Kelowna jail guards serve strike notice

A jail cell. File / Global News

Jail guards who work at the Kelowna RCMP detachment have served a 72-hour strike notice.

The 17 jail guards are members of CUPE Local 338 and employees of Commissionaires BC.

The strike notice puts the union in a legal strike position as of Thursday, Dec. 14 at 4 p.m.

In a news release issued Tuesday morning, the union said it has been attempting to negotiate a first collective agreement for more than six months.

“Jail guards in Kelowna work in a high stress environment and face physical violence and verbal abuse daily,” CUPE National Representative and lead negotiator Harry Nott said. “While we are close to reaching a settlement with Commissionaires BC, our members have clearly communicated that a fair wage increase is long overdue and cannot wait. Recruitment and retention issues need to be addressed, and a fair wage is a significant piece of resolving this key issue.”

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Jail guards voted to join CUPE earlier this year, and negotiations for a first collective agreement started shortly after that in late spring.

“Our members are very committed to the work they do, and they realize that taking strike action will have a significant impact on services,” Nott said. “However, at this point we feel this is our last option.”

The main outstanding issue to be negotiated is wages.

The news release stated Kelowna jail guards make, at minimum, $5 less per hour than other municipal jail guards in nearby and similar-sized communities, and according to Nott, full-time jail guards are barely living above the poverty line.

While Commissionaires BC agrees that the outstanding issue is wages, in an email to Global News, vice-president of operations Julie Powers, said the following:

“CUPE has been comparing wages available under the third-party contract with our client to wages paid to in-house municipal employees in order to mischaracterize how we look after our employees. CUPE has also mischaracterized Commissionaires as a public sector employer. We are a not-for-profit organization operating under a commercial contract, not a municipal employer.”

The email went on to say:

“We are considering our legal options in relation to the strike notice. We continue to strongly believe that strike action is not in the best interest of any party involved in this matter: our employees, the union, our client, or Commissionaires BC.”

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The services jail guards provide include overseeing prisoners, assisting with prisoner searches and cell searches, organizing meals, recording prisoner activity, fingerprinting, and dispensing approved prescription medications to persons in custody.