The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has produced a new research study examining the economics of public education, public health care and other social programs. The book demonstrates that these public programs are a net advantage to Canada's economy, and they give Canada a competitive advantage over the U.S. and other nations with less well developed social programs.
"We abandon public health care and public education at our peril," says AFL President Les Steel. "They give us a clear competitive advantage over our neighbour to the south."
For example, in health care, the book reveals that employer health costs are two to three times higher in the U.S. than Canada, even when including taxation levels. "Public health care lowers the cost of doing business, and that works to Canada's advantage," says Steel.
The results of the study will be presented at a seminar being hosted by the AFL for interested members of the public. The author of the study will provide a presentation of the study findings and the book will be officially released at that time. Social agencies, education groups and health care organizations have been invited.
Thursday May 23
10:00 am to 11:00 am
Salon "B", Howard Johnson Hotel, 10010 - 104 Street, Edmonton
The book, entitled "The Other Competitive Advantage: The Economic Case for Strong Social Programs", examines five areas: health care, education, retirement pensions, income security (EI, minimum wage and social assistance) and WCB. In each area it compares the economic costs and benefits of delivering these services publicly or privately.
Following the seminar, there will be a media availability. Copies of the book will be available at the event.
For more information contact:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021(wk) 780-499-4135(cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021(wk)
Government plans to download responsibility for health care could cost Alberta businesses $500 million a year, says AFL
CALGARY - The Alberta government's plan to limit Medicare coverage will end up costing businesses in the province $500 million or more each year, says a presentation prepared by the Alberta Federation of Labour for Roy Romanow's commission on the future of health care.
"The recommendations contained in the Mazankowski report aren't just misguided - some of them are downright dangerous from an economic point of view," says AFL President Les Steel, who will be appearing before Romanow in Calgary today.
In its presentation to the commission, the AFL focuses on the impact of government plans to download health costs from the public sector onto the shoulders of individuals and businesses. In particular, the AFL says that plans to de-list services and introduce so-called Medical Savings Accounts will create a market for supplementary private health insurance.
"For those of us in the labour movement, our preference would be to maintain a comprehensive and fully funded public system," says Steel. "But make no mistake - if the Alberta government goes ahead with plans to limit what's covered publicly, then unions will have no choice but to fight for supplementary private insurance at the bargaining table. It will become one of our top priorities."
As it stands right now, Canadian employers pay an average of $93 a month for extended health benefits to cover things like dental and vision care. That compares to the U.S. where employers pay as much as $600 per employee every month for health benefits. Steel says any move to limit Medicare coverage will result in dramatic increases to benefit costs for Alberta businesses.
"There are 275,000 unionized workers in this province," he says. "So if supplementary private insurance health insurance costs another $50 per month per employee that's an extra cost to Alberta businesses of $165 million per year. If it costs an extra $100 per month, that's a cost of $330 million per year. And if it costs an extra $150 per month, that's an added cost to business of $495 million each year. And that's just the unionized workforce."
In the end, the AFL says the Mazankowksi plan will saddle Alberta businesses with hundreds of millions - many even billions - in extra, on-going costs. This will drive up the cost of doing business in Alberta; it will reduce the competitive advantage that we currently enjoy because of Medicare; and it will probably mean the loss of thousands of jobs as companies scramble to pay the bills.
"The message for the Alberta business community is clear: wake up and smell the coffee," says Steel. "They should not be supporting this government's health policy. It will be very bad for business."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-910-1137 (cell)
EDMONTON - Delegates to the Conservative convention will be greeted on Saturday morning with leaflets reminding them how the Klein government has betrayed the party's own policies on issues such as health care premiums.
Between 8 and 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 23, activists from the Alberta Federation of Labour will hand out leaflets to Tory delegates as they arrive at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton.
WHAT: Leafleting of Conservative convention
WHEN: 8-10 a.m., Saturday, March 23
WHERE: Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton
"This is a party that has passed dozens of resolutions about keeping taxes down. And last year they even adopted a resolution calling for the elimination of health care premiums," says AFL president Les Steel.
"What we'll be doing on Saturday is pointing out the hypocrisy of the government's recent decision to increase health premiums and their betrayal of party policy in other areas such as education and children's services."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications Director @ 483-3021 or 910-1137 (cell)
EDMONTON - The budget unveiled by the Klein government late this afternoon is a "triple whammy" for working people in Alberta, says the president of Alberta's largest union organization.
As a result of the new budget, Albertans will be paying higher taxes and facing declining quality of services in areas like health care and education, says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Before the last provincial election, the premier wooed working peoples' votes by offering a big tax cut. A year later he's broken that promise by substantially increasing health premiums - which are a tax hike in all but name. That's the first whammy."
Steel says the second "whammy" has to do with the way the government is handling education funding.
"This budget represents a lost opportunity to resolve the dispute with the teachers," says Steel. "They could have dealt with some of the problems that lie at the heart of the dispute - like the issue of over-crowding. But by refusing to put more money into the classroom they've basically guaranteed more labour unrest."
The third assault on the interests of working people cited by Steel has to do with health care. In particular, Steel says the government has failed to make funding adjustments that reflect Alberta's growing population.
"On the surface, a seven percent increase in funding sounds great. But in reality it doesn't keep up with the combined pressures of inflation and population growth. In effect this so-called increase is actually a cut for our health care system. So much for the government's supposed commitment to Medicare."
Steel concluded by pointing out that many of the cuts announced today are a direct result of the government's "irresponsible flat tax and cuts to corporate taxes.
"We're a wealthy province but our government has basically impoverished our public sector by slashing taxes for big business and the wealthy. Today we see that it's ordinary working people who are going to have to pay for these irresponsible cuts."
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 780-499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - Despite government reassurances and claims to the contrary, the new session of the Legislature is shaping up as an historic showdown on issues such as public health care and basic workers rights, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Everyone is talking about the Klein government's plans to implement the recommendations of the Mazankowski report," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"On that issue, we side with all those Albertans who see the Mazankowski plan as a fundamental attack on Medicare. But the government seems to have another, less publicized, agenda in this session - an agenda to undermine the rights of working people and the unions that represent them."
The most obvious example of this agenda is all the talk in government circles about stripping teachers of the right to strike or even using legislation to decertify or weaken the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA). But, as Steel points out, these are by no means the only major labour issues that will be discussed in this session.
"It wasn't mentioned in the Throne speech, but we know that the government is going to bring in new legislation to take the right to strike away from paramedics," he says. "They're also going to announce the creation of a committee to investigate changes to the Labour Code, with a view to making it harder for unions to organize - especially in the construction trades."
Taken together with the expected attacks on the ATA, Steel says the government's plans for the coming legislative session add up to the most "anti-worker and anti-union agenda that we've seen in Alberta in years - and that's saying something."
Steel says he is deeply saddened that - yet again - the government seems to be treating working people as enemies instead of partners in creating a better Alberta.
"It's yet another indication that this government simply doesn't get it when it comes to labour relations," concludes Steel. "They don't recognize that working people have a right to bargain collectively. And they refuse to admit that workers usually have very legitimate concerns. Instead, this government's first impulse is to reach for the big stick. In a supposedly open and democratic society, this is no way to solve problems and it is no way to treat citizens."
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, Communications Director @ 780-483-3021 (wk) 780-910-1137 (cell)
Unions will have no choice but to bargain for health benefits if Maz report is implemented, says AFL
EDMONTON - If the Alberta government proceeds with changes to Medicare proposed today by the Mazankowski commission, businesses in the province will be saddled with new costs and the so-called "Alberta Advantage" will be seriously eroded, says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The Premier and Mr. Mazankowski talk about the need to control spending," says Steel. "But this report isn't really about reducing costs - it's about transferring costs to individuals and businesses."
Steel points out that the current Medicare system acts as a huge competitive advantage for companies doing business in Alberta and other Canadian provinces. As a result of Canada's universal health care system, businesses here don't need to pay for private health insurance for their employees. This gives Canadian companies an advantage over their American competitors who see up to a third of their payroll budgets eaten up by insurance costs.
"The labour movement's first choice would be to maintain a fully-funded and comprehensive public health system that's there for all Canadians when they need it," says Steel.
"But - make no mistake. If the government de-lists health services, then unions will have no choice but to bargain for supplementary private insurance. This will almost certainly drive up costs for businesses in Alberta - and reduce our competitiveness. Is that the kind of legacy that Ralph Klein really wants to leave?"
In addition to his concerns about de-listing, Steel says he's also troubled by Mazankowski's emphasis on contracting more and more health services to the private sector.
"The evidence from here in Canada and around the world is clear," said Steel. "Whether it's American-style private health care or British-style contracting out, privatization doesn't work. It always leads to higher costs and reduced quality of care. Given the dismal record of private health care, I can't understand why the Alberta government insists on going down this road. They're allowing their ideological preferences to blind them to the weaknesses of private health care."
Steel concluded by criticizing the Council's recommendations involving things like user fees, medical savings accounts and treating health care costs as a taxable benefit.
"In all of these cases, the government is basically saying that Albertans should pay more for health care - on top of what they already pay in taxes and health care premiums. Once again, the people who will be hardest hit by these schemes will be the ones who can least afford it - the poor and the sick."
For further information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 483-3021 (wk) / (780) 499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - The Klein Conservatives are walking into the provincial election with their "eyes firmly shut and their ears closed to the real concerns of Albertans," says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, described yesterday's Throne Speech as a big disappointment. She said it proves the government has lost touch with the real priorities of citizens.
"Voters in this province have made it clear that they have serious questions about government policy in areas like health care, taxation and utilities," said Cormack after the speech was delivered by Lt. Governor Lois Hole.
"Yet, there was no mention of Bill 11 or private hospitals. There was also no recognition that government policies have contributed greatly to soaring utility prices. And there was no discussion of the fundamentally inequitable nature of the government's new flat tax."
Cormack said the Throne Speech's silence on these issues suggests that the Klein Tories are content to allow the creeping privatization of Medicare. It also suggests that the government is not listening to the thousands of Albertans who have raised concerns about out-of-control utility prices and new tax laws that favour the well-off at the expense of working families.
"This is more of what we've come to expect from the Tories: vague promises and platitudes masking a hidden agenda that favours privatization, deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy."
Cormack scoffed at the promise of a "Future Summit" to map out a direction for the province once the government has eliminated its debt.
"This is shaping up to be another stage-managed attempt to get a rubber stamp from the public for policies that have already been decided upon," she said, adding that the government appears to be considerably less open and visionary than the school children quoted in the Throne Speech.
"I was pleased to see that 11 year-olds have a vision for the future and are concerned about things like equality, respect and protecting the environment. It's too bad this government can't come up with a similar kind of progressive vision."
For further information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021(wk)/ 499-6530(cell)/ 428-9367(hm)
EDMONTON - The strike that is currently crippling hospitals across the province is a clear example of the provincial government "reaping what it has sown," says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says that the Alberta government created the conditions for a labour dispute in the health care sector by enacting harsh labour laws that blatantly favour employers and by starving the health care system of badly needed funds.
"By making it illegal for these workers to strike, the government has essentially created an environment in which employers hold all the cards. The regional health authorities have no incentive to bargain in good faith," says Cormack.
"This problem has been compounded by budget cuts and chronic under-funding. People working in hospitals and nursing homes across the province are constantly be asked to worker harder while earning less. This kind of situation can only go on so long before the workers involved reach a breaking point."
Under Alberta labour law, most provincial government workers - including the majority of health care workers currently on the picket line - are deemed "essential" and, therefore, denied the right-to-strike. Instead of strikes, disputes are sent to government-appointed arbitration panels which draft settlements that are binding on both the workers and the employer.
"The problem with the arbitration process is that it tilts the field in favour of the employer and undermines the entire bargaining process," says Cormack. "The employers know the government appointees on the arbitration panels will rule in their favour - so they have no real incentive to bargain in good faith. That's why the regional health authorities are just starting to bargain now - the strike is finally forcing them to take the workers seriously."
As a result of the arbitration process and the ban on strikes for public sector workers, Cormack says licensed practical nurses and other health care workers in Alberta have fallen far behind their counterparts in other provinces in terms of wages and benefits. But she says it doesn't have to be this way.
"If the government really wants to settle this dispute quickly they should do two things," says Cormack. "In the short term, they should allocate more of the provincial government's huge budget surplus to health care so that the regional health authorities can afford to give their employees fair wage increases. In the longer term, what's needed are major changes to Alberta labour laws. Without the right to strike, employers will continue to ignore the legitimate demands of health care workers and these workers will continue to be paid far less than they deserve."
For more information:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell)/483-3021 (wk)/428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - Alberta Federation of Labour President Audrey Cormack will be taking the fight against the Klein government's Private Hospitals Bill to Ottawa on Tuesday, March 7th. Cormack has a meeting with federal Health Minister Alan Rock to discuss the implications of Bill 11, introduced last week.
The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 7 at the Minister's Office in Tunney's Pasture Complex at 2:00 pm EST (12:00 Noon Alberta time). The meeting will take between 30 and 60 minutes.
Cormack is available for media comment following the meeting. Ms. Cormack can be
reached by cellular phone at (780) 499-6530.
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell)
Jason Foster, AFL @ (780) 483-3021
The Klein government will pay a big price from Albertans if it continues with its private health care bill, introduced in the Legislature today, says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The introduction of Bill 11 shows the Klein government is not listening to Albertans," says Cormack. "Albertans are worried - very worried - about their health care system. They want it protected and have told the government so."
"The government has responded by playing word games and weaving more lies about their real intentions," says Cormack. "Albertans don't want word games, they want Medicare protected from for-profit clinics."
"Bill 11 undermines the very principles of Medicare."
Cormack says that even the Tories know their bill is a bunch of pretend. "I don't care what you call it, a surgical facility or private clinic, this bill legalizes private, for-profit hospitals."
Cormack predicts that if the government insists on forcing this bill on Albertans that Albertans will make them pay a big price for it.
"Albertans won't put up with this bill. Any government that tries to undermine Medicare will hear loudly from Albertans. They will hear from us in the Legislature, on the streets and in the ballot box."
"If the government has any sense, they will let the bill die a quick death."
"It's not too late," concludes Cormack, "this bill can and will be stopped."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ (780) 499-6530 cell/ 483-3021 (wk)/ 428-9367 (hm)