HARD TIME

8 months 3 weeks ago
Working behind bars can ruin your health

DOING TIME IS NOT EASY. Not for the inmates locked behind bars and not for the workers who have to guard them.

High levels of stress have always been accepted as part of the job for corrections officers. What is not acceptable is how often it damages the health of the officers and how often they are left to struggle with it all on their own.

Jason Maclean knows exactly how that happens. Maclean is president of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. He worked as a corrections officer for more than 20 years. He says: “Every guard has at least one incident that haunts them at night.” His came about 12 years ago when he had to cut someone down who had hung themselves. 

“The job has affected more than one of my coworkers. They are off on post-traumatic stress leave today. One or two who were working with me the night that suicide happened.”


Jason MacLean, corrections officer, NSGEU president

Guy LeBlanc, a correctional officer at Dorchester Penitentiary for 13 years, returned to work after a PTSD diagnosis. He said that he could have used face-to-face counsel-ling with a professional inside prison walls to deal with his problems, but they were not available. 

“I was just too afraid to ask for help. I just waited too long. I wish someone could’ve reached me earlier. Or I could’ve reached myself earlier,” he said.

One officer who looked for help from his employer claims that all he was given was a toll-free number when he made his request.

Stress for officers in federal penitentiaries under-reported

A CBC news investigation revealed that about one in 20 federal correctional officers have been diagnosed with stress illnesses, including PTSD, in the last five years.

Their union says the actual numbers are much higher. However, employer attitudes and a self-imposed “macho” guard culture combines to keep reports of stress low. 

Many correctional officers believe making a report about stress will be pointless or even harmful. Pointless because nothing will be done; harmful because the bureaucratic follow up to the report can actually lead to more stress.

In addition, corrections officers take pride in being strong. Admitting to stress is often taken as a failure to measure up.

“People sometimes don’t report their condition and live alone in silence and suffer with it,” says Jeff Wilkins, Atlantic president of the Union of Canadian Corrections Officers.

“When something traumatic happens at an institution, there’s quite often the sense of ‘I need to be strong. I can’t tell anybody what I’m feeling at nighttime or when I’m home with my family.’ And I think there’s still that stigma.”

Provincial corrections officers just as stressed

At the provincial level, the life for guards may even be worse. Many inmates coming into the provincial jails are just coming off, or still using drugs. That makes them more volatile and unpredictable. 

The overcrowding crisis in jails and detention centres from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island to the Baffin Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut increases inmate agitation and heightens guard stress.

Stress for provincial corrections workers is also made worse because of the high level of direct contact they have with inmates and the high ratio of inmates to guards.

MacLean and the NSGEU are pushing for better access to mental-health support for corrections workers through “presumptive legislation.” It would provide automatic workers’ compensation coverage for correctional officers and other first responders who suffer from PTSD. 

Feds and provinces start to pay attention

Some provinces are moving toward “presumptive legislation,” relating to PTSD. It is legislation that would create a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed is work-related. The goal is to give workers faster access to resources and treatment.

Manitoba was the first province to pass such legislation. Manitoba’s legislation covers all workers in all occupations.

The PTSD presumptive legislation in Ontario is limited to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, certain workers in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities, dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services, and emergency response teams.

The Liberal government in Nova Scotia proposed similar PTSD presumptive legislation that would include corrections officers. The bill died when the Liberals called an early election for May 30 2017. The reelected government has not announced whether or not it will reintroduce the bill.

Alberta is considering a similar bill for first responders, but has yet to include correctional officers.

Federal officials now have documentation to show the impact of the violence, prison riots, suicides and death threats that have contributed the rise of post-traumatic stress among federal corrections workers. 

“Those numbers really tell me that our corrections staff work in a difficult environment.,” says Nathalie Dufresne-Meek, director general at Correctional Service Canada’s labour relations and workplace management department. 

daviddavis

BENCH STRENGTH

8 months 3 weeks ago
Junior hockey players press  owners for decent treatment

17-year-old Ryan Falkenham led Halifax Mooseheads to 2013 Memorial Cup win. One year later a hip injury ended his dream of playing in the NHL.

GETTING A CHANCE TO PLAY JUST ISN’T ENOUGH. Even though the owners of the 60 teams in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) say it should be. More and more of their teenage players don’t agree. More and more are acting to change how they are treated.

Action by players includes an ongoing class action for back pay and a drive to form a players association. The class action seeks $180 million in compensation from team owners for failing to pay players the minimum wage.

CHL team owners insist that any attempt to fundamentally change the way its players are compensated would bankrupt most of them and cripple the leagues. They recently convinced the B.C. government to exempt the province’s six major-junior hockey teams from minimum-wage laws. Nova Scotia changed its laws in July 2016 to allow athletes to be paid less than minimum wage, and to be made exempt from regulations on vacation pay and defined work hours.

The CHL is anything but bush league. It is the world’s largest development hockey league with 52 Canadian and eight American teams playing in three major junior hockey leagues. More than 9,000,000 fans go to CHL games in any given season. Junior hockey ticket revenues are in the $160-million range. But the players gain little or nothing from any of it.

Substandard pay and benefits

The working conditions for these 16-20 year-olds would not be accepted in any other workplace. The players get just $35 to $120 per week to cover practice, training, game and travel time. But the owners call it a “stipend” not a wage or salary. They do this to maintain the myth that the players are “amateur student athletes”—not workers.

The players also receive a university scholarship—but there is a huge catch. Players only have 18 months from the end of their junior career to use the scholarship, or it expires. It also expires if the player signs any sort of professional contract.

Also, the second the player signs a contract to play junior hockey, they are no longer eligible to pursue a hockey scholarship in the U.S. 

This is all in the context of what is undoubtedly an incredibly dangerous workplace. As the NHL concussion lawsuits (and common sense) highlight, hockey is a dangerous sport. Many junior players suffer severe and permanent injuries as teenagers, which impact the rest of their lives. Also, the conditions in junior hockey are ripe for players to develop significant mental health issues leading to drug and substance abuse problems.

Team medical plans are notoriously inadequate to non-existent.

Drive for collective action

A 2012 drive to form a players association in the CHL is alive and well. It gained momentum in 2014 with the official support of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union. The CHLPA website keeps a very close watch on the CHL and all it’s manoeuvres to avoid its responsibilities to its players—building toward the day when the players can come together to form a union.

Team owners count on individual self-interest, in what is a cut-throat high stakes gamble to hit the big time, to forever hold off that day of collective action. But even that may not be enough—as the Flint Firebirds found out in November 2015 when the team owner abruptly fired the entire coaching staff.


Flint Firebirds players bring stuffed toy animals to sick kids clinic

The team had just won a big game in overtime. It didn’t matter. The coaches were gone. The owner felt they had not given his son, a rookie on the team, enough ice time. The players couldn’t believe it and were not about to stand for it.

Every player on the team marched to the owner’s office, took off his jersey, threw it on the floor, and quit the team. Even the owner’s son stood in solidarity with his teammates and told his father he quit. 

This turned into a social media disaster for the Flint Firebirds, as word quickly spread celebrating the players’ actions and condemning the owner’s rash decision. The team had to disable its Facebook page because of all the negative comments the story generated.

 The owner immediately back-peddled, rehired the coaches and apologized, admitting he made a mistake. 

This was an impressive and brave move on the part of the players. It serves as a reminder that collective action in pursuit of simple justice is something that can spring up any time and in any workplace—even when it’s a hockey rink.
 

daviddavis

POWER SURGE

8 months 3 weeks ago
People power could short circuit Premier’s plan to  sell off  Hydro One

PEOPLE POWER COULD DO IT. It could get Kathleen Wynne to pull the plug on her plan to privatize 60% of Hyrdo One.  It has already forced the Ontario premier to admit she failed to see or appreciate the impact the plan was having on the everyday lives of all Ontario.

Wynne told a Liberal party meeting in November 2016: "I take responsibility as leader for not paying close enough attention to some of the daily stresses in Ontarians' lives. Electricity prices are the prime example."

The average hydro bill in Ontario jumped by 16% in 2015. New approved billing procedures drove bills even higher. In one instance a user was charged $12,474 for using just $267.80 of electricity. More that 60,000 citizens were cut off power due to non-payment of bills. 

The direct impact this had on peoples’ lives was deep and dramatic. The Liberals tried rate cuts and tax rebates. But every “fix” they came up with did little to reduce public resistance to the plan.

Anger, anxiety, anquish, resistance

Wynne promoted the selloff as a way to help the people of Ontario. That’s not how it turned out. Many thousands have suffered in ways large and small: some, like Marsha Depoiter, of Bancroft Ontario, even lost their homes because paying their electric bill left them without enough to pay the mortgage.

Kathy Katula sobs as she gets a hug from Prime Minister Trudeau after she told his public meeting in Peterborough in Janurary 2017 the cost of her hydro bill was $1085 a month—an amount higher than her whole mortgage

Most tragic of all, the high cost of electricity took Kenny Taylor’s life. He burned to death when a gas generator he was refilling exploded. He had been using the generator to provide electricity to his home. He resorted to the generator because he could no longer afford to buy electricity from Hydro One.

Public opposition quick and lasting

Public opposition to the Liberal selloff was quick to start and has proven durable determined and imaginative. It ranges from a highly organized and professional province-wide campaign to highly personal individual efforts.

The main push comes from the Hydro One: Not for Sale campaign maintained by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Check the campaign’s Facebook page and you will see hundreds of postings of supporters, starting from 2015.

The page itself is part of an impressive juggernaut of web pages, Facebook pages with tens of thousands of members and at least five different Twitter feeds marshaling the support of tens of thousands of citizens, all committed to forcing Wynne to abandon plans to privatize any more of Hydro One.

This opposition includes things like:

  • the London chapter of the Hydro One: Not of Sale campaign picketing the minister of energy’s office once a week for 82 consecutive weeks
  • illuminated mobile billboards
  • an app for the Citizens’ Coalition Against Privatization
  • pop up information demos at the airport, on street corners, public meetings, subway stations 
  • a YouTube video by hip hop composer J Reno of his original song Hydro Bills that got 193,000 Facebook hits
  • an open letter of protest to the premier from Libby Keenan, a horse trainer in Amherstburg, that went viral and got her a face-to-face meeting with Wynne

All of it nicely summed up by amateur musician Dave Bush with 1.4 million views of  his composition The Hydro song, with the message:

“Let’s get back to treating people right.” 

Given the strength, imagination and durability of the public opposition to her Hydro One selloff plan the premier would do well to unplug the plan—before the public decides to unplug her.
 

daviddavis

For many people public services only option

1 year 8 months ago

Coverage of tragic deaths due to drug overdoses in British Columbia makes it clear that for many families public services are the only option. Even in desperate situations, the high cost of private services puts them beyond the reach of low-and middle-income families.

According to a recent CBC article on the need for more publicly funded treatment beds for addicted youth, private programs for addictions can easily cost almost $9,000 for just the basic services. The article mentioned that the cost of some private programs is in the hundreds of thousands.

On many occasions prompt access to addiction treatment can make the difference between life and death. Given the consequences, the ability to get treatment quickly shouldn’t depend on family income.

Tags: addiction treatmentshortage of treatment bedsprivatization
amcneill

Being effective requires governments take risks

1 year 11 months ago

In a recent Globe and Mail article, Donald Savoie suggested that when too much attention is given to preventing mistakes, governments become less effective.

He points out that, unlike the private sector, governments can’t walk away from problems that are difficult or expensive to solve. He also suggests that the number of oversight bodies put in place to reduce the risk of politically costly mistakes has made governments less effective. As the number of oversight bodies has grown, both public satisfaction with public services and morale in the federal public service have dropped.

Tags: Donald Savoieinnovative government
amcneill

We can’t afford not to have quality public services

2 years 1 month ago

In the 1930s and 1940s, our parents and grandparents learned the hard way that investing in quality public services was necessary to support and encourage growth.

Now we are having to learn that there are no shortcuts. As a recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press made clear, when governments cut corners problems follow.

Underfunding of public services is only part of the problem. As the author makes clear, when outsourcing is proposed as a solution to underfunded public services, the situation can become far worse. In many cases, privatization schemes that were meant to save money have required expensive bailouts.

What does protect the public are measures like Manitoba’s Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act. Under this legislation, governments have to demonstrate that privatizing public infrastructure will save money and improve service. 

amcneill

Canadians for Tax Fairness Study Suggests Changes Needed at Canada Revenue Agency

2 years 3 months ago

A study from Canadians for Tax Fairness suggests that the effectiveness of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is being undermined by a lack of resources and by political interference.

According to the study, politicians and lobbyists are able to influence the CRA. That includes lobbying CRA not to prosecute corporations for tax evasion. At the same time, $700 million in funding cuts between 2011 and 2015 reduced the ability of the CRA to deal with large-scale tax avoidance schemes. 

Offshore tax schemes estimated to cost federal and provincial governments $10 billion a year

Among the consequences of staff and funding cuts outlined in the report is that the CRA is not able to deal with the abuse of tax havens by large businesses or wealthy individuals. Most reports suggest that there is $199 billion of Canadian money in tax havens. Canadians for Tax Fairness has estimated that failing to deal with tax avoidance involving tax havens means Canadian governments are losing $10 billion a year in tax revenue.

Tags: taxesCRAtax havenCanadians for Tax Fairness
amcneill

What loss of accountability and transparency look like in practice

2 years 9 months ago

A recent Toronto Star article on companies getting government contracts even though they have broken the law is a good illustration of what happens when transparency and accountability are lost due to privatization.

According to the article, one-third of the temporary employment agencies getting contracts with the provincial government were found to have violated the Employment Standards Act. In spite of this, those agencies received contracts worth almost $3 million.

People expect that governments will follow the law. When government departments or individual public sector workers do not follow the law, it is rightly regarded as serious. But the lack of accountability and transparency that comes with privatization means different rules apply to companies operating privatized services. Even when they are caught breaking laws that are directly related to the services they are being paid (with public funds) to provide, companies running privatized services face few consequences.

Tags: privatizationcontracting outtemporary workers
amcneill

‘Tough on crime’ policies causing a crisis in provincial jails

2 years 11 months ago

Overcrowding, violence and mental illness are all on the rise, which means our jails are costing us more without reducing crime

TORONTO (April 30, 2015) — A study by the Public Services Foundation of Canada (PSFC) reveals that the federal government has pushed the country’s network of provincial jails into a state of crisis, with profound consequences not just for inmates and correctional workers, but for each and every Canadian. 

Drawing on federal and provincial statistics, the PSFC’s Crisis in Correctional Services report found that provincial jails from coast to coast are chronically overcrowded, with some facilities being forced to accommodate twice the number of inmates for which they were designed. The direct consequences are threefold:

  • The jails are exacerbating inmates’ addictions and mental illnesses, and amount to cruel and unusual punishment for people who deserve treatment, not incarceration.
  • The jails are becoming more dangerous for inmates and staff.
  • The jails are making inmates more likely to commit other crimes upon release, and are becoming fertile recruiting and training grounds for gangs and other violent criminal organizations.

The indirect consequences are wide-ranging, but boil down to this: our criminal justice system is costing Canadians more public money than it needs to cost, and is doing much less to reduce criminal behaviour than it could be.

The PSFC study says two federal government policy directions are fuelling the overcrowding crisis: 

  • Cutting funds to our mental health care system
  • Pursuing longer sentences for those convicted of a crime

“Our provincial correctional facilities are becoming little more than human warehouses,” says PSFC board member James Clancy. “They’re not reducing criminal behaviour, they’re increasing it. They’re not reducing mental illness, they’re increasing it. And to boot, they’re costing the public purse much more than need be.”

The findings of the PSFC report are no surprise to the correctional officers and other staff working in provincial correctional facilities. By helping to publicize the crisis, they are hoping to increase their own safety and well-being on the job, but also the safety and well-being of their communities.

“The people who work in our provincial jails know their jobs are important,” says OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, whose union represents nearly 4,000 correctional officers in Ontario. “But they deserve to be safe in their jobs. And they also deserve to know that the work they’re doing is helping people and their communities. With the jails overflowing, they know that right now, their jobs are neither safe nor effective.”

The report lists 15 recommendations for the federal government, including the development with provincial governments of national strategies for both mental health care and corrections.

Some of the specific findings and information in the PSFC report are:

  • British Columbia’s Ministry of Justice estimates that more than half of offenders (56 per cent) admitted into the province’s corrections system have a substance abuse and/or mental health problem.
  • In British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the average provincial correctional facility operates at 140 per cent capacity.
  • In Manitoba and Quebec, the average provincial correctional facility operates at 120 per cent capacity.
  • Provincial governments in Ontario and Nova Scotia have artificially inflated their jails’ capacities through policies of “double-” and even “triple-bunking.”
  • Despite a Correctional Services of Canada report that showed that longer sentences increase recidivism by 7 per cent, the Conservative Party of Canada passed legislation in 2010 to increase the length of sentences for those held in custody during trial.
  • According to a Parliamentary Budget Office report in 2011, the new correctional facilities required because of the federal government’s decision to lengthen sentences could cost the federal government nearly $2 billion, and the provinces $6.2 billion.

The full report is available for download here: /content/crisis-correctional-services

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For more information, please contact Andy Pedersen at 613-710-6743 or apedersen@nupge.ca

admin

Everest College shutdown raises questions about regulation of private colleges

3 years 1 month ago

The recent shutdown of 13 Everest College campuses in Ontario by the provincial government raises questions about the effectiveness of regulations intended to protect students at private colleges.

It was known for some time that Everest College’s US parent company was facing both financial issues and investigations for falsifying data on job placements, grades and attendance. When Canadian Press obtained information on complaints against private colleges in Ontario through  freedom of information legislation, 36 per cent were about Everest College.

Yet, in spite of these problems, Everest College was able to continue operating until a sudden shut down became unavoidable.

Ontario’s Auditor General has already raised concerns about the level of oversight for private colleges. In the 2011 Auditor General’s report, it was pointed out that even though there were serious concerns about 180 campuses, only 30 were inspected. Steps taken by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities since then provide little grounds for optimism. It can still take up to three months before high risk campuses are inspected, while for medium risk ones it can take up to two years.

For students and the public this is worrying. Much of the income private colleges receive comes from student loans and other public funding. The public funding private colleges receive will increase as the federal government implements its Canada Job Grant program. When private colleges fail to deliver the education or training they promised, students are left with loans that will be difficult for them to ever repay.

As with other privatized services, proper oversight of private colleges comes at a cost. Ensuring colleges are inspected in a timely fashion, and that complaints from students receive a thorough response, would require more staff and resources assigned to monitoring private colleges. The larger question this raises is whether the funds proper enforcement requires would be better spent on improving the public community college system so students are not forced to turn to private colleges for jobs training. 

Tags: Everest collegecareer collegeAuditor GeneralOntario
amcneill

Charity can’t replace public services

3 years 2 months ago

A recent Globe and Mail column by Elizabeth Renzetti points out exactly why charity and crowdfunding can’t replace quality public services.

The example used was of a Detroit factory worker who received $300,000 and a car donated after people found out that poor transit service meant he had to walk 34 km a day to get to and from work. Crowd funding helped one person, but thousands of other are in similar situations.

James Robertson, the worker being help through crowdfunding, recognized this when he responded to a question about a government program designed to help individuals get to work when he said, “I’d rather they spent that money on a 24-hour bus system, not on some little bus for me. This city needs buses going 24/7.”

As Renzetti put it, “Crowdfunding someone’s personal tragedy is the equivalent of fixing a broken arm, but closing the hospital.”

Tags: charitycrowdfundingElizabeth Renzetti
amcneill

“Like asking a fish to ride a bicycle”

3 years 3 months ago

“Like asking a fish to ride a bicycle” is how a recent Guardian article described the belief that the private sector can do a good job running public services.

As the article points out, the root of the problem is that businesses and the public sector have fundamentally different objectives. For businesses, success is measured by the return for shareholders. For public services, the measure of success is how well they are meeting public needs.

The difference between the public and private sectors is also why attempts to measure the success of a public service based on whether it is “making a profit” do more harm than good. 

amcneill

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1 hour 8 minutes ago
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