Chaplains in Canadian federal prisons have negotiated a tentative agreement for their first union contract, a deal aimed at improving working conditions as well as spiritual care to thousands of inmates.
“This agreement comes at a critical time for Canada’s prison chaplains and the inmates for whom they provide spiritual care,” said Ken Neumann, National Director of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, which represents approximately 180 chaplains working in the federal prison system.
“The pandemic has exacerbated precarious working conditions faced by chaplains and compromised the constitutional rights of prisoners to practise their religion, leading to undue suffering and tension within federal prisons. This agreement recognizes the important contribution chaplains make under difficult working conditions,” Neumann said.
The new agreement includes major wage increases, pension and extended health care benefits for full-time staff, protections around hours of work and anti-harassment and anti-discrimination provisions, among other improvements.
A mail-in ratification process will be held over the coming weeks to allow the chaplains to vote on the terms of the collective agreement.
The new contract wraps up a full year of negotiations for a first contract. Federal prison chaplains from a variety of faiths and spiritual practices joined the USW in 2018, with the goal of improving working conditions and reinvigorating chaplaincy within the correctional system. As a result of the federal government’s outsourcing, the chaplains are employed by Bridges of Canada, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Bridges International.
Last March, all federal chaplains were laid off in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing many to turn to government assistance programs.
“The system has unfortunately undervalued the critical role played by chaplains in the rehabilitation process,” Neumann said. “We think this agreement is a positive first step to repairing the system and we look forward to working with the employer to improve the quality of spiritual care provided in federal prisons.”
For further information:
Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951
Troy Lundblad, USW Staff Representative, 416-544-5947, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shannon Devine, USW Communications, 416-894-7118 (cell),