Policy paper adopted at AFL 46th Constitutional Convention, April 23-26, 2009
Policy paper adopted at AFL 46th Constitutional Convention, April 23-26, 2009
March 2009: Rights for farm workers; Health and safety postcard campaign; Project 2012 Booklet; Save the Wheat Board
Rights for Farm Workers!
- The AFL is joining with UFCW Canada in a campaign to include farm workers in Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act. The campaign is a result of a recent fatality inquiry into the death of Kevan Chandler on a farm near Black Diamand. The Judge recommended that one of the best ways to prevent future fatalities is to include farm workers in OH&S legislation. Farming has changed. It's time the laws changed with it! Find out what you can do to help farm workers ...
- The economy has hit the skids, but now is not the time for a return to the days of cutbacks, privatization and royalty rollbacks. There is another way to tackle the economic downturn. Public Interest Alberta's 3rd Annual Advocacy Conference is looking at how we can broaden the scope of public solutions to keep Alberta working, and make us greener at the same time. "Beyond Band-Aids and Bailouts: Public Solutions in Critical Times" runs April 3 - 5 in Edmonton. Speakers include Judy Rebick, Elaine Bernard and Dr. Robert Woollard. Register for the Conference ...
- In 2007, 154 workers were killed at work. Last year another 166 lost their lives because of their jobs. There is no better reason than that for changing Alberta's safety laws. The AFL's Health and Safety Committee has launched a postcard campaign aimed at making Joint H&S Committees mandatory in all workplaces. Alberta is the only province to have voluntary joint committees. And it is proven that joint committees save lives. Join the campaign! Bundles of the postcards are available at the AFL office. Call (780-483-3021) to request some and get your members and neighbours to sign them. See a sample of the postcard ...
Spirit of Labour
- Sometimes to get our inspiration, we need to look at our past. The miners of the Crowsnest Pass can teach us much about courage, solidarity and organizing for victory. The story of the working families of the Crownest Pass has been captured in a moving booklet recently released by Project 2012, the celebration of the AFL's Centennial being organized by the AFL and the Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI). This is the first of a series of five booklets popularizing key moments in Alberta's labour history, to be released each year leading up to 2012. Read "Spirit of the Crowsnest" ...
Save the Wheat Board!!
- Since their election, the Harper Conservatives have had an aggressive agenda to undermine and break up the Canada Wheat Board. At every available opportunity they have attacked the single-desk monopoly of the Board and promoted the rump group of farmers who want to sell their grain on the open market. The Conservatives have run fraudulent votes and even contravened government law (according to the courts) in their effort to chip away at one of the most effective mechanisms for farmers. The Board has been proven time and time again to return high prices to farmers for their grain - higher than they could get on their own.
- The National Farmers Union and supporters of the Wheat Board are locked in a battle for the very existence of the Wheat Board. And they need your help! Whether you live in a rural community or in a big city, you need to add your voice to those trying to save the Wheat Board. Take action now!
Economics for EveryoneJoin Jim Stanford, Chief Economist for the CAW, to talk about the state of the economy and what it means for workers. Stanford will be discussing his latest book "Economics for Everyone" and looking at the state of the economy from a worker perspective.
Co-sponsored by Parkland Institute
Wednesday April 22
Thursday April 23
Chateau Lacombe Crowne Plaza
Did you know ...
Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta
Permanent Immigrants Arriving in Alberta
Because he was a farmworker, government safety officers didn't investigate, and the employer could not be held accountable for the accident. His wife couldn't get WCB benefits, and his kids were left without a father.
This is because under Alberta law, farm workers are not covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or any other labour law. They are denied the basic rights the rest of us take for granted.
Judge Calls for Safety Inclusion
In 2008, a fatality inquiry was called to explore the causes of Kevan's death and to examine ways to prevent similar deaths in the future. In January 2009, Judge Peter Barley released his findings.
Judge Barley states that Kevan's death could have been prevented if farm workers had been included in occupational safety legislation. He recommends changing the law:
"It is recommended that paid employees on farms should be covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSA 2000 Ch. O-2, with the same exemption for family members and other non-paid workers that apply to non-farm employers." (p. 7)
Join the Campaign for Farm Workers
UFCW Canada has launched a campaign to pressure the Alberta government to include farm workers in safety legislation. UFCW represents farm workers in B.C., Ontario and Manitoba, and are now extending their campaign for farm-worker rights to Alberta.
They have set up a website, and launched a letter writing campaign.
Help farm workers achieve basic safety protections. Here is what you can do:
- Tell the Alberta government to start taking farm safety seriously by sending a quick e-mail to Premier Ed Stelmach that calls for the immediate implementation of Justice Barley's recommendations.
- Encourage your family members, friends, co-workers and neighbours to help make a difference by joining the End the Harvest of Death campaign.
Together we can make sure that Kevan Chandler's death was not in vain.
When the Economic Party is Over...
- Someone has to clean up the mess. The latest Labour Economic Monitor, the AFL's digest of economic statistics and analysis, is out - and this time looks at the quickly changing economy. Find out what is really happening, what is causing the rapid flux and how you and your family might be affected. Read Labour Economic Monitor ...
Hands off Our Assets!
- On January 20, Edmonton City Council will consider privatizing the Gold Bar Waste Treatment Plan by handing it over to EPCOR at a fraction of its value. EPCOR plans on using the asset to help it win bids to operate privatized utilities in other cities in North America. Edmontonians would lose public control of this valuable public asset and public accountability would be lost. Edmontonians need to make their voice heard in the next few days.
The Making of Our Movement
- As we build toward the AFL's Centennial in 2012, we want to celebrate our past victories and achievements. Last year we launched Project 2012 to create popular material to celebrate labour history in Alberta. The latest in our series of posters has just been released. It is the first poster in the "Making of Our Movement" series, and it honours the courage and struggle of the workers in the 1986 Gainers Strike. A powerful image anchors the poster, which is available free of charge from the AFL office. Framed copies are also being sold for $150. See sample of the poster ...
Fed Up With Labour Laws? Change 'Em!
- The winter 2009 issue of Union magazine came out recently, offering a look at the state of Alberta's labour laws and what we can do about them. Union is the AFL's seasonal publication of insight and analysis. The issue also examines the growing use of Temporary Foreign Workers, the possibility of "decent work", and takes a look back at a groundbreaking coal miners's strike in 1906. And remember, subscriptions are FREE! Read Union Magazine ...
- Workplaces are becoming more diverse, which presents both challenges and opportunities for workers. Three of the AFL's Standing Committees are collaborating to organize a conference that is looking at diversity in the workplace. The conference will address racism, aboriginal issues, Temporary Foreign Workers, and pride and solidarity. The Conference runs February 27 & 28 at the Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton.
Stop the Bloodshed in the Middle East
With over 700 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed and the death toll mounting daily as the Gaza offensive escalates, citizens around the world are urgently demanding action to end the violence and protect civilians.
One group has launched an online petition calling for robust international action to achieve an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and take further crucial steps toward a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Join the more than 400,000 people worldwide who have signed the petition and are calling for an end to the bloodshed. Sign the petition ...
The Folly of Free Trade Agreements
The Parkland Institute is hosting a speaking event with Professor Jane Kelsey, one of New Zealand's best-known critical commentators on issues of globalisation, neo-liberalism and so-called liberalized trade. Dr. Kelsey will be talking about how working people around the world suffer the worst under free trade agreements, and how such deals embed the corporate principles of neo-liberalism.
Tuesday February 3
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
University of Alberta Campus (ETLC 1-003)
Did you know ...
Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta
In December 2007, there were 37,257 TFWs in Alberta, which would make up Alberta's 10th largest city.
There were 73,000 unemployed Albertans in the same month.
Unskilled workers now make up 1 in 4 TFWs in Alberta.
60% of food industry employers with TFWs were found by the Alberta government to be breaching the Employment Standards Code in some significant way.
An inquiry into the death of a man killed while working on a farm two years ago will open today -- a hearing labour officials hope will highlight the "deeply flawed" workplace safety legislation in the province.
The inquiry -- scheduled for two days in Okotoks -- will examine the events surrounding the death of Kevan Chandler, who was buried under grain on June 18, 2006, while working at Tongue Creek Feeders in High River.
At the time, Chandler's widow, Lorna, wrote an open letter to Premier Ralph Klein asking to change workplace legislation to include farms, saying safety rules would have saved her husband's life.
While the aim of fatality inquiries is for a judge to make recommendations to prevent similar incidents, the
Alberta Federation of Labour hopes it will bring about substantive changes to farm worker safety in Alberta.
"Alberta is still in the 19th century when it comes to workplace rights for farm workers," federation president Gil McGowan said Tuesday.
"We're hoping the inquiry will find that the system for ensuring workplace health and safety for farmers is deeply flawed."
According to the Alberta Farm Safety Centre, farmers are five times more likely to die from a work-related incident than workers in all other industries.
Last year 12 people died in such incidents -- eight fewer than in 2006, when Chandler was killed.
But under current provincial legislation, farming-related deaths and injuries do not fall under workplace health and safety legislation, following an exemption made to the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1977.
The farm safety co-ordinator for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development said the legislation exempts any primary agriculture, such as raising livestock or crops.
However, value-added farm industries -- nurseries, greenhouses and mushroom farms, for example -- are included, Laurel Aitken said.
It's a difficult area for the safety act to cover because the farm is sometimes a combination of a workplace and a home.
"No one comes into your home and says, 'Why are you using the ladder you did to clean out the eavestroughs?' " she said. "It's a very grey area in terms of where does the home end and the farm start."
McGowan, however, said there is no excuse for why people like Chandler don't have the same rights and protections as workers in other industries.
"It's not clear that extending workplace safety to farm workers would have saved Kevan's life, but it may have," he said.
The fact that Chandler's death has led to a fatality inquiry is largely owed to work done by his widow, said McGowan.
"She refused to let the issue die," he said.
Still, said Liberal MLA David Swann, the inquiry is coming more than two years after Chandler died.
Swann, who has spoken out often about the discrepancy in workplace safety legislation when it comes to farm workers, said an inquiry should be held for every farming-related death.
In discussions with Albertans, he said, people ask if the province ensures healthy, equal working conditions for all workers in the province.
"We have to say no. There is a unique experience for farm workers in this province," he said.
Calgary Herald, Wed Oct 22 2008
Byline: Gwendolyn Richards
A survey released by Canadian LabourWatch Association found unions are irrelevant and their leaders out of touch, but one union leader believes this view of the results is biased and distorted.
LabourWatch hired Nanos Research to conduct a telephone survey of 1,000 employed Canadians between July 27th and Aug. 6th.
One of the most important findings of the Nanos survey is that 77 per cent of non-unionized working Canadians are not interested in being unionized.
The survey also found that more than 25 per cent of currently unionized respondents said they would prefer not to be unionized, if given the choice.
"These results speak for themselves" said John Mortimer, president of LabourWatch.
"Union leader positions on a range of issues are contributing to this continuing slide in both interest and actual union representation."
A spokesperson for union workers in Alberta has a very different interpretation of the survey commissioned by LabourWatch.
"It (LabourWatch) is a who's who of anti-labour organizations that exists to undermine unions and get them off work sites," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"When you look at this poll, you must consider the source. This is a laughable group that must not be taken seriously."
McGowan said Nanos is a reputable research firm, but it is clear that the questions have been written in such a way as to encourage negative responses to unions.
"Even with this bias approach the survey shows that 75 per cent of the people polled are happy with and support their union," said McGowan. "This is a higher approval rating than any provincial government in Canada and higher than the Harper government. As a labour leader these figures suggest we are on the right track."
In response to the survey's finding that people are not interested in union membership, McGowan argued that the restrictive labour laws in Alberta were the main reason more people are not being able to join a union.
"LabourWatch is not the only organization looking at or asking these types of questions," explained McGowan. "Our own internal survey shows that 30-40 per cent of the people who are not currently unionized would join a union if they could."
Another finding of the survey was that 84 per cent of working Albertans disagreed with union leaders using union dues to pay for advertising campaigns opposing political parties. Almost 70 per cent of working Albertans also disagreed with unions contributing to groups advocating causes unrelated to the workplace.
"The results clearly indicate that workers are rejecting the heavy handed tactics and negative rhetoric of union leaders who claim to speak for all working Albertans, said Stephen Kushner, president of Merit Contractors Association. "The recent provincial election in Alberta which saw the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) spend millions of dollars on attack ads is a case in point."
In the run up to the Alberta election on March 3, the ABTC and the AFL sponsored a campaign called 'Albertans for Change'. The main aim of this campaign, which began before the election was announced, was to question the leadership abilities of Conservative party leader Ed Stelmach.
Union leaders did not disclose the cost of these so-called attack ads. However, critics of the campaign estimate the cost at $1 million for prime-time TV spots and full-page newspaper ads.
McGowan said the decision to spend union funds on the election campaign was made after going through a very democratic process. The union leadership consulted the grass roots and was fully accountable to members.
Despite this fact, McGowan is concerned about the direction the Conservatives are taking public policy on union dues and political campaigns.
"They (Conservatives) will probably get their wish on this one," said McGowan. "The will issue legislation this fall to reduce the unions ability to spend money during an election."
Journal of Commerce, Mon Sept 15 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
The Labour Day weekend offers Albertans one last gasp at summer before the busy times of fall are upon us. And we should all take a well-deserved rest. When you work hard, like Albertans do, you deserve a moment to relax and appreciate your hard work.
I only wish I could say the same thing for the Alberta government. On the employment standards file, their inaction has become an embarrassment.
The Employment Standards Code is the law that sets up the basic protections for workers in the workplace, setting such things as minimum wage, hours of work, vacation entitlement and so on. Alberta's Employment Standards Code has remained essentially unchanged since 1988.
The workplace has evolved significantly in the last 20 years, but our law has not. The government recognized how out-of-date the legislation is and back in 2005 launched a massive consultation to revamp the code.
Yet, nothing came of it. Not a single amendment. Not a single improved provision. Complete inaction. The consultation just faded away.
Admittedly, employment law can be controversial. Employers and workers have justifiably different visions of what the code should look like. So maybe the government decided to avoid the heat and leave it as is. A little cowardly, maybe, but understandable given how politics works.
However, the Alberta Federation of Labour recently received a document through Freedom of Information that suggests government inaction cannot be pinned on Alberta's workplace participants.
We fought for two years to get access to a public opinion survey conducted during the consultation about what employers and workers thought about the employment standards code. The Commissioner ordered its release this summer. The fact the government witRating 2eld for more than two years a document as simple as a poll is a telling statement about accountability and freedom of information in this province, but that is another column.
The results of the survey, which randomly polled 400 employers and 400 workers across Alberta, are surprising. On most issues raised, employers and workers agreed on what needed to happen, and overwhelming the message is that our basic employment laws need to change.
For example, 77 per cent of employers and 82 per cent of workers said that the code should provide for unpaid general leave for workers needing to tend a family emergency, attend a funeral or care for a sick relative. A majority of both groups (56 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively) believe workers should be paid for statutory holidays, even if it falls on their day off. Neither provision is in the code currently.
The agreement even extended to the so-called "controversial" issues such as 12-year-olds working and farmworker exemptions to the code.
Albertans will remember that in 2005, the Alberta government changed the rules to allow children as young as 12 to work in restaurants. A majority of both employers (56.5 per cent) and workers (50.2 per cent) stated they thought the government was going in the wrong direction on this issue -- saying that kids as young as 12 were too young to be employed. It is particularly interesting to note employers were more opposed to 12-year-olds working than workers were.
In the case of farmworkers, the Employment Standards Code currently excludes this group of workers from most protections. Farmworkers have no right to a minimum wage, to limits on hours of work, to overtime pay or to statutory holiday pay. They also are not protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Only 15 per cent of employers and 16 per cent of workers believe these exemptions are fair. The vast majority of Albertans want some or all of the exclusions removed. In other words, Albertans appreciate that farmworkers have as much right to basic protections as the rest of us. The poll also revealed Albertans want some consideration for family farms, demonstrating they know the difference between a small family operation and a big industrial farm.
Too bad the Conservatives can't see the difference.
I could go on and on with evidence from the poll, but the overall message is clear -- Albertans want the government to move on updating the code and fixing its more glaring inequities. So why haven't they?
I don't believe governments should govern by poll, but this is not a case of being driven by polling. The changes Albertans are asking for also make good sense. They are fair and reflect the modern realities of work in Alberta. And how often do you get employers and workers agreeing about things?
On the issue of employment standards, Albertans are way out in front of their government. The Conservatives need to snap out of their summer slumber and fix the Employment Standards Code. We need to see amendments to the code in the upcoming fall sitting.
It is time to bring our code into the 21st century and up to the level that Albertans expect.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Sept 1 2008
Byline: Gil McGowan
EDMONTON _ The Alberta government is bracing for protests after introducing what critics are calling anti-union changes to the province's labour code.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau has confirmed that extra sheriffs have been brought to the legislature this week in case of any unruly demonstrations.
The legislation bans strikes and lockouts for ambulance workers and prevents unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The changes will also prevent union-supporting workers from joining a non-union company to kick start the process of unionizing the firm _ a practice known as salting.
NDP Leader Brian Mason says the legislation is an act of ''revenge'' for the union-sponsored attack ads used against Premier Ed Stelmach during the recent Alberta election campaign.
A spokesman for the Alberta Building Trades Council did not appear overly concerned by the legislation and says the practice of salting is nearly obsolete in the province.
But the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees reacted much more strongly, suggesting the legislation violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of association.
''This is what Conservatives do _ squeeze workers for the benefit of employers,'' federation president Gil McGowan said in a media release Monday.
''The Conservatives have long been anti-labour and this bill is their latest attempt to kick workers in the shins. They are simply using their new majority to exercise their anti-worker reflexes,'' he added.
McGowan also noted the bill has been timed to keep wages down during the province's economic boom.
Doug Knight of the provincial employees' union said the law ought to be changed so that there is one labour law for everyone, instead of the current system where there is a separate Public Service Employee Relations Act.
Knight said his union also wants other changes, like automatic certification without a vote when more than half the employees in a workplace sign union cards.
''Albertans are now seeing government that is willing to use its election majority to make drastic decisions behind closed doors,'' Knight said in a news release.
The EnergyNews.com, Wed Jun 11 2008
The Alberta legislature ended the spring session with the passage of controversial changes to the province's labour laws.
The Alberta government introduced Bill 26, the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2008, in the afternoon on June 2. After more than eight hours of debate, the bill passed at around 3:15 a.m. on June 5.
The new bill requires employees in the construction sector to have worked for an employer for 30 days, before participating in a union certification vote. Even when a union earns the right to certify, employees will have 90 days to reconsider their decision to join a union.
The government designed the new provisions to prevent salting - planting unionized workers on a construction site before a certification vote - as a union organizing tactic in the construction sector. The unions see Bill 26 as a ban on union organizing for short-term projects.
The creation of market enhancement recovery funds (MERFs), which were used by union contractors to submit more competitive bids for projects in relation to non-union contractors, has also been restricted.
"It was absolutely wonderful in terms of dealing with this issue. It has been a long time coming. From our perspective this has been studied and studied and recommended and recommended," said vice president of Merit Alberta, Bill Stewart, who was in the legislature for two days listening to the debate on Bill 26. "This is good news and its been a long time in coming."
According to Stewart, Merit was part of a government committee in 2002, which produced a report called Building A Labour Relations Code for the 21st Century.
"We (Merit) identified MERFing and salting as the two main problems in the construction industry," he said.
Opponents to Bill 26 are concerned about the pace at which the bill was passed by the legislature. They believe this process prevented proper consultation and debate on the issue.
"We knew they would ram it through. We were working with the opposition to continue the debate and try to force the government to explain why legislation was actually needed. There is no compelling reason why these changes had to be made," said president Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"The challenge we face is that the government made a decision to hit us hard and fast, in order to limit our ability to respond before the legislation was passed. We had less than 72 hours to digest the legislation, contact our members and organize a response."
Stewart said he isn't concerned about the fast tracking of Bill 26, because these issues have been discussed by the industry for years.
"This is an outstanding issue. To suggest the government has sprung something on people, that they were not aware about, is not accurate," he said.
"They are cleaning up outstanding pieces of business and this is just some housekeeping they have acted on."
McGowan said he believes the main motivation behind the changes to the labour code was a desire by the government to help a close friend.
"This bill was a gift to non-union contractors, in particular, Merit Contractors Association, who have been pushing for these changes for at least five years," he said.
"Some say the bill is retaliation for the advertising campaign we ran during the last provincial election, but the roots of this bill run much deeper. Both Klein and Stelmach have been considering these changes for at least five years."
Stewart has a different view about how the legislative process works.
"We put our case to the government and the unions put their case to the government. At the end of the day, the government took our side," he said. "If Bill 26 is a reward and we are such good friends with the government, why did it take 15 years?"
For McGowan, the Conservative government is just doing what all Conservative governments do.
"The government is using their legislative power to stack a deal against the working people, by making it harder to organize and exercise the constitutionally protected right to join a union," he said.
The AFL is consulting with a lawyer, but no legal action can be taken until Bill 26 is fully implemented.
"We need a live issue. As soon as an employer uses this legislation to stop an organizing drive, we will challenge this bill under the charter," he said. "We don't know how long it will take to get an appropriate case."
Journal of Commerce, Wed Jun 11 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert