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Federal prison chaplains reach first contract agreement, union says

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OTTAWA —
The union representing federal prison chaplains says it has reached a tentative contract agreement with their employer that includes wage increases and improved benefits.

The United Steelworkers union represents about 180 chaplains from a variety of faiths and spiritual practices who provide care to federal inmates.

The union says chaplains had not seen improvements to wages and working conditions since at least 2016.

Chaplaincy services were curtailed last year due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in prisons; as a result, chaplains turned to government-assistance programs for income support.

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In 2012, the Correctional Service of Canada outsourced management of chaplaincy services to Bridges of Canada, a private charity.

The tentative agreement, the first contract for the chaplains, follows a year of negotiations.

The 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, the union said.

A mail-in vote on ratification will be held in coming weeks.

“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 union.

“This agreement recognizes the important contribution chaplains make under difficult working conditions,” he said.

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“The system has unfortunately undervalued the critical role played by chaplains in the rehabilitation process.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.

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