Union says Alberta government broke deal by firing guards in illegal strike

EDMONTON – Two jail guards involved in an illegal strike have been fired in a move their union said broke a deal the Alberta government made to end the dispute.

“It’s complete violation of that deal we had with the government about no retribution against individual members,” said Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. “Basically, the government has lied.”

Smith said his office found out about the firings late Friday afternoon. He said the union was told the guards were fired because they were the supervisors on shift when the strike spread from Edmonton’s remand centre to their institution in Fort Saskatchewan.

Guards at the brand new remand centre walked off the job in late April citing health and safety concerns. Guards from nine other correctional facilities followed. The five-day strike ended in a deal that included a promise that no retaliation would be taken against individual union members.

No one from the government was immediately available to comment on the firings.

In a news release, the union quoted previous statements from cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and Premier Alison Redford saying no action would be taken against striking guards.

Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk is quoted as saying on a May 1 talk radio show that “we will not be in any way pursuing individual union members.”

The next day, Redford told reporters: “We certainly did say to the union that we were going to make sure there were no acts of retribution.”

However, in the same news conference, Redford went on to say: “If there were acts that were committed that put people’s safety at risk, then those needed to be dealt with at a management level.”

She was commenting on a statement from deputy solicitor general Tim Grant who said that some guards who left their posts at the 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 at the time.

Smith said the union will fight the firings through grievance procedures and the courts.

Since the strike, the government has taken measures against the union.

A motion to suspend the collection of union dues for six months is in front of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. An effort to seek repayment of costs incurred during the strike is before an arbitration board.

The union has also paid $350,000 in fines.

A third jail guard involved with strike was fired last week. Smith said he was fired for activities that took place before the strike occurred.