Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cons trash prison as guards strike

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EDMONTON -- Alberta prison guards showed no signs of flinching Saturday in the face of a labour board ruling declaring their wildcat strike illegal and the province's deputy premier claiming inmates were trashing at least one jail.

Guy Smith of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says the guards at the Edmonton Remand Centre and another facility in Fort Saskatchewan were vowing to continue their strike until safety concerns are addressed.

"We've encouraged them to stand strong as they've done over the last couple of days. And they know there's other sites across the province that are out as well. And on that basis they've decided to stick it out," Smith said late Saturday.

At least seven detention centres saw guards walk off the job in protest of the suspension of an employee at the Edmonton facility who complained about safety issues.

Inmates have been restricted to their jail cells and striking staff have been either replaced by municipal police or RCMP officers who are backing up correctional supervisors.

Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk refused to say whether guards would be charged for refusing to abide by the labour board's ruling to return to work.

"We will not be negotiating with a union that continues to engage in illegal activities," Lukaszuk vowed during a hastily called news conference at the legislature.

"We will be using any and all legal means to bring order back to these facilities."

Several hundred members of various unions gathered outside the labour board's offices in downtown Edmonton on Saturday as the board members deliberated the province's request for an injunction against the strike.

Many chanted, "Shame," when they heard the ruling. Others called for a general strike.

The guards' union has said the suspension of the union member on Friday was the last straw for correctional officers who have complained about the design of the new Edmonton Remand Centre.

Just days before the jail opened, the AUPE said it found five pages of design flaws after touring the facility.

At that time, Smith asked the provincial government to delay the transfer of prisoners from the old remand centre until the changes were made.

Lukaszuk said the facility was deemed safe by occupational health and safety workers, which he noted were also members of the AUPE. He said that if the guards have safety concerns, there are legal remedies that exist in their collective agreement.

He said inmates have been trashing the new Edmonton Remand Centre during the disruption but cautioned the reports he is getting are second-hand and officials were trying to get confirmation.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2013 A6

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