KEVIN NEWMAN: Well with so many of us returning to the habit of waking to an alarm clock again, a new survey of Canadian workers on this Labour Day showing that in spite of a booming economy in much of the country, job satisfaction is sinking. Francis Silvaggio is also on his first day back from vacation, so he seemed like the right guy to handle this one.
FRANCIS SILVAGGIO (Reporter): Alberta's economy continues to boom. There's more work, more money, more people. So why are these labour leaders concerned?
GIL MCGOWAN (Alberta Federation of Labour): We've got a growing disparity between people on the top end making a lot of money and people on the bottom end making much less. And it's not just a disparity in wages.
SILVAGGIO: In fact Graham Lowe's research discovered even though Canada's economy has grown over the past 25 year, actual job quality has declined and only about half of us are satisfied with our jobs.
GRAHAM LOWE (Employment Researcher): Because the economy is so strong these days, you might think that there would be benefits for people in terms of improvements in the quality of their workplace. We're not seeing that.
SILVAGGIO: That's no surprise to national labour groups that have seen union memberships fall sharply as well.
SID RYAN (CUPE Ontario President): They're making profits at the expense of the workers is what they're doing, and they're using globalization as the battering ram to force unions and to force employers to, employees to lower their wage demands, open up their collective agreements, give concessions.
SILVAGGIO: As the workforce begins to shift with the retirement of our baby boomers, experts say job quality will be more important than ever to keep our economy growing.
LOWE: By providing people with better quality work environments. Work environment that really encourage them, inspire them to contribute their best, that is going to improve business success. It's also going to make people want to stay with their employer so it's going to reduce turnover. It's going to reduces absenteeism, and absenteeism is trending up in this country, that's a problem. So it's going to have a lot of positive chaos for the economy overall.
SILVAGGIO: Which is why on this Labour Day, labour officials are urging all levels of government to take action.
MCGOWAN: Is this the kind of Canada that we want, that's sort of divided between the haves and have-nots. Shouldn't we be fighting for a stronger middle class Canada that allows everyone to share in the prosperity? That's the challenge for our policymakers.
GLOBAL NATIONAL, Mon Sept 3 2007
Co-operate or face court fight, trade unions tell province; Supreme Court ruling means laws now violate charter, labour federation says
EDMONTON - Unions are warning Alberta's employment minister that they will take the government to court if it doesn't change labour relations rules that contravene a recent Supreme Court ruling.
The Alberta Federation of Labour, the province's largest labour organization, sent a letter Friday to Iris Evans asking for a meeting to discuss legislative changes. If changes are not made, unions will look for specific cases they could use to challenge Alberta labour laws in court, says the letter sent just before Labour Day.
"And we both know a number of sections will not survive a court challenge. But there is another option," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan wrote to the minister.
"We can work together to repair the damaged parts of the (Alberta Labour Relations) Code and other labour legislation, and save Albertans the money, time and hassle of having to use the lengthy court process."
The AFL met last week with 50 senior labour leaders who represent most of the province's unionized work force to discuss the June Supreme Court decision that affects unions' right to collective bargaining.
The court ruled that collective bargaining rights are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association.
The landmark ruling came out of a British Columbia case, but has repercussions for laws across the country.
The AFL argues there are numerous pieces of labour legislation in this province that interfere with unions' now constitutionally protected right to bargain collectively.
For instance, said McGowan, a group of carpenters that voted last month in favour of a strike still can't walk off the job because current laws group that union with another union representing labourers. The votes of both unions must be counted before either one can serve strike notice.
"The section of the labour code dealing with construction workers was designed to make it almost impossible for those workers to go on strike," McGowan said.
"Those kinds of unreasonable and unfair rules and hurdles are no longer constitutional as a result of the recent court decision."
Other Alberta legislation prevents provincial employees from bargaining their own pensions, and rules stop agriculture workers from joining unions, McGowan said.
"So basically, what the court said in this decision was that labour law in all Canadian provinces should be used to facilitate collective bargaining, not to undermine it."
Senior labour lawyer Bob Blair said he can't predict if the Alberta government will change laws before unions challenge them in court.
"Certainly, the history hasn't been one of changing legislation to head off constitutional challenges. In fact, the legislation hasn't changed since 1988 in any substantial way."
Blair, who was chairman of the Alberta Labour Relations Board from 1994 to 1999, said the government has never amended laws that prevent agriculture workers from unionizing.
"Similar laws have been struck down in other provinces," said Blair, whose law firm represents trade unions and has acted for the AFL.
"The Supreme Court of Canada has clearly said that it is not permissible, and it said it several years ago and the legislation hasn't been changed."
A spokeswoman for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry said the department is working with Alberta Justice to review the Supreme Court decision and determine its implications for Alberta legislation.
"Minister Evans has already directed her officials to prepare a plan to consult with Albertans regarding consolidation of labour legislation in the province," Lorelei Fiset-Cassidy said.
"However, there is still a significant amount of work to be done, and that will take some time."
Edmonton Journal, Page A13, Mon Sept 3 2007
Byline: Andrea Sands
Days after Alberta's labour market was declared tops in North America, 125,000 of its unionized workers are demanding a review of provincial labour legislation they say is weak and unconstitutional.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has sent a letter to Iris Evans, minister of employment, industry and immigration, to review the laws -- two days after the Fraser Institute declared Alberta the labour market champ among the 10 provinces and 50 U.S. states.
AFL president Gil McGowan blasted the study, saying it claims unions are "a drag on economic performance."
"Alberta has a higher rate of unionized workers than every American state and yet we outperform them," he said.
"How does the Fraser Institute explain that?"
McGowan said aspects of Alberta's labour legislation don't conform to recent Supreme Court decisions -- including a recent ruling in B.C. that enshrined the right to collective bargaining -- which spurred the call on Evans for a review.
"We're not asking her to change labour law in the province, we're telling her," said McGowan.
"The most recent decision is something too big and too significant to be ignored."
More than 50 of Alberta's labour leaders discussed the B.C. ruling before the long weekend, saying they would be prepared to take the law to court as a result.
Sections of the laws that could be overturned if challenged include prohibiting agricultural workers from joining unions and bans on secondary picketing, said McGowan.
The Calgary Sun, Page 8, Sun Sept 2 2007
Byline: Katie Schneider
Ernesto Rodarte, a foreign worker from Mexico, says he and other Mexican workers are being exploited by employers even though Calgary is in the middle of a major labour shortage. Rodarte came to Canada in March to work for Bridge Brand Food Services as an overnight warehouse worker. He describes the company as a "slavedriver" that takes advantage of workers from other countries who are here trying to earn some money for their families. He says he was fired because he refused to work on a day off, missed a mandatory meeting that was scheduled on a day off and because he once called in sick after his shift was supposed to start.
Rodarte makes a number of claims about his former employer's employment practices. He says his contract specified that he would only be required to work 40 hours a week and eight hours each day. However, he says the company regularly scheduled workers for 10-hour shifts and then asked them to stay for another two or three hours each night. "They were pushing so hard for us to stay an extra couple of hours," he says. "It's very physically demanding. At the end of the day you want time to rest and recover."
He says he was regularly asked to work on his two scheduled days off, and that even if he refused, his name would appear on a schedule. Rodarte also claims that a supervisor threatened to fire him and other foreign workers if they didn't meet "impossible" productivity quotas each day. "He told us he was going to let us go unless we got those numbers," says Rodarte.
He says the company didn't report injuries to the worker's compensation board and that he was injured three times, though none of the injuries were reported. In one instance, Rodarte says he twisted his ankle and was limping. "I asked them, 'Am I supposed to work like this?' and they said, 'yes.'" When he got home after the shift was over his ankle was severely swollen.
Rodarte had lived in an apartment provided by the company but says he was kicked out a week after being fired, even though he had paid the full month's rent. He shared the two-bedroom apartment with three other workers.
He says he's speaking out because he doesn't want other employers to get away with exploiting foreign workers. "They feel they can exploit everybody because we're foreign, from Mexico. They have the impression we are very ignorant and know nothing," he says, adding that that attitude leaves "a bad taste in my mouth. Not a lot of people stand up for themselves, because they feel frightened they might end up losing their jobs. Most of them have families and they need that income to support their families."
Rodarte has filed a complaint against the company with the Alberta government and is considering filing a human rights claim.
Tim Sinclair, director of human relations at Bridge Brand Food Services, says "all of the allegations are false." He says the company can't comment on Rodarte's claims because "we don't discuss individual performance issues outside the organization." However, he says the company has never asked an injured worker to continue working, and it regularly files injury reports. He adds that no worker is forced to work overtime or to work on days off. "All of our time is voluntary," he says.
Sinclair says the company in no way exploits foreign workers. "We know that our people, everyone of our people, are really our competitive advantage. We treat everyone equally. There's nobody treated differently from myself down," he says.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), says he's heard many stories similar to Rodarte's in the last few months. The AFN recently opened an office to help foreign workers and has already dealt with 100 different cases.
"I'm certainly not going to suggest that every employer who uses temporary foreign workers takes advantage of them, but there's certainly a significant minority of unscrupulous employers who do take advantage of (foreign workers') vulnerability to force workers to do things that are both illegal and dangerous," says McGowan. He says complaints range from foreign workers not getting paid what they were promised to workers being forced to do dangerous jobs without proper training or safety equipment.
Although temporary foreign workers are supposed to be protected by the same Employment Standards Code as all other Alberta workers, McGowan says that's not happening. McGowan would like to see the government conduct unannounced workplace inspections of companies employing foreign workers. He says the current system relies on foreign workers making complaints before there's any investigation. "The provincial government is relying on vulnerable and often scared temporary foreign workers to make complaints in a system they don't understand and often in a language that's new to them," says McGowan, adding that foreign workers often won't complain about employers because they have to make money to send home to their families and can't risk being deported.
"The employers know the workers are going to be very unlikely to complain, and they also know no one is watching them, so they end up trying to get away with practices that are outrageous."
Another issue the AFN is hearing complaints about is recruiters charging temporary foreign workers fees to get them jobs in Canada. Rodarte was charged $1,000 by a Calgary broker, and he says many other Mexican workers have paid the same fee. "We knew that money was going into his pocket, but you don't know how to come to Canada. Even though he's robbing you, you need this guy," he says.
McGowan says the government should also be going after such employment brokers more aggressively to ensure worker rights.
Terry Jorden, spokesperson for Alberta Employment, Immigration and Industry, says employment standards investigators are currently looking into Rodarte's complaint against his employer. "The Alberta government is grateful for workers like this coming forward with problems. We realize how difficult it is for temporary foreign workers to make the complaint, to figure out which government department handles these sorts of things and no doubt they have a certain amount of fear they may lose their jobs," he says.
Jorden says a couple of weeks ago the provincial and federal governments signed an agreement to share information on temporary foreign workers, which now allows the province to find out where temporary foreign workers are employed. "With that information we'll be better equipped to respond," he says.
Jorden couldn't comment on whether the government will start doing unannounced inspections, but he says the government is concerned about any exploitation of foreign workers. "Temporary foreign workers make up a fraction of one per cent of our workforce. However, these kinds of problems that are coming up can really damage Alberta's reputation around the world, and so although the numbers are small, we take them very seriously, and we're trying reduce and eliminate the occurrence," he says. He also says it is illegal for recruiters to charge employees to get them a job and he says the government investigates such complaints.
Fast Forward Weekly, Page 10, Thurs Aug 16 2007
Byline: Amy Steele
The announcement of $40 billion worth of new energy industry projects in the past two weeks, including Shell Canada's plans to spend $27 billion to construct a massive oilsands processing unit at its Scotford upgrader near Edmonton, has refocused attention on the province's ongoing labour crunch.
All told, oilsands projects worth more than $130 billion are planned for the next 20 years -- and billions more will be spent on energy-related projects across the province over the same time period. That has Albertans asking: where will the workers come from?
Last month, the Alberta government warned the province is facing a shortfall of 100,000 workers by 2015, with at least 40,000 of those positions in the oil and gas sector. Energy contributes about a third, more than $59 billion annually, to Alberta's gross domestic product.
"Our top three priorities are people, people and more people," said Shell Canada spokeswoman Janet Annesley, acknowledging the dilemma. "Ensuring we have access to skilled people is our top concern."
Shell's new upgrader is the cornerstone of a made-in-Canada strategy that will see it process virtually all of its oilsands in Alberta -- about 10 per cent of the country's projected output -- from the mine to the gas tank. The facility is to be built in four stages over the next 15 to 20 years, with each phase requiring 5,000 construction workers over and above the 1,200 personnel needed to run the plant.
Likewise, Petro-Canada is refitting its Edmonton refinery to take a steady diet from the Fort Hills mine, which is currently under construction near booming Fort McMurray. Costs to complete the project have risen steadily.
"The impact of labour shortages is very real. To keep up with the pace of economic growth and capitalize on key projects in the oilsands, industry needs to take the lead and tackle this issue," Andrew Stephens, a Petro-Canada vice-president, said in response to the unveiling of a new government program to recruit and train new workers.
According to a report by Deloitte and Touche, the oil industry is partly a victim of its own success, pulling talent and manpower from other sectors of the economy that support it.
"It's not just in the oilsands areas," said Dick Cooper, Deloitte's energy and resources practice leader, who is based in Calgary.
"It's in the whole economy . . . whether it's the Tim Hortons or new restaurant that can't find people to serve coffee and food because there's not enough people to keep the restaurants or coffee shops open."
In a report on future labour requirements, Cooper sees emerging demographic and educational trends contributing to the problem.
In addition to recruiting a younger generation of skilled workers, a greying bubble of baby boomers will retire, further straining a limited and shrinking talent pool.
"It's really causing a crunch in terms of getting these projects done."
But oil companies remain cautiously optimistic they can find and train new staff.
Recently, Total SA, Europe's third-largest oil producer, said it expects logistic bottlenecks and hiring difficulties as it develops oilsands projects in Alberta.
Like Shell and Petro-Canada, Total is also seeking a homegrown solution to handle the processing of its growing production, including an oilsands upgrading plant to take up bitumen from Joslyn and Surmont.
In its second-quarter report earlier this week, Total said it plans to spend between $10 billion and $15 billion to expand in Canada.
"We will have logistic pressure," Robert Castaigne, the company's chief financial officer told analysts last week. "There will be more costs. I don't think it's anything we won't be able to solve."
But Shell's Annesley said her company has a leg up because of direct recruiting programs in Alberta's colleges and trade schools -- even Internet sites like Facebook -- that lure young people into the fold.
The problem is finding the right skills for the job, another major challenge in an education system also under stress.
A $7.5-million donation to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton is being used to develop a program tailored exclusively for Shell and its operating processes. In addition, the company wants to raise the number of apprentices on job sites to increase training.
"That alone gives an indication of the importance we place on educating the workforce of the future," Annesley said. "In the oilsands, education is the key to having opportunity."
But Alberta's labour movement is deeply suspicious of any incursion into their traditional turf, saying it compromises worker safety and benefits.
In July, five separate construction unions voted to strike, the first such ballot in three decades. The results showed a rising discontent with the breakneck pace of oilsands development among the people charged with building it.
Although the unions haven't yet served strike notices, the threat of a walkout could arise Aug. 8 when the contractors are expected to come back with a counter-offer.
A union proposal put forth in July calls for 14.5 per cent wage increases over two years, barely above Alberta's nation-leading inflation rate of 6.5 per cent.
Another issue for unions are temporary foreign workers.
The skilled labour shortage is a global phenomenon, prompting companies to look overseas for employees.
Alberta Building Trades Council president Ron Harry likens it to a "runaway train." But others just call it union busting.
Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), fired off a letter to provincial authorities after the collapse of a pair of holding tanks at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.'s Horizon mine site this spring, killing two Chinese workers and injuring four.
It was the second accident in a span of three weeks his organization blamed on inadequate safety standards and the use of unqualified staff.
"From our perspective, these events raise serious questions about construction practices and safety on the site," he said.
"If these temporary workers were on a track to becoming full citizens, it would be less of a concern. But they're not. The vast majority will be treated like Post-it notes -- to be used, discarded and sent back to the countries of origin."
The AFL also questions whether there is actually a labour crisis and what needs to be done to address it.
By the Alberta government's own definition, problems don't start developing in the labour market until the unemployment rate drops below 3.5 per cent.
According to Statistics Canada, Alberta currently has a 6.1 per cent unemployment rate in the construction trades.
McGowan said there are plenty of potential workers to be found in the Aboriginal communities as well as in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Rather than marginalize unions, the government needs to start looking at labour organizations as a potential source of training and for creating new opportunities, he said.
"Organized labour has to be part of the solution."
Calgary Herald, Page A1, Mon Aug 13 2007
Byline: Shaun Polczer
Oilpatch risks turn from value creation to value destruction; Comment; Everybody Wants A Bigger Cut Of The Booming Industry
For the first time in a generation, Alberta is facing a general strike within its construction trades that threatens to disrupt its booming oilsands industry and is introducing a new type of uncertainty --labour unrest.
It's an absurd situation. Alberta has such a severe labour shortage the worker is king. Construction workers, in particular, are among the highest paid, most job secure, most coddled in the world. For its part, the oil industry is earning lavish profits, suggesting it should have plenty of cash to keep labour content as it presses ahead with ambitious oilsands investments.
Underscoring this absurdity is the provincial context -- this is unfolding, after all, in redneck Alberta, where the union movement is about as cherished as the NDP and job action in the oil industry is a distant memory.
Yet five large construction unions have been given strike mandates by their members and can walk out at any time. Another two are getting close to that position. Some 30,000 workers could be involved. They are turning down pay increases that would make most Canadians cringe with envy: 24% over four years, topping up salaries that often exceed $100,000 a year. (A pipefitter or a welder earns basic pay of $44.91 an hour).
Unions know they have oil companies by the neck. The majority of construction workers are employed in projects in Fort McMurray or outside Edmonton related to the oilsands, where companies are under the gun to meet investor expectations while facing severe staff shortages as more projects ramp up.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, the largest union group in Alberta, said workers have the right to share in the sector's riches. Besides, he said, the 24% increase offered by the oil companies barely keeps up with the province's inflation.
"It's no secret to the workers in this province that the energy industry has been making record profits. Our question is, 'Why should all those profits go into the hands of managers and investors? Why shouldn't working people see a bigger share of that pie?' " he asked.
It's during boom times that workers get their biggest gains at the bargaining table when they have more leverage, he said.
"It's what business people would do, and I can't understand why anyone would expect working people to behave any differently."
Alberta's construction workers feel entitled to higher rates of pay because the majority work away from home, and rather than returning to their families at the end of the day they face life in a work camp or cramped apartment in Fort McMurray, he said.
The union group believes the solution to the labour crunch is for the provincial government to slow down the pace of oilsands growth, and if that causes companies to leave, then move to public development of the resource, along the lines of what Danny Williams is trying to do in Newfoundland.
Oil companies have big issues of their own: They are trying to contain costs that have trebled and quadrupled in the past few years and represent the biggest risk to oilsands projects. Labour accounts for about half those costs.
They believe they are paying lavish salaries and that they are offering generous pay increases. They are worried Alberta's labour costs are so out of line they are eroding the attractiveness of the oilsands deposits. Meanwhile, labour's increased demands are happening just as a provincial royalty review could recommend at the end of this month a larger provincial take.
Frank Atkins, an economist at the University of Calgary who's been watching the standoff, said the stakes are so high for both sides a settlement is inevitable.
"Those guys on the labour side, they want to work, but they have a legitimate beef. Inflation is biting into them," he said. "What they needed to do is flex their muscle to get the attention, and they did. I don't think you are going to see tremendous wage gains. The companies have a cost problem, and so they want to maintain their costs as low as they can. They are stuck with this expensive labour, they know they need it, they got billions poured into this."
Still, the threat is so serious it's resulted in an overhang in the market on oilsands stocks.
Companies like EnCana Corp., Husky Energy Inc. and Marathon Oil Corp. are pushing projects that could have been done in Alberta south of the border. Marathon, which last week purchased oilsands producer Western Oil Sands Inc., said it can retool its refinery in Detroit to upgrade Canadian heavy crude at about a third of the price of building an upgrader in Alberta.
Some are quietly beefing up their complement of foreign workers.
As the two sides resume bargaining this week, they may want to consider a reality check close to home. The natural gas business in Western Canada has been in recession for about 18 months, destroyed by excessive costs, while its competition in the United States is merrily drilling at a record pace. The finger pointing about who and what killed that boom is still under way.
At some point, the economically fragile oilsands will turn the corner from value creation to value destruction as more and more stakeholders demand a bigger piece. As one executive put it, we're at risk of turning this great resource into a General Motors.
National Post, Page FP3, Tues Aug 7 2007
Byline: Claudia Cattaneo
Horizon faces test if oilsands strike; Project On Schedule; Questions Remain Whether Canadian Natural Immune
CALGARY - A controversial labour strategy used by Canadian Natural Resource Ltd. to build its oilsands mega-project could be put to the test later this month if 30,000-plus unionized construction workers in Alberta decide to go on strike.
The Calgary-based company said yesterday the first phase of its $7-billion Horizon project, at which the workforce has peaked at 7,000, is 75% complete and virtually on budget and schedule as it approaches a startup date some time in next year's third quarter.
Questions remain, however, about whether Horizon is really insulated from a looming job action that appears to be gaining momentum among seven unionized building trades in Alberta.
The provincial government granted the project a rarely used status in 2004 under its labour code called Division 8, which Canadian Natural president Steve Laut said yesterday makes it illegal for employees at the site to strike, just as it would be illegal for Canadian Natural to lock workers out.
The status also let Canadian Natural negotiate a blanket agreement with a single union -- the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which Alberta unions see as pro-business -- that binds workers on the site, including those from other Alberta-based unions, for the duration of construction.
Six unions last year challenged the decision to grant that special status but there has been no final ruling, creating a state of limbo that could put some unionized workers at Horizon in a quandary, should a strike be called.
They won't know if it is legal or illegal to walk off the job, even as fellow union members not working at Horizon take job action across the province.
Such a scenario would quickly lead to picket lines forming at the gates of Horizon, so those workers won't have to make a choice, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"If Canadian Natural wants to tell investors it's protected from a strike, then the company is dreaming in technicolour," Mr. McGowan said. "The question around Division 8 hasn't been answered by the labour relations board and if that state remains and a strike occurs, there's a good chance you'll see picket lines at the Horizon gates."
Mr. Laut would not say exactly how many workers at the Horizon site fall within one of the unions threatening job action, but labour leaders estimate the total could run as high as 1,000.
Mr. Laut said the number is much smaller.
Support for a strike among construction trades that are critical to all oilsands projects -- and to major construction projects across the province -- is snowballing, said Barry Salmon, spokesman for a group of five building construction trades that last month overwhelmingly voted in favour of walking off the job.
The group, which includes about 6,000 electricians and another 19,000 boilermakers, millwrights, plumbers and refrigeration mechanics, has been without a contract since May.
Alberta's 7,000 unionized labourers and 6,500 carpenters have also now received permission to hold a strike vote, which will occur on Aug. 15, Mr. Salmon said.
Workers are looking for wage hikes and for protection from the rising cost of living in Alberta, hoping for a two-year contract rather than a four-year deal. Electricians last Friday turned down a contract for a wage hike of 24% between 2007 and 2011.
Talks with the associations that negotiate on behalf of independent contractors were to occur this week but were pushed back, angering several of the unions, Mr. Salmon said. "The earliest a 72-hour strike notice could be served would be Aug. 20, because we're waiting for the boilermakers to re-do their vote because of an internal technical issue with the way the first vote [on July 4] took place," he said.
Canadian Natural reported lower profits in the second quarter but lifted its production outlook for the remainder of the year.
Net income in the quarter fell to $841-million, from $1.04-billion last year, when earnings were inflated by a $438-million gain on tax changes.
National Post, Page FP1, Fri Aug 3 2007
Byline: Jon Harding
EDMONTON (CP) _ Striking workers at a century-old Molson Canada brewery will continue to picket despite the company's decision to shut the plant down, say union officials.
''The closure is for Aug. 31, so we're still going to keep the line and hopefully get more support,'' Garth Sanderson, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 284, said Wednesday.
A total of 136 employees, 102 of them unionized, will lose their jobs. Many had tears in their eyes as they emerged from a meeting with company officials at a hotel where they talked about severance packages.
''There was a lot of venting because it's a shock,'' said Doug Smith, 50, who has spent 29 years with the company.
''We got nothing out of that meeting. It's all got to be negotiated with the union. We basically got no answers,'' said the burly man, his eyes moistening as he considered a lengthy career that's suddenly come crashing down around him.
Tully Lutz, 38, has worked at the Edmonton plant since 1991. He said there's a ''poison'' moving through corporate North America that is forcing lower wages on working people.
''People are going to be working for way less money down the road and not being able to live. All these guys are going to sit up in their mansions and play little Monopoly games with people. It's crazy,'' he said.
Relations with employees began to deteriorate, Tully said, after Montreal's Molson Inc. merged in 2005 with Adolph Coors Co. Molson Canada is now part of the Molson Coors Brewing Co. (TSX:TAP.B) based in Golden, Colo.
Daniel Pelland, the company's chief brewing officer, acknowledged it was a tough decision to close the plant and even tougher meeting with workers.
''There are a lot of questions about 'what's going to happen to me?' and 'I've been 30 years with the company' so we said: 'Look, those are the questions we need answered,''' he said.
It's now up to the union to negotiate details of severance agreements on behalf of the workers, Pelland said _ something he hoped would start as soon as possible.
Union officials said they are seeking legal advice on how to proceed with negotiations.
The Alberta Federation of Labour issued a statement in support of the workers.
''The American-based Coors Molson Co. is closing a profitable, efficient, award-winning plant with no consideration of long-term employees here in Alberta,'' said federation president Gil McGowan.
''So next time Albertans hear the ''I am Canadian' rant on a Molson ad, don't believe it. With the layoff of the last Alberta Molson workers, there is little reason for Albertans to drink Molson products.''
The company blamed the closure partly on the loss of a contract earlier this year with Foster's Group Ltd., a move that resulted in Molson Coors taking a US$24.6-million charge.
Another reason was a growing consumer preference for cans over bottles, said Pelland. The Edmonton brewery produced only the latter.
In Canada, about 65 per cent of the company's suds end up in bottles and 25 per cent in cans, but consumers are increasing the demand for canned brew _ especially in Western Canada, he said.
An impasse in contract talks with the union local in Edmonton and higher freight costs at the city's bottling plant also factored into the company's decision, Pelland said. Union members walked off the job May 30.
''It's always the balance about the location, freight and costs.''
Pelland said the company is not sending a message to the rest of its estimated 3,000 workers across Canada.
''We got some good relations with our other unions and we need to work with them to develop our plans to move forward,'' he said.
Foster's cancelled its contract with Molson Coors in May, saying demand in the U.S. market had plunged 33 per cent between 2001 and 2006.
SABMiller plc is replacing Molson Coors as the brewer of Foster's under a 10-year licence agreement starting in November.
Earlier this year, Molson Coors CEO Leo Kiely said cost-cutting efforts and synergies after the merger of Molson and Coors were expected to yield savings of $175 million in 2008.
Canadian Press Newswire, Wed Aug 1 2007
Byline: Lisa Arrowsmith
The biggest surprise coming out of the provincial Oil Sands Consultation - Multistakeholder Committee Final Report is that the diverse panel reached consensus on 96 of the 120 recommendations.
"There were very strong levels of agreement," said Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Recalling that industry held just three of the 19 panel seats, the amount of agreement was a surprise because there was such an expectation of disagreement. "I think everybody saw there were real issues here," he noted.
The report was initiated by the province in 2005 to clarify and update policies that guide and regulate oilsands development.
No consensus was reached on 24 issues including the pace of development though Stringham said it was more to do with the moratorium. "It was the question of shutting things down that people couldn't come to consensus on. That one didn't surprise me," he added.
Mayor Melissa Blake, who has repeatedly asked for a slowing of development and a moratorium on approvals to allow the municipality time to catch-up on infrastructure concerns was not available for comment. Similarly, Wood Buffalo regional manager Bill Newell had not yet reviewed the final report and was unable to comment this morning.
For the report, the committee held a two-phase series of public meetings across Alberta including a community summit in the Fort McMurray region. Common themes were the pace of development including calls for a moratorium, capturing more value-added industry, stronger government leadership and, especially in the Fort McMurray area, a view the infrastructure and service deficits require urgent attention.
The need for environmental protection and conservation was a concern the panel heard at all public meetings.
On the leadership issue, Stringham said "I think (the provincial government) still needs to do more but they've actually really taken a big step forward." He cited the length of the process, the previous Doug Radke Report and the provincial government's infusion of several hundred million dollars into infrastructure as examples.
"Now that's certainly not going to solve the entire issue. We know there's more demand there but it shows, I think, the government is getting more involved," he added.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, made two presentations during the public consultation process. He wasn't surprised by the non-consensus.
"We're not much further ahead than we were six months ago. There's still a glaring lack of leadership on the issues that matter," he said.
McGowan added it's becoming more clear that while the government is happy to hold consultations, it's still on the sidelines when it comes to significant concerns such as the "burning issue" of pace of development.
Increased communication about initiatives already underway in the industry is another issue outlined in the report, according to Stringham. He noted there are some people who believe no land reclamation has occurred "yet there's a significant amount of reclamation." He said this report tries to narrow "those kinds of gaps in knowledge."
Stringham added it will take industry, government and environmental groups working together to completely close the gaps.
Fort McMurray Today, Page A1, Thurs July 26 2007
Byline: Carol Christian
CALGARY -- This may be the summer of unrest in the West, as thousands of municipal and forestry workers have walked off the job in British Columbia and thousands more tradespeople and paramedics in Alberta have voted to strike.
The labour disputes come amid red-hot economies in both provinces, which have driven up corporate profit and the cost of living along with it.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said that nobody (employers especially) should be surprised by the demands for wage increases coming on the heels of almost two decades of recession, budget cuts and stagnant pay.
"Now we find ourselves in the boom, so workers are doing exactly what should be expected: They are trying to get their fair share of the growing economic pie," he said.
"If workers can't make substantial gains during economic boom times like we're currently enjoying in Alberta, when can they?"
Yesterday, the debt-free Alberta government moved to quash the discontent among Calgary's more than 400 emergency service workers, who pledged to hit the picket lines tomorrow after an overwhelming 99 per cent of members voted to strike.
Alberta Employment Minister Iris Evans said the cabinet declared a public emergency to avert the strike and will announce a tribunal to force both sides into an agreement.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents paramedics, pointed out that its Calgary workers make less than their counterparts in Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg, where inflation is not nearly as pronounced.
Meanwhile, B.C.'s $2-billion-a-year coast forest sector is at a standstill as 7,000 logging and sawmilling workers represented by the United Steelworkers set up picket lines on the weekend.
The union and industry are dug in over several issues, including shift scheduling and contracting out.
Coast forest workers last went on strike for three weeks in 2003. An arbitrated settlement that took effect in 2004 gave employers, among other things, more leeway in assigning shifts.
Companies say they can't give up flexibility on that front, asserting that market conditions - including a soaring loonie and a limping U.S. housing market - have only worsened in the interim.
The union says that employers are putting workers' health and safety at risk and that industry has failed to live up to promises to reinvest in the sector.
Most observers expect that strike to last the summer.
At the same time, about 6,000 civic workers in Vancouver and North Vancouver began job action last week in their bid to seal a new contract. Library staff in Vancouver launched rotating job action yesterday while garbage piled up and public washrooms were left untended.
A major issue is the length of contracts. The city wants a 39-month deal to run through the 2010 Winter Olympics, but union officials prefer a contract that won't leave them to bargain in a potential post-Olympic environment of cost overruns and cuts.
Relief may be coming to the suburb of Richmond, B.C., where about 1,200 union members reached a tentative deal yesterday, which will be put to a vote tomorrow.
However, labour officials in Alberta also confirmed that a massive majority of electricians, millwrights, pipefitters, boilermakers and refrigeration mechanics, who are members of five unions primarily involved in oil sands and construction projects, have voted to walk off the job.
The historic strike vote - the first in a quarter-century under the province's restrictive labour legislation - is aimed at kick-starting negotiations for the 25,000 workers, said Barry Salmon, a spokesman for the unions.
Wages and "quality of life" issues, such as work-camp conditions and the long commute for workers to Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, are the key issues, Mr. Salmon said. So is the length of wage contracts during a boom with no end in sight.
"There are members that are hesitant about accepting a wage offer for the year 2011," Mr. Salmon said, "Traditionally, wage contracts have been two years. This one, all the contractors for all the unions offered four. ... What's the cost of living going to be in 2011?"
Already this month, Alberta's nurses signed on to a three-year deal that would make them the highest-paid workers in their job category in Canada.
The province offered wage increases of up to 9.1 per cent more next year as a way to compensate for the soaring cost of living as well as to help with recruitment and retention.
The Alberta Federation of Labour's Mr. McGowan said any wage increases under 6 per cent would be a decrease in real take-home pay.
"If you pay people, they will come," he said.
The Globe And Mail, Page A8, Wed July 25 2007
Byline: Dawn Walton