Federal Prison Chaplains Improve Working Conditions, Ratify First Union Contract

TORONTO – Unionized chaplains in Canadian federal prisons have achieved a first collective agreement with their employer, voting 98% in favour of a contract aimed at improving working conditions and spiritual care to thousands of inmates.

The contract between the chaplains – members of the United Steelworkers union (USW) – and Bridges of Canada includes a new wage grid providing significant increases for most employees. Overall, wages will rise by 9% over the next year, with the average chaplain earning an increase of $3.30 per hour.

The collective agreement also addresses several other workplace issues, including codifying employer practices around expenses, employment status, seniority, promotions and job security.

“Chaplains demonstrated tremendous commitment and solidarity to achieve a first contract that exceeds wage-settlement norms in the federal sector and improves working conditions,” said USW National Director Ken Neumann.

“Through this lengthy and challenging process, chaplains have made great strides in reinvigorating and re-establishing chaplaincy as the vocation it was meant to be. This agreement recognizes the important contributions chaplains make to ensure a more humane and just correctional system,” Neumann said.

Federal prison chaplains from various faiths and spiritual practices joined the USW in 2018. The chaplains are employed by Bridges of Canada, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Bridges International, as a result of the federal government’s tendering of prison chaplaincy services to the private sector.

The union began contract negotiations with Bridges of Canada in February 2020. Last March, all federal chaplains were laid off in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing many to turn to government assistance programs. Chaplains had not seen improvements to wages and working conditions since 2016.

“During the pandemic, chaplains organized themselves to secure a collective agreement and to lead an effective campaign to compel Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to reinstate chaplaincy services in federal prisons,” said Steven Hadden, president of USW Local 1976, which represents the chaplains.

“Our union will continue to press CSC and the federal government to fully recognize the important contribution chaplains make to the rehabilitative model and to ensure the viability of chaplaincy into the future,” Hadden said.

The unionization efforts of Canada’s federal prison chaplains began with a group of chaplains in British Columbia who were supported by activists from B.C.-based USW Local 2009. While the prison chaplains across the country are members of USW Local 1976, their local has established an agreement through which USW Local 2009 will provide the day-to-day servicing needs of chaplains in Western Canada.


For further information:

Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, 416-544-5951
David Lipton, USW Staff Representative, 613-859-8403, dlipton@usw.ca
Shannon Devine, USW Communications, 416-894-7118 (cell), sdevine@usw.ca

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