B.C. prisoners have bid to start workers’ union blocked

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C.

An attempt to establish a union for federal inmates who work in prisons would have been the first of its kind in Canada, had it not been rejected by the labour board.

The Ottawa Citizen reports that a group of inmates in Agassiz, B.C., were working to establish a workers' union and appealed to the Public Service Labour Relations Board to stop correctional workers from blocking attempts to rally members.

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The "Canadian Prisoners Labour Confederation" would have established a pay structure and set working conditions for inmates working in British Columbia’s Mountain Institution.

A Postmedia News article from 2011 explains that the workers wanted to ensure they had a safe space to work and all the equipment they needed. They were not looking to establish a “prisoner’s rights group.”

The board rejected the request and blocked the move, patiently explaining that being public wards did not make them public employees, and they were therefore not protected under various public service laws.

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According to the Citizen, however, Adjudicator Kate Rogers noted the idea of inmates being in a union is "not as incongruous as it might seem at first glance." For example, inmates working in a Guelph, Ont., abattoir are members of that particular union.

The key to unionizing is to establish that the work provided is integral to the success of the company. And an all-inmate union doesn't fit that bill.

The board ruled that the inmates do not have an employer-employee relationship with Corrections Canada, and that the rehabilitation programs they were participating in were primarily intended to reintegrate those inmates back into society.

Nothing could do more to reintegrate these inmates into society than having their unions busted.

It's kind of de rigueur at the moment.