Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre workers seek third-party review of 'toxic' workplace

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Staff at Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre are demanding an independent review after a survey found most employees feel their workplace is “toxic.”

Seventy per cent of respondents to a recent survey reported feeling bullied at work, according to results released Wednesday by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

Eighty-five per cent said the work environment has taken a toll on their mental health, while around 75 per cent reported negative consequences to their physical health. More than half believed managers would retaliate if they raised concerns.

Ninety-five per cent of employees want the provincial government to order a third-party review of the workplace, AUPE said in a news release, saying relations between managers and staff have broken down.

“It’s a very hard job,” said Susan Slade, AUPE vice-president. “And it’s a very trying job, dealing with, you know, criminals. But at the end of the day, you should still be able to have a healthy work environment.”

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FSCC was built in 1988. It can house 546 prisoners, including pretrial inmates and those serving sentences. It has averaged fewer than 300 inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AUPE represents the majority of workers at the facility, including correctional officers, licensed practical nurses and administrative staff. Around 80 per cent filled out the AUPE survey.

Slade said the current issues go back at least five years. In October, staff presented managers with a list of issues, but were “brushed off.”

“(Staff) feel that management just doesn’t want to listen,” said Slade.

The pandemic has increased tensions. In December, correctional peace officer Roger Maxwell died of COVID-19. Slade said his passing is now considered a workplace death. Forty-seven per cent of respondents said the centre’s COVID response was among their biggest concerns, “second only to the issue of bullying, harassment, and intimidation,” AUPE spokesman Jon Milton said.

Other jails flagged after ‘toxic’ workplace complaints

FSCC is the latest Edmonton-area correctional facility to report toxic workplace concerns.

In 2019, the province released the results of an independent workplace review of the Edmonton Remand Centre (ERC), which compared the workplace culture to a “high school” riven with cliques, bullying and immature behaviour.

In response to the report, then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer announced unspecified “staffing changes” at the management level.

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The federal, maximum-security Edmonton Institution, meanwhile, has long been plagued by complaints about the workplace culture.

In 2019, Postmedia obtained a workplace review which found numerous allegations of sexual assault and harassment involving co-workers at Edmonton Institution. Canada’s correctional investigator has repeatedly highlighted bullying, harassment and intimidation issues at Edmonton Institution, which fired, suspended or forced out 11 staffers in 2018.

Slade said the ERC review resulted in positive changes, but stressed that the workplace is still “not a perfect scenario or anything like that.” She hopes to see similar action at Fort Saskatchewan.

In a statement, justice ministry spokeswoman Katherine Thompson said the government “takes concerns about workplace culture very seriously, and that is why plans continue to be developed to enhance collaboration and the workplace culture among the staff and leadership at Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre.”

“Management or staff who don’t support a professional and respectful work environment are not meeting expectations, whether those of their colleagues, this department, or Albertans at large,” she added.

Slade said correctional facilities should not be inherently toxic workplaces.

“We need to stop that kind of culture, and we need to stop that kind of (belief), that it’s OK to not feel mentally healthy because you work in corrections,” she said.

jwakefield@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jonnywakefield


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