Staff on strike at 7 prisons in western Canada

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Associated Press

Posted on April 27, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Updated Sunday, Apr 28 at 12:03 AM

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Employees at seven prisons Canada's Alberta province have walked off the job to protest the suspension of one of their colleague who complained about safety issues.

The Alberta labor board ruled Saturday that the strike is illegal for two of the detention centers and ordered those workers to return to their posts, said Bill Dechant, a spokesman for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents jail guards. Dechant said the union will ask its members if they want to comply with the order.

It wasn't immediately clear what would happen at the other facilities involved in the strike. Josh Stewart, a spokesman for the province's solicitor general, said the labor board would discuss the situation at those other facilities later Saturday.

The dispute began at the Edmonton Remand Centre on Friday after a correctional worker was suspended. Seventy workers who arrived for the Friday afternoon shift refused to go inside, prompting officials to put the facility into lockdown and restrict prisoners to their cells.

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees, said the suspension was the last straw for correctional officers who have complained about the design of the detention center. Employees at seven other detention centers had joined the strike Saturday, Smith said.

Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis called the strike illegal. He said the centers are being "securely operated through the assistance of police and management."

Several hundred members of various unions protested Saturday outside the labor board's offices in Edmonton, many chanting "Shame" when they heard the ruling. Others called for a general strike.

"These workers did the brave thing, they did the right thing, for demanding a safe workplace and for standing up for their fellow workers who were disciplined for having the audacity to demand a safe workplace," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.

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