The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) jointly announced today that they are withdrawing their legal action against the Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB) regarding the drafting of Bill 27 in 2003.
The announcement comes following an agreement between the parties and the LRB to create a protocol outlining the role of the LRB in creating legislation. The LRB released its "Guidelines for Consultation on Legislation", signed by the Chair and all Vice-Chairs, this morning. (Read the LRB Protocol)
"With the new protocol announced today, the Alberta Labour Relations Board has created some of the best rules in the country for accountability, transparency and guarantees of neutrality," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "We are pleased with the outcome of this case."
The protocol guarantees that LRB officials will not participate in the drafting of legislation, and that any technical assistance provided to the government will be fully disclosed. Any LRB official who participates in briefing the government will recuse themselves from any hearing related to the matter. In addition, the LRB will institute new, tougher rules governing outside counsel.
"We see this protocol as a model for transparency that should be applied to all boards and agencies in Alberta," says McGowan. "This is a significant victory for all Albertans interested in good governance."
The lawsuit surrounds the issue of LRB officials assisting the government in the drafting of Bill 27, a bill that restructured health care labour relations and stripped health care workers of many labour rights. The incident raised questions in the minds of the labour movement about the independence and neutrality of the Board.
"We launched the legal action two years ago because we felt that the LRB�s involvement in drafting Bill 27 showed a lack of transparency in a body that must be neutral and at arms length from government," says UNA President Heather Smith.
"It made a sham of the consultative process when legislation that affected tens of thousands of health workers was created behind closed doors. That made it hard to count on fairness and impartiality. Today, with the new protocol, we take the first steps in repairing that damage," she says.
The protocol adopts the principles and recommendations outlined in a study commissioned last year by the AFL. The so-called Sossin Report (titled: The Independent Board and the Legislative Process) outlined the need for a clear and transparent protocol regarding interactions between the LRB and the Alberta government.
"The protocol announced today reflects, in a substantive fashion, the recommendations in the Sossin Report," says McGowan.
The protocol brings to an end the ongoing legal dispute between the unions and the LRB. The case was scheduled to go to the Court of Appeals this week. "This satisfied many of our concerns regarding the role of the LRB in drafting legislation," says Smith.
"We may still have some of the worst labour laws in Canada, but this protocol makes it clear that the Board's only role will be to interpret those bad laws, not help write them," McGowan concludes.
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President Bus: (780) 483-3021 Cell: (780) 218-9888
Heather Smith, UNA President Bus: (780) 425-1025
The Alberta Federation of Labour has learned the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) has altered its policy regarding the hiring of minors to work in bars and lounges. Effectively immediately, bar and lounge owners can apply to use 12-17 year-olds in the kitchen area of their establishments.
The AFL received a copy of an email (dated March 15, 2007) widely distributed by the Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (CRFA) trumpeting the decision. An AFL staffer subsequently confirmed the change this morning with the AGLC's Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs. This follows the decision last year by the Alberta government to allow restaurants to hire 12 to 14 year-olds.
"Minors aren't allowed in bars, but they can toil away in the kitchens of bars. The logic of this is beyond belief," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "No one can convince me that a bar atmosphere is appropriate for a young teenager. Drunk patrons, worldly staff and alcohol sales add up to an adult environment, both in the bar and behind the scenes. It is no place for a 12-year old."
The AGLC indicates the change was made at the request of the CRFA due to their claims of labour shortages.
"The Alberta government has its priorities completely backward," says McGowan. "It is supposed to protect our kids, but instead it slavishly serves the self-interests of an industry with a spotty employment track record."
"Hiring 12-year olds to work in restaurants is indefensible enough. Hiring them to work in bars is a whole new level of appalling."
The AGLC says it will weigh the merits of each application, denying applications for employers who have breached their licenses in some way. "I�ll believe it when I see it," responds McGowan. "Where are the checks and balances?"
"Who will stand up to protect our young people from being exploited? Clearly not the Conservative government," McGowan concludes.
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For More Information
Gil McGowan Cell: (780) 218-9888
Striking workers at Palace Casino in West Edmonton Mall have won a major victory in arbitration, one that imposes a stinging penalty for flagrant employer misconduct. In an award issued yesterday regarding a grievance filed before the strike began, an arbitrator has awarded monetary damages to UFCW Local 401, and to the individual members at Palace Casino.
The ruling found that an employer ban on the wearing of union pins was discriminatory, and a deprivation of employee rights to freedom of expression and the union's ability to represent its members. The arbitrator therefore awarded $10,000 to the union, $500 to each employee, and a further $1,000 to employees who were confronted in the workplace and ordered to remove their union pins.
The grievance stems from UFCW's campaign to become certified as the union representing workers at Palace Casino, after the employer withdrew an existing voluntary recognition of the union. The fact that a collective agreement was already in place, however, meant that employee rights were already protected by a contract. After hearing argument from both sides, the arbitrator ruled that:
"I find that the company's breach was committed intentionally to prevent employees from exhibiting support for UFCW. I believe that this was done in the hope that it would discourage Union membership and increase the likelihood that the Union's certification bid would fail."
Doug O'Halloran, president of UFCW 401 said: the award provides a big boost to the morale of the striking workers. "We've won an important victory with this grievance, and by sticking together we can win an even bigger one in this strike."
AFL President Gil McGowan agrees. "This ruling shows that employers can't get away with trampling over the Charter rights of their employees, at least not when there's a union in the workplace to defend those rights."
For more information contact:
Gil McGowan Cell: (780) 218-9888
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today urged Employment, Immigration and Industry Minister Iris Evans to extend basic employment rights and protections to Alberta farmworkers. In a letter to the Minister, AFL President Gil McGowan suggested that the issue needs to be dealt with now to prevent future tragedies in the industry.
"It is unconscionable that the only time attention is paid to the plight of farmworkers is in the aftermath of tragedies like the recent fatal traffic accident in BC or the death of Kevan Chandler on a farm near Black Diamond last June," says McGowan.
"I have asked Minister Evans to act now to extend basic workplace protections to Alberta farmworkers," says McGowan.
According to McGowan, Alberta farmworkers enjoy even less protection than their counterparts in BC. "Alberta farmworkers have no basic employment protections such as minimum wage, limits on hours of work, rest breaks, overtime or statuary holiday pay" says McGowan. "They enjoy no health and safety protection, nor do they qualify for WCB when they get injured."
McGowan has asked for a meeting to discuss the urgency of the issue with the Minster.
"If we begin the process to correct this social injustice now," concludes McGowan, "we can prevent future farmworker fatalities and suffering in Alberta."
For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President Cell: (780) 218-9888
Against the objections of their union, the Alberta Labour Relation Board (LRB) has ruled that striking Palace Casino workers in Edmonton must vote on an employer offer that the union categorized as "illegal, contrary to the scheme of the Code, a product of a failure to bargain in good faith , and incapable of forming a collective agreement."
"This decision once again illustrates why the labour movement has become increasingly frustrated and unhappy with the Alberta Labour Relations Board," says Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan. "We don't object to free votes on fair offers - but we oppose forced votes on unfair offers. We recognize that such forced votes are unfortunately allowed by the Code, but the Board should have been more attentive to union objections and the impact on striking workers."
"Palace Casino has forced its workers on strike because they refuse to recognize the value of their own workers in Alberta's booming economy," observes McGowan. "After four months on the picket line through bitter weather, it has become clear that the company could not break the spirit of the union members. That's why the company is forcing this vote now."
The problem with this employer tactic, according to McGowan is that it short-circuits the bargaining process. "Rather than negotiate a fair deal with the bargaining team, the employer is trying to go behind their backs and bully workers into an inferior deal," notes McGowan. "When that offer includes things that were deemed improper by the Board, it should not be forced on union members."
The union has also complained that the Board excised the important �back-to-work protocol' from the agreement rather than fixing it. This back-to-work agreement is not only typical of collective agreements after strikes - they are essential to protect union activists from employer reprisals.
The fact that the forced offer includes a signing bonus is another indication of double-dealing, according to McGowan. "Signing bonuses are a cheap attempt to convince workers to act against their own best interests," says McGowan. "If the offer isn't good enough on its own merit, simply waving cash under the noses of people who have been on strike for four months is both underhanded and demeaning.
"The Labour Relations Board shouldn't need to be reminded that it is here to safeguard workers' rights and help create good labour relations. Their mandate doesn't include helping employers sell bad agreements," concludes McGowan.
For more information contact: Gil McGowan Bus: (780) 483-3021 Cell: (780) 218-9888
At its October meeting, the Executive Council of the Alberta Federation of Labour approved a new Policy Statement on Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing that clarifies labour's position on the issue and takes into consideration recent court decisions which have shifted the ground on mandatory testing.
AFL President Gil McGowan indicates the AFL's last policy was passed in 2001. "It was time for an update. We kept our core principles opposing mandatory drug testing, but added in a more detailed analysis of the legal status of testing.
"In short, the policy clearly opposes all forms of employer-imposed drug and alcohol testing," says McGowan. "It does so for two reasons. First, it is an unreasonable invasion of workers' privacy and in many cases contravenes the human rights code."
"Second, quite frankly drug and alcohol testing doesn't work. It does not make workplaces safer," says McGowan. He notes the Alberta government's own research shows that testing cannot be shown to reduce work-related injuries.
"Our belief is that employers are using drug testing as a method of exerting control over their workforce, not to make workplaces safer."
The Policy offers information and alternatives to workers and unions who are facing employers trying to impose mandatory testing. "Our policy statement is urging our affiliate unions to push back against employers trying to implement invasive and possibly illegal testing programs."
Recent court decisions, such as Chiasson and Jacknife/Collins, have further restricted what testing programs are allowed under law. "We intend on informing our members fully of what employers can and cannot do legally. And rest assured, if an employer tries to implement something of dubious legality, our affiliates will fight hard against it," observes McGowan.
Specifically, the policy also opposes the use of pre-employment testing, random testing and post-incident testing. It also puts the AFL on record opposing the so-called "Canadian Model" which is widespread in the construction industry.
Finally, the policy offers practical alternatives to testing which are shown to be more effective at making workplaces safer without contravening workers' rights.
"We know the issue of drug testing is huge issue that is not going away. We want to make sure workers are fully informed of their rights, and fully prepared to defend themselves," McGowan concludes.
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For more Information:
Gil McGowan, President Tel: (780) 483-3021 Cell: (780) 218-9888
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis Tel: (780) 483-3021
The issue of drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is an evolving area of employment law. It is also a fundamental issue of worker rights versus limit to employer control over its employees. ... Given the changing nature of the issue, the AFL felt it was time to update its policy statement from Convention 2001.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner today ordered the Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB) to release approximately 200 records to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) pertaining to the drafting of the controversial Bill 27, which restructured health care labour relations and stripped health care workers of many rights. The Commissioner also chastised the LRB for "failing" in its duty to assist an applicant under the Freedom of Information Act. (Read Commissioner's Decision)
The AFL has been trying since June, 2003 to access records revealing communications between key officials at the LRB and government officials regarding the drafting of Bill 27. The Commissioner's order is the latest revelation in an ongoing scandal where LRB officials may have breached their role as independent arbiters of labour law by assisting in the drafting of government legislation.
Last November, two memos were accidentally released which revealed significant communication about the content of Bill 27. At the time the Privacy Commissioner and the LRB took the AFL to court to try to get back the documents. The Court denied the request.
"This is a significant victory," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "For three years the LRB has stonewalled and hidden behind a veil of secrecy around Bill 27. We are pleased the Privacy Commissioner recognized the important right to access these documents."
There are two parts to the Commissioner's ruling. First, he ruled the LRB must disclose portions of documents that reveal who was involved in creating, drafting, editing or commenting on legislation, as well as the dates of those communications. Second, he ruled the LRB failed in its legal duties under FOIP by issuing an incomplete response and by delaying the release of other documents.
"We are hopeful that the nature of the documents released - including dates and names - will be enough to finally answer our questions about the LRB's involvement in the creation of Bill 27," says McGowan. "Answers that are long overdue."
Under the terms of the Order, the LRB has 50 days to release the documents to the AFL or to decide to file a judicial review. McGowan hopes that the LRB finally chooses to be transparent. "Many of the documents in question, including some not disclosed today, are in the discretion of the LRB to release voluntarily. The LRB should clear the air in this matter once and for all by releasing all the records in its discretion."
McGowan also called on the LRB to adopt the recommendations of the Sossin Report, released by the AFL in June, as a method to preventing future scandals.
"It is particularly ironic that this order comes down in the middle of the government's Right to Know Week. Clearly as far as the LRB is concerned, the right to know is on a need to know basis." McGowan concluded.
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For More Information:
Gil McGowan, AFL President Cell: (780) 218-9888
Jason Foster, AFL Director of Policy Analysis Tel: (780) 483-3021
Backgrounder: Bill 27 and Freedom of Information
September 27, 2006
- In March, 2003 the Government of Alberta introduced and passed Bill 27, the awkwardly-named Labour Relations (Regional Health Authorities Restructuring) Amendment Act, at the request of Health Care employers.
- Bill 27 radically changed the face of Health Care industrial relations in Alberta by:
a) Removing the right to strike from thousands of union members in areas like Community Health, Mental Health and Extended Care;
b) Forcing unions into run-off votes against each other, denying workers in smaller groups the right to choose the union they wanted to represent them;
c) Tearing up dozens of signed collective agreements.
- The implementation of these sweeping changes was made the responsibility of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. In order to function, the Labour Relations Board must function as a neutral umpire in labour relations.
- In June, 2003 the AFL filed a Freedom of Information request with the ALRB, asking for any record of the Board's correspondence with the government, employers, or unions concerning Bill 27. We wanted to try to determine the nature and extent of employer influence on the drafting and implementation of the bill.
- The LRB responded to the request with a one-page refusal, declining to disclose even a single record. In justification, the Board cited three sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- In the fall of 2003, health care unions and the AFL challenged the process in court, alleging that the conduct of the Board gave unions a reason to fear bias in its rulings. This allegation was supported by information from FOIP requests made to other parts of government.
- The court challenge was lost in court of Queen's Bench, and is now proceeding to the Court of Appeals.
- The AFL then proceeded to appeal the Board's decision to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
- In November 2005 the inquiry produced (possibly through an accidental release) several documents that seemed to confirm that the Board played an active part in the creation of Bill 27.
- On September 27, 2006, the Information Commissioner released his decision. Among other issues decided, the Commissioner rejected the ALRB argument that it had the right to withhold any and all records relating to advice given to Cabinet, including even the names of those giving advice and the dates on which it was given. The Commissioner has ordered the Board to "sever" many of the documents, withholding only those portions properly exempted by Section 24 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
- This would mean that the Board has to disclose:
a) The names of those sending and receiving the documents.
b) The dates on which the documents were sent.
c) The subject matter lines in the emails or letters.
- The AFL hopes that the information received as a result of this decision may help to fill in some of the gaps in the Bill 27 story.
- The Commissioner also ruled that the ALRB had failed to meet its duty under FOIPPA, by improperly withholding documents, delaying the release of documents, and by failing to provide information as required by the Act.
- The Federation has called on the ALRB to adopt a set of protocols to prevent future incidences of real or perceived bias on the part of the Board. The protocols in question were drafted by Lorne Sossin, Associate Dean at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and Charles Smith of York University. Professor Sossin is an acknowledged expert in administrative law.
- The AFL is also asking ALRB Chair Mark Asbell to use the discretion granted him under the FOIPPA to release all the relevant documentation relating to Bill 27.
The death of Kevan Chandler in a farm accident near Black Diamond, Alberta that left his wife, Lorna, and two young children in dire financial straits tragically illustrates the need for immediate government action to protect farmworkers.
"It is unforgivable for the Alberta government to continue to exclude farmworkers from basic employment standards and occupational health and safety (OH&S) regulations in the light of this tragedy," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "We need occupational health and safety regulations for farmworkers and mandatory WCB coverage for farmworkers," says McGowan. "The first may have prevented this tragedy and the second would have at least ensured that the widow and her children were financially secure."
Other provinces, like Ontario and Manitoba are already moving to correct this fundamental injustice with Ontario already covering farmworkers under health & safety regulations and Manitoba moving to include farmworkers under employment standards legislation. "It is past time for Alberta to stop treating farmworkers like second class citizens," says McGowan, "and to bring its legislation into the 21st century."
"August 20th is National Farmworkers Day," (click here for more on Farmworker Day) notes McGowan. "We don't want to be marking it every year with another memorial for farmworkers killed on the job. It's time for this government to act."
In an effort to provide some immediate assistance for Lorna Chandler and her two young children, the Alberta Federation of Labour has raised $3000 for her which will be presented at a fund-raiser in Turner Valley organized by the Farmworkers Union of Alberta on Sunday, August 20th at 12:00 noon.
Further support will be considered at the next AFL Executive Council meeting scheduled for October, 2006.
For more information on the AFL's End the Drought campaign for farmworkers, click here.
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
EDMONTON-The AFL today released a study conducted by Dr. Lorne Sossin, Associate Dean of Law at the University of Toronto, examining the conduct of the Alberta Labour Relations Board in the wake of the Bill 27 controversy. Dr. Sossin's report, called The Independent Board and the Legislative Process (Read the Report here), assesses the actions of LRB officials during and since Bill 27, and compares Alberta to other jurisdictions in Canada.
Sossin's Report has three key findings:
- The undisclosed involvement of the Board Chair in a legislative process is "problematic and damaging".
- Other jurisdictions hold their LRBs to a higher standard than Alberta does.
- The Board failed to ensure proper transparency for its actions, which undermined the integrity of the Board among its stakeholders.
"Dr. Sossin's report articulates very clearly that the Alberta Labour Relations Board failed in a number of serious respects to uphold its obligations for transparency, impartiality and integrity," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "These findings are serious and require immediate attention by the LRB and the Alberta government to address shortcomings identified by Dr. Sossin."
Sossin's report was commissioned by the AFL in March, following the release of memos indicating that senior LRB officials participated in the drafting of Bill 27. Bill 27 was legislation forcing the amalgamation of bargaining units in health care and removing basic legal rights from many health care workers. It is generally considered inappropriate for officials who will be charged with interpreting and enforcing legislation to participate in its creation.
The report has three key recommendations. First, it suggests that if the Alberta government wants the LRB to play a role in drafting legislation, it should say so in the Labour Relations Code. Second, the LRB should develop a protocol to protect the integrity of its proceedings. This protocol should include transparency to all parties when officials participate in legislation, and such officials should recuse themselves from hearing cases related to the legislation in question. Third, no member of the LRB should have a secret role in drafting legislation.
"The recommendations would go some distance to repairing the damaged reputation of the LRB," says McGowan. "We are open to discussing with LRB officials establishing an appropriate protocol to protect the integrity and impartiality of the Board."
The AFL calls upon LRB Chair Mark Asbell to move forward with the recommendations of Dr. Sossin's report. It is also looking for an open process for establishing protocols.
"The Bill 27 scandal has created a crisis in confidence between the labour movement and the LRB. This is an opportunity to begin the work of repairing the damage. But the ball is now in Mr. Asbell's court," McGowan concludes.
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For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 218-9888 (cell)