EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is responding angrily to regulations released yesterday that flesh-out the provincial government's controversial new labour law, Bill 27.
The regulations "trample on the rights of health care workers and remove all pretence that the government is an impartial third party when it comes to labour relations in this province," says AFL President Les Steel.
"With these new rules, the government has regulated away the right of workers to have the union of their choice," he says. "It has regulated out of existence freely-negotiated legal contracts. It strips the democratic right-to-strike from community health workers without a shred of justification. And, it is forcing unions to reorganize into dysfunctional bargaining units."
Steel says there are many other problems with the Regulation aside from its attack on the democratic rights of workers.
"The government is basically hijacking the Alberta Labour Relations Board - which is supposed to be an impartial, third-party tribunal - and is using it as an instrument to ram these changes through," says Steel.
"There is no consideration about whether the Board has the expertise or resources to make the changes, or if this role is even appropriate for a tri-partite, neutral body."
Steel says that the LRB is already under-staffed and hopelessly behind in rendering decisions on other labour matters - so these new burdens may derail the board's work in other sectors of the economy and with other groups of workers.
Steel predicts that putting the new Bill 27 regulations into practice will create a nightmare of litigation and flawed, unmanageable administrative systems. Further, he is sure that labour relations in health care - already at a dangerously low level - will deteriorate badly during implementation of the regulations.
"I think the government has deliberately thrown the entire health care system into chaos," says Steel. "They're trying to use this 'reorganization' as a cover to rollback the wage gains of health care workers and to punish health care unions."
"It's ironic", concludes Steel, "that this government, which refuses to regulate our electric and gas utilities to help Albertans, is all to willing to over-regulate health care at the expense of the basic rights of healthcare workers."
Health care workers themselves will protest Bill 27 and its attached regulations at several worksite information pickets this afternoon. Noon-hour information pickets will be staged at both the Grey Nuns hospital in South Edmonton and the Misericordia hospital in West Edmonton.
At the Grey Nuns event, which Steel plans to attend, nurses will attach their contracts to black helium balloons and "send them to heaven." At the Misericordia event, which will be attended by AFL Secretary Treasurer Kerry Barrett, health care workers will lay wreaths to mark the "death of their rights and their contracts."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - By ramming Bill 27 through the Legislature, the Alberta government has abandoned all pretence that it is an impartial third party when it comes to labour relations in the province, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The employers in the health care sector asked the government for a free hand to deal with their workers, and thats exactly what this new law gives them," says AFL President Les Steel.
"The door is now open for an all out assault on health care workers and their contracts. We've already seen the attack ads against nurses being run by the regional health authorities. Bill 27 is the next piece in the puzzle."
The government has tried to downplay the significance of Bill 27 by arguing that it is merely an attempt to streamline administration as the province moves to fewer regional health authorities. But the AFL says it is about much more than that.
"This law strips the right-to-strike from thousands of community health care workers; it undermines the right of health care workers to choose their own unions; and it removes power over labour relations from impartial tribunals like the Alberta Labour Relations Board and hands it to the provincial cabinet," says Steel.
"Basically what they've done is rigged the game. They've stacked the deck and tipped the playing field. They're using the law to bludgeon health care workers and weaken their power at the bargaining table."
Steel says the government may feel smug now that they've used their overwhelming majority to push this blatantly anti-labour piece of legislation through. But he says there will be a price to be paid.
"This government pays lip service to the importance of health care workers," says Steel. "They say they want to attract and retain more people. But at the same time they're stabbing these workers in the back. How are we supposed to attract health workers to this province and maintain a motivated workforce when the government is so eager to gut their contracts?"
Steel also thinks the government has another thing coming if they think they can enforce labour peace by passing draconian laws.
"They may think they can force health workers into submission with strike bans and threats of huge fines," he says. "But this isn't a strategy for labour peace; it's a recipe for confrontation. Unions in this province will not stand idly while our members' rights and contracts are stripped."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President (780) 483-3021 (wk) / (780) 499-4135 (cell)
- or -
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications (780) 483-3021 (wk) / (780) 910-1137 (cell)
EDMONTON - Health care workers from seven different unions will rally at the Legislature over the lunch hour tomorrow to protest Bill 27, the government's controversial amendment to the Alberta Labour Relations Code.
If passed, the Bill will strip the right to strike from more than 7,000 community health workers; it will remove decision-making power from the impartial Alberta Labour Relations Board and hand it to the provincial cabinet; and it will set up a process that could lead to lower wages and reduced conditions of work in the health sector.
"These are the most sweeping and potential damaging changes to Alberta's labour laws that we've seen in the past 20 years," says Les Steel President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"And they're being rammed through the Legislature without input from the public or affected health care workers. If the government thinks they can use the distraction of war to pass bad laws without public scrutiny, they've got another thing coming."
The rally will be held on the Legislature steps starting at noon tomorrow, Thursday, March 20, 2003. Speakers will include:
- Judy Darcy, National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
- Heather Smith, President, United Nurses of Alberta (UNA)
- Elisabeth Ballermann, President, Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA)
- Yvonne Fast, President, CUPE Alberta Division
- Brian Mason, Deputy Leader, Alberta New Democrats
Bill 27 was introduced last week without any warning and without any consultation with health care workers. The Bill has been rushed through the Legislature, passing Second Reading on Monday and moving to committee debate today. It could be passed as soon as tomorrow afternoon.
The rally is being organized by CUPE, with support from the AFL, UNA, HSAA, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE).
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021 or (780) 910-1137 (cell)
Pam Beattie, CUPE Communications @ (780) 288-1230 (cell)
EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour and seven unions representing health care workers in the province have decided to launch a formal challenge to Bill 27, a bill to amend the Alberta Labour Code, on the grounds that it violates the NAFTA side agreement on labour.
"One of the key features of Bill 27 is that it robs health care workers and their unions of the right to due process when it comes to basic labour relations," says AFL president Les Steel.
"This is a clear violation of the obligations outlined under the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC) - better known as the NAFTA side agreement on labour. The agreement was entered into in 1995 by then Labour Minister Stockwell Day on behalf of the Alberta government, and it's still in force today."
The union complaint - which will be filed later this month - argues that Bill 27 violates Part Two, Section Five of the NAALC which says that each party (Canada, the U.S. and Mexico) shall ensure that all labour relations proceedings "comply with due process of the law."
As it stands right now, the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) administers the rules governing collective bargaining in Alberta. They decide who unions can bargain for, when they can bargain, how they can bargain - and even sometimes what they can bargain.
But the ALRB is bound by law to exercise its authority in an even-handed manner. In particular, before making any decisions, the Board conducts formal hearings at which all parties have the right to state their case publicly. The Board then makes its decisions based on the law and the evidence.
It is exactly this impartial and balanced approach - a process that respects both sides in labour relations - that is being thrown out by Bill 27, says Steel.
"Basically, with Bill 27 the government is breaking its promises under NAFTA and completely short-circuiting the LRB process. Instead of decisions being made with input from all parties, the power is going to be transferred to the provincial cabinet. There will be no fair hearing for health care workers - and no due process. It will be a kangaroo court."
The unions' brief to the NAFTA Administrative Office is being prepared by Bob Blair, a prominent Edmonton labour lawyer, and former chair of the ALRB.
He says Bill 27 will give the cabinet power to determine appropriate bargaining units in health care; to determine which unions emerge as bargaining agents after regional health authorities have been amalgamated; and to determine which collective agreements are going to govern in those new bargaining units.
"This is a serious departure from past practice - and a clear violation of our commitment to due process under NAFTA," says Blair. "The LRB has traditionally maintained its impartiality by engaging in a very careful balancing act between the interests of the employer and the workers. But with Bill 27, the government is throwing out all pretense of impartiality."
Steel agrees, saying that the changes are clearly being made to advance the agendas of the employers - the regional health authorities."In this kind of setting, there is absolutely no way that workers will get a fair hearing."
The complaint is being filed jointly by: the Alberta Federation of Labour, the United Nurses of Alberta, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union of Canada, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the United Steelworkers of America, and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President (780) 499-4135 (cell) / (780) 483-3021 (wk)
Bob Blair, Lawyer, Blair Chahley & Seveny (780) 423-3433 (wk) / (780) 919-3357 (cell)
EDMONTON - The leaders of unions representing health care workers in Alberta will meet tomorrow morning to discuss a new piece of provincial legislation that will strip the right-to-strike from thousands of their members.
The local union leaders will be joined by Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, who has described the proposed strike-ban legislation as "draconian and uncalled for."
After a private breakfast meeting, the union leaders will gather for a news conference at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 11 in Salon C of the Crowne Plaza - Chateau Lacombe Hotel in downtown Edmonton (10111 Bellamy Hill).
At the news conference, the union leaders will summarize their concerns about the new legislation - and how they plan to respond to it.
"Alberta already has the most restrictive legislation in the country," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"These amendments are just going to make a bad situation worse. Basically, they're going to be stripping thousands of workers of the right to control their own labour and the right to choose one union over another. It's a huge step backward."
The news conference will be attended by representatives from the following unions and labour organizations: the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL); the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA); the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA); the International Operating Engineers (IOE); the United Steelworkers of America (USWA); the Communication Energy Paperworkers union (CEP); and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
The Alberta government is expected to introduce its package of labour law amendments into the Legislature tomorrow afternoon. Leaks from the government suggest that the legislation will strip the right-to-strike from paramedics and people working in long-term and community health care.
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 483-3021 (wk) or (780) 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 483-3021 (wk) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)
But the Prime Minister and the Premiers choked under pressure - and they dropped the ball that had been passed to them by Roy Romanow, chair of the widely respected Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care.
Of course, being politicians, our leaders tried to dress up their failure as success.
For example, there was a lot of talk about the new money that will be spent on health care over the next few years.
Obviously, given the pressure on the system being caused by staff shortages and a growing population, any new funding is welcome.
In fact, the amounts pledged by the federal government are substantial - $17.3 billion over three years and nearly $35 billion over five.
But, as Roy Romanow said shortly after releasing his report last November: when it comes to Medicare, money means little without meaningful reform.
The really frustrating part of this whole situation is that, thanks to the Romanow commission, the First Ministers had a workable roadmap.
They also had the political momentum to do big things: Canadians overwhelming supported the Romanow vision and were willing to get behind major reforms.
But instead of being bold - instead of grabbing the opportunity and the ideas handed to them by Romanow - our leaders decided to do the bare minimum.
The premiers and the federal government failed to measure up in many areas - but there were two, in particular, that stand out.
First, in his report, Romanow said clearly that Medicare needs to be expanded to cover a broader range of services and treatments.
He pointed out that the practice of medicine in Canada has evolved dramatically from the time Medicare was first introduced.
Back then, Canadians received most of their health services either in their doctors' office or in hospitals - and that's what Medicare was designed to cover.
But today - with changes in technology and approaches to health care management - more and more people are accessing services outside of these traditional settings.
Homecare. Diagnostic imaging. Prescription drug therapies administered on an outpatient basis.
These things all represent the new face of medicine - but all of them fall outside of the traditional Medicare umbrella.
Roy Romanow rightly identified these new approaches to medicine as key to keeping Canadian healthy - and he said Medicare should be expanded to cover them.
For Romanow, covering things like home care, diagnostic services and prescription drugs was not only consistent with Canadian values - it was also the economical thing to do.
But instead of seizing on these suggestions, the First Minister did nothing. There was no pledge to amend the Canada Health Act to cover homecare or diagnostics. And there was no agreement on a new national Pharmacare plan.
The First Ministers were similarly silent on a second issue that was central to Romanow and to the thousands of Canadians who made personal submissions to his commission. And that's the issue of privatization.
In his report, Romanow said the evidence on American-style two-tier health care was clear: it is a disaster, both is terms of access and economics. He also expressed grave doubts about farming public health services out to for-profit providers - similar to the Bill-11 style approach to health care being advocated by the Klein Tories here in Alberta.
But on this issue, the First Ministers - once again - failed to step up to the plate.
The federal government could have attached strings to the new money for health care. They could have said "no cash if it's going to be spent on private delivery."
But they didn't do that. Instead - contrary to the strictly targeted spending proposed by Romanow - the federal government will be writing blank cheques to the provinces.
Here in Alberta, that means the money we've all been calling for - the money that Romanow proposed - will be not all be going to the publicly administered and delivered services Canadians cherish.
Instead it will be used to further our province's on-going experiment in market medicine.
In the end, the only people who got what they wanted out of this round of negotiations on Medicare are people like Ralph Klein and others who want to dismantle the system.
By not seizing the moment the federal government and the more progressive premiers have basically given the Klein's, Harris' and Campbell's of the world a green light to proceed.
By doing nothing, they've have betrayed all those who believed in the promise offered by the Romanow Commission. And, in many ways, they have left Medicare more vulnerable than ever.
Gil McGowan, AFL Executive Staff
EDMONTON - The federal government's decision to name Don Mazankowski as chair of a new national agency dealing with health care issues would be comical if it wasn't so dangerous, says Les Steel President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Don Mazankowski is a privatizer, plain and simple, so he can't be trusted to defend our public health care system," says Steel. "It's like putting the fox in charge of the hen house or giving a bank robber the keys to the vault."
Steel's comments came after news leaked from Ottawa earlier today that Mazankowski will be appointed chair of a new watchdog group called the National Health Council.
Creating the council was one of the key recommendations outlined in Roy Romanow's influential report on health care reform. But Steel says the government is making a mockery of Romanow's intent by placing Mazankowski in charge.
"Romanow called for a council that would be objective and committed to protecting our public health care system," says Steel.
"But Mazankowski is neither objective, nor is he an advocate of the kind of publicly-funded and publicly-delivered health care system that most Canadians believe in. As author of the Klein government's blueprint for health reform, he has demonstrated a clear - and I would argue, blindly ideological - preference for dangerous for-profit experiments over more sensible not-for-profit reforms."
If the federal government is using Mazankowski's appointment as a bargaining chip to win support from Alberta for a new national health accord, Steel says they are being short-sighted and unhelpful to the cause of preserving Medicare.
"Some things are just too important to be bargained away," says Steel. "It's like a union negotiator giving away pension rights or health and safety guarantees to win a few more cents in wages. It doesn't make sense in the long run."
Steel says the best case scenario now is that Mazankowski will simply neutralize the Council as an effective player on health issues. The worst case scenario is that he will use it as a forum to promote the spread of Alberta-style market-oriented reforms to other provinces.
"Roy Romanow gave us a vision for reform that embraces Canadians values and focuses on public and not-for-profit solutions. But Mazankowski has a vision that goes in entirely the opposite direction. So in the short term his appointment may be a victory for the backroom boys who wanted a deal on health care. But, looking at the longer term, it's a betrayal of the Romanow commission - and the millions of Canadians who saw it as the best hope for the future of Medicare."
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 483-3021 (wk) or (780) 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour, representing more than 120,000 unionized workers from across the province, has expressed strong support for the key recommendations of the final report released today by Roy Romanow's Commission on the Future of Health Care.
"Mr. Romanow has presented us with a blue-print for reform that, if implemented, will revitalize Medicare and guarantee it's long-term good health," says AFL president Les Steel.
"This is probably the best chance we'll ever get to save Medicare from the privatizers and preserve it for future generations. Canadians now have to put pressure on their elected representative to make sure they don't squander this historic opportunity."
Steel says the Romanow report is particularly important here in Alberta because it shows that de-listing, down-loading and privatization are not the only options available to us.
"The Klein government has worked hard over the past few years to convince Albertans that there is no alternative to privatization in health care," says Steel. "But the Romanow report demonstrates just how wrong the Alberta Tories are. It shows that privatization doesn't work and that it is not in the best interests of ordinary citizens."
Steel says that he has some reservations about the Romanow report - but none that are serious enough to justify rejecting it.
"We would have preferred it if Romanow hadn't given the green light to privatization in non-medical service like laundry and food preparation in hospitals," he says.
"In his report Mr. Romanow conclusively demonstrates that the private sector costs more and delivers less when it comes to core medical services. We think the same logic applies to non medical services. If fact, here in Alberta we've had a lot of experience with privatization in things like hospital laundry and dietary service. The record shows that very little money has been saved - and quality has suffered. Cleaning hospital rooms and hospital laundry is not the same as cleaning in a hotel."
Steel says he is also disappointed that Romanow didn't recommend a more aggressive mechanism for enforcing the principles of the Canada Health Act.
"The Alberta government has already made it clear it intends to go ahead with reforms outlined in the Mazankowski report - reforms that run entirely contrary to the vision presented by Romanow. We would have liked to have seen some kind of enforcement mechanism that would stop provincial governments from standing in the way of progressive, public sector reform."
However, despite these concerns, Steel says the AFL is extremely pleased with the report produced by the Romanow commission.
"The bottom line is that it reinforces what we've been saying for years and what ordinary Canadians believe themselves - namely that the best solutions for reform can be found within the public system, not the private sector."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) or 780-499-4135 (cell)
The Alberta Labour Relations Board is jeopardizing its fundamental need to be seen to be neutral on labour relations conflicts by its continued insistence upon assessing punitive damages against the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Alberta Federation of Labour says today. The Board yesterday rejected AUPE's appeal of the two-month suspension of dues ordered by the Board following a strike in the health care sector in May 2000.
"The Labour Relations Board has crossed a boundary with this ruling," charges Alberta Federation of Labour President Les Steel. "Prior to this, the Board - like other such bodies in Canada - has restricted its rulings to efforts to restore or 'make whole' damages arising from violations of labour law," said Steel. "But now, long after normal relations have resumed between the effected parties, the Board has chosen to issue punitive damages against the union."
"We have never seen punitive damages issued to employers for willful, and permanently damaging actions against workers," said Steel. "For example, there have been no punitive actions taken against the Economic Development Edmonton for its disgraceful conduct during the ongoing Shaw Conference Centre Strike."
"By taking this unusual and ill-considered action against a union while at the same time refusing to take punitive actions against offending employers, the ALRB is showing itself not to be an impartial umpire in labour relations" said Steel.
"This decision undermines the Board's function in labour relations while at the same time sending a very bad message to unions, workers and employers in Alberta," concluded Steel.
For more Information, contact:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-499-4135 (cell)
The Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the release of "Moving From Good to Great", the final report of the Financial Management Commission, by pointing out it is just more of the same old Tory approach of cutbacks and underfunding. The report recommendations will also guarantee a future of labour disputes like the teacher's strike this year.
"The Commission recommendations are a shell game. What they amount to are more cutbacks to health care and education," says AFL President Les Steel. "By moving all resource revenue to the new Heritage Fund, the Commission wants to starve health care and education by $2 billion a year."
Using government of Alberta figures, the AFL shows that implementing the Commission recommendations regarding resource revenue would lead to a $2 billion shortfall for health care, education and other program funding (please see attached backgrounder).
The AFL argues that the Alberta budget is dependent upon resource revenue for a sizeable portion of expenditures. The 10 year average dependency (factoring for inflation) is $4.6 billion, which is more than a billion higher than recommended by the Commission.
"Strip away the accounting games, and what this means to the average Albertan is more crowded classrooms and more hallway medicine," Steel adds.
Steel also points out that the Commission recommendations will create permanent labour strife with teachers, health care workers and other public sector workers. "The Commission wants to lock-in Lyle Oberg-style labour relations," Steel observes. "The government wants to call all the financial shots without getting its hands dirty at the negotiating table."
Since the government sets the budget for school boards and health authorities, they determine the amount of money available for salary increases. This limits the local authority's ability to negotiate. The Commission recommends that the government say to these employers that "the budget is the budget", and that no new money would be forthcoming to meet settlements.
"This is a carbon copy of Lyle Oberg's approach to the recent teachers' negotiations - and it led to a strike. I predict we will see much more of acrimonious relations under this approach to budgeting."
Steel also criticized the Commissions endorsement of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for capital projects. "Everywhere PPPs have been tried, they have ended up costing the taxpayer more and operating without adequate accountability and transparency. Why is the government going down this failed road?"
"The Report seems mistitled. Rather than 'From Good To Better', it should be called 'From Bad to Worse'." Steel concludes.
Backgrounder - July 8, 2002
Resource Revenue Dependency, 1993-2002
|Year||Resource Revenue ($millions, 2001 dollars)|
10 year average: $4.6 billion
Commission Recommendations' Effect on Government Revenues
Non-Renewable Resource Revenue $6.2 billion
Total Revenue $22.0 billion
Total Expenditure $21.2 billion
Total Surplus $770.0 million
2001-02 Commission Recommendation1
Transfer From Heritage Fund $3.5 billion2
Total Revenue $19.3 billion
Total Expenditure $21.2 billion
Total Deficit ($1.9 billion)3
NOTE #1: Impact on provincial budget if Commission Recommendations were implemented for the 2001-02 fiscal year.
NOTE #2: The Financial Management Commission recommends that all non-renewable resource revenues go into the Heritage Fund. A legislated amount would be transferred to general revenues for the purpose of funding programs and services. The Commission recommends $3.5 billion per year.
NOTE #3: Under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Alberta Government is not allowed to run a deficit. Expenditure reductions would be required to make up the difference.
For further information contact:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-499-4135 (cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021 (wk)