redford declined to say whether any of the guards could lose their jobs
Union president Guy Smith said the government’s conduct is inflaming a volatile situation at the remand centre. He accused Grant of taunting guards at the jail instead of dealing with their safety concerns.
Smith said the union has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board, which was to hear it late Thursday afternoon.
The union is seeking a cease-and-desist order against the government and a directive to order Grant to retract statements that he made to some guards, he said.
“We are doing everything we can to calm the waters and instead the government is throwing gas onto the fire. It is really dangerous and irresponsible,” Smith said.
“The very first thing the deputy solicitor general should have dealt with is the health and safety concerns that drove members to take action in the first place. Instead, he has been inflaming raw emotions and threatening labour peace with his actions.”
The union and government came to an agreement Tuesday night to end the strike and workers returned to their jobs Wednesday.
The province has said the strike by guards, along with other walkouts in their support by Justice Department staff such as sheriffs and court clerks, cost taxpayers $1.3 million because RCMP officers and municipal police had to staff jails and courthouses. The government has announced plans to recoup more than $6 million in financial losses.
The province has also filed a notice that it plans to stop deducting dues for the union for six months.
Unions depend on dues to finance most of their operations. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees represents more than 22,000 government workers.
“It would have an impact on the operation of the union, but we will fight it in the courts where we can,” Smith said.