Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford is picking sides in the labour dispute at the Shaw Conference Centre by refusing to meet with striking workers to discuss possible ways to end the strike, the Alberta Federation of Labour says today. The union had wanted to meet with the Minister to discuss the possibility of appointing a mediator or disputes resolution panel to end the strike.
"I fail to understand why the Minister is refusing to meet with us," says AFL President Les Steel. "But all appearances point toward the conclusion that the Minister does not want a resolution of this dispute."
The AFL sent a letter to the Minister (attached) requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility of a mediator or a disputes resolution panel to resolve the strike. The Minister's office replied indicating the Minister will not meet with the union or the AFL about the strike until it is ended.
"This is a classic catch-22. The Minister won't talk about a strike until there isn't a strike anymore."
Steel believes that by refusing to meet, the Minister is, in effect, taking sides in the dispute. "The employer has been convicted of bargaining in bad faith. They have shown themselves time and time again to be uninterested in finding a resolution to this dispute."
"But due to Alberta's weak labour laws, there is no penalty that can be imposed on the employer for their bad faith tactics. That leaves the Minister as the only recourse."
Which means, says Steel, that the Minister is passively condoning the illegal actions of the employer. "He is saying to those workers that he sides with the employer."
The Act allows the Minister to unilaterally appoint a panel to examine the outstanding issues and issue a recommendation. He has appointed such panels in the past, including during the ambulance workers strike.
"He seems willing to act when the employer wants a panel, but sits on his hands if the union wants one," Steel observes.
The Shaw Conference workers are on strike to reach a first agreement. They have been on strike for more than three months. Last month, the employer, Economic Development Edmonton, was found guilty by the labour relations board of bargaining in bad faith.
For more Information, contact:
Les Steel, President @ (780) 499-4135 (cell)
August 9, 2002
The Honourable Clint Dunford
Minister of Human Resources and Employment
Government of Alberta
Room 324, Legislature Building
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Dear Mr. Dunford:
I am writing to you regarding the strike at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre, which has now dragged on for over three months. I understand that Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401, has written to you requesting that you establish a Disputes Inquiry Board, under the provisions of Section 105 of the Alberta Labour Relations Code. I would like to assure you that the Alberta Federation of Labour supports that request, and urge you to act on it with all dispatch.
The Federation believes that the Employer's conduct in this strike is undermining the collective bargaining process and the intent of the Code. Specifically, the Employer is flagrantly disregarding a decision of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. On July 2nd, 2002 the ALRB rendered a decision finding that Economic Development Edmonton (EDE) had violated Section 60 (1) (b) of the Code, by failing to bargain in good faith. The decision outlined a pattern of misbehaviour by the EDE in unusually explicit language:
The Employer put forward proposals that it knew could never be accepted by the Union, in the context of this case. Some of the obvious areas of concern by the Union were with respect to basic and fundamental provisions such as union recognition and union security, and the Employer's insistence that it should be able to discipline and terminate employees without just cause. We find that the Employer insisted on its positions without a realistic possibility of change which forced the Union into a strike."
In its decision, the ALRB ordered the Employer to "Bargain collectively in good faith and make every reasonable effort to enter into a Collective Agreement." In response, EDE made minor cosmetic adjustments to its proposals and continued to stymie the negotiation process.
To give just one example: As you know, Section 135 of the Code requires that every Collective Agreement contain a method for resolving differences over the interpretation of the Agreement - a grievance procedure. Section 136 provides that if an Agreement does not have such a provision, it shall be deemed to contain a provision laid out in Section 136, which includes an arbitration procedure in the event the parties are unable to resolve an issue. This is, for example, the standard way Unions and Employers resolve grievances around issues of discipline on the rare occasions they are unable to reach a resolution internally.
These provisions of the Code are designed to set a minimum standard for Collective Agreements. But the EDE has proposed contract language that would remove from an arbitrator any discretion over appropriate punishment for employee misconduct, substituting instead automatic termination for any one of a long list of offences, regardless of circumstances. In other words, EDE is trying to "underbargain" the minimum standards of the Code.
In correspondence dated July 23rd (three weeks after the ALRB decision) signed by EDE legal representative Fausto Franceschi and addressed to Mr. O'Halloran, EDE outlines proposals that it knows cannot be accepted by the Union. Appended to two of these proposals is the following remark:
"EDE's proposal also reflects EDE's belief that the union continues to have minimal bargaining unit support. Almost all EDE bargaining unit employees continue to attend work as scheduled despite the union initiating strike action against EDE on May 3, 2002. Moreover, we are aware that a significant number of employees working at the Shaw Conference Centre have expressed the view that they do not consider themselves to be represented by the union, nor do they want any further involvement with the union. This, in part, explains EDE's position regarding union security."
In this statement EDE is announcing that, notwithstanding the results of a certification vote supervised by the Alberta Labour Relations Board, it is not prepared to treat the Union as the legitimate representative of the employees at the Centre!
This is not just a strike that has dragged on too long. By ignoring or circumventing decisions of the ALRB, by continuing to bargain in bad faith, the EDE is undermining the integrity of the Collective Bargaining process in Alberta, as well as the legislation that governs labour relations and the body that applies and enforces that legislation.
That is why the Federation urges you to respond favourably to the request of Mr. O'Halloran and the United Food and Commercial Workers, and exercise your authority under Section 105 of the Code to establish a Disputes Inquiry Board.
ALBERTA FEDERATION OF LABOUR
The Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the establishment of a Tory MLA committee to decide if the Labour Relations Code should be revamped by questioning the real motivations of the Minister.
"We think this could be a Trojan horse for the union busters in the province," says AFL President Les Steel. "The people affected by the act - unionized employers and employees - have not been calling for a review any time soon. We think this is coming from people who hate unions on principle."
Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford is saying he wants the changes to the Code to be small, Steel indicates that he does not trust that to happen. "Despite his intentions, we don't trust that he can keep the issue under control. His track record in delivering on his promises lately has been poor," says Steel, referring to recent political defeats for the Minister, including the WCB Longstanding Claims Tribunal and raising welfare rates.
The AFL is suspicious of the process involved in the new MLA committee, to be chaired by Tory MLA Richard Marz. "Why is it not an all-party committee? That decision alone makes it feel like the deck is stacked."
Steel also points out that the summer is the hardest time for unions to participate in such a review. "Why is it happening in the summer? Could it be they want to discourage union participation?"
Steel indicates that Alberta's labour laws are already among the most employer-leaning in the country. "It is very difficult to organize workers in this province, the laws are so stacked against workers. What more do employers want? A ban on unions?"
The AFL will mobilize its affiliates to respond to this review to make sure labour's voice is heard. "Despite being the summer, we will get our members moving on this issue. We have to. Too much is at stake."
"Last time they reviewed the Labour Code, it became the worst in the country. Working people need to fight to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again." Steel concluded.
For more Information, contact:
Les Steel, President @ (780)483-3021(work) or (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)
EDMONTON - In an effort to show support for striking workers at the Shaw Conference Centre, the Alberta Federation of Labour is urging unions and union members to boycott the facility.
In a letter to more than 200 locals, provincial and national presidents, AFL president Les Steel asked unions to cancel events at the conference centre and encourage members to stop attending things like concerts and trade shows held there.
"Appeals to fairness and decency haven't worked," said Steel. "So maybe they'll start to pay attention when we hit them in their pocketbooks."
Steel admits that unions are not the biggest users of the conference centre - but they still represent a significant amount of business, especially when you include all the union members who individually attend functions held at the centre.
In response to the AFL's call for a boycott, the Alberta Teachers Association and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters have already agreed to take their business elsewhere. The ATA will also be encouraging local school principals to move events such as graduations out of the conference centre.
Workers at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton have been on strike for more than two weeks in an effort to win a first collective agreement.
Steel points out that the workers aren't asking for the moon. They're satisfied with their current wage level, so money isn't an issue. What they're really looking for is protection from unfair treatment. In particular, they want the conference centre to stop its practice of classifying people as part-timers even when they work full-time hours. And they want something done about racism, harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
"This is clearly a group of workers that needs a union and the protection that a collective agreement can bring," says Steel. "A boycott of the facility is the least we can do to help them win a fair deal."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 483-3021 or (780) 499-4135 (cell)
Marking the 7th International Day of Mourning, the Alberta Federation of Labour is asking why workplace deaths are given much lower priority than other causes of death. The AFL suggests that any other thing that killed two people a week would be called an epidemic.
Sunday April 28th is the International Day of Mourning, and is recognized around the world as the day to remember workers who have been killed and injured due to work. Day of Mourning started in Canada in 1986 after the labour movement persuaded the House of Commons to proclaim the day.
"If a disease killed two people a week every year, we might call it an epidemic," says AFL President Les Steel. "There would be millions poured into research and prevention."
"Last year in Alberta 118 workers were killed because of work - and that is just the official figure," Steel points out. "That is more than two workers a week. And the rate has remained that high for years now."
But, Steel points out, the Alberta government only puts $4 per worker into health and safety enforcement and prevention. By comparison, the meningitis outbreak in Alberta has killed 4 people. The Alberta government launched a $22 million campaign to immunize young people from the disease.
"Meningitis is a serious disease that deserves prompt preventative action such as immunization," says Steel. "My question is why does the death of 118 workers each year not spark the same concern?"
"The answer is that still too many people, including the Alberta government, believe that workplace accidents are just another cost of doing business. What we need is a zero tolerance policy on workplace accidents."
Steel points out that the government refuses to even lower flags to half-mast on April 28 in respect for the 118 killed workers. "We made a request to the Minister to lower flags on that day, but he refused outright. This says a lot about what kind of priority he places on injured workers."
The City of Edmonton and other Alberta municipalities regularly proclaim Day of Mourning. Flags at City of Edmonton buildings will be flown at half mast on Sunday. "I can't see why the provincial government can't do the same."
"We want to use the Day of Mourning to recommit ourselves to working for safer workplaces and an end to workplace death. We want every worker in Alberta to make it home safe at the end of the work day," Steel concludes.
For more information contact:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk)/780-499-4135 (cell)
Day of Mourning Ceremony
Sunday April 28
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Edmonton City Hall (City Room)
The Alberta Federation of Labour and the Edmonton and District Labour Council are co-sponsoring a ceremony to honour and remember workers who were killed and injured on the job. The ceremony is part of the 7th International Day of Mourning, which is observed around the world to recognize the tragedy of workplace death.
"Last year two workers were killed every week in Alberta," says AFL President Les Steel. "When one death is too many, what should we call 118 deaths?" In 2001, 118 workers were killed at work in the province. This is the same number as the year 2000.
Organizers of the event recognize that the Day of Mourning ceremony conflicts with the recently announced memorial for four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Plans for the Day of Mourning ceremony have been in the works for months, and the soldier's memorial was announced too late to permit organizers to alter plans.
"It is unfortunate that both events are happening at the same time," says Steel. "But we need to remember that the four soldiers were essentially workers at work. And in our efforts to acknowledge their sacrifice, we should not forget the 118 Albertans who made a similar sacrifice just to make a living and feed their family."
The event will include speakers, music and dramatic readings. The event will centre around the lighting of a Day of Mourning candle.
For More Information:
Jason Foster, AFL Director @ 780-483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - The decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal to over-turn a government back-to-work order involving thousands of striking teachers is a victory for teachers on several levels, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"On the most obvious level this is a victory for teachers because it allows them to resume their strike, if they so choose," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"On another level, it exposes the weakness in the government's arguments that teachers shouldn't be allowed to strike. The Premier has been threatening to introduce legislation defining teachers as an essential service. But if the court says a three-week strike does not constitute an emergency, how can the government justify revoking the teachers' right-to-strike?"
Steel says Chief Justice Allan Wachowich's decision is important because it recognizes that all strikes - by their very nature - cause some degree of hardship. Wachowich went on to say that the hardship caused by strikes is an acceptable price to be paid for living a democratic society.
"The alternative to strikes is imposing a system that turns workers into criminals if they choose to stand up for themselves," says Steel. "That's why these kinds of restrictions have been rejected by most western democracies. And it's why the United Nations has defined the right-to-strike as a basic democratic right along with things like freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech."
On a practical level, strikes can be messy and disruptive - but they are often the only way to resolve contentious disputes in the workplace, adds Steel.
"In most cases, the playing field is tilted sharply in favour of the employer when it comes to contract negotiations," he says. "Without the threat of strikes, employers have no real incentive to consider the concerns of their workers. So strikes clearly have a place. They're a tool of last resort - but if the right-to-strike is taken away, it turns negotiations into a farce where employers never have to compromise."
In the current situation with education in Alberta, Steel says the right-to-strike has served a valuable public service.
"Teachers in this province have been trying to get the government's attention for years with public relations campaigns and other less confrontational lobbying strategies - all to no avail," says Steel. "It got to the point where they felt a strike was the only way to force the government to acknowledge their concerns about things like classroom size and chronic under-funding. If teachers didn't have the right to strike, the government would just continue on with its head in the sand."
Given the important role that strikes and the threat of strikes can play in resolving disputes and bringing simmering issues out into the open where they can be dealt with, Steel says that the government should stop making threats about essential service legislation.
"The dispute with the teachers is not going to be resolved by the government antagonizing teachers," says Steel. "What's really needed is for the government to stop hiding behind the school boards and acknowledge that they - as the central funding authority - need to get to the table and compromise. The government needs to accept responsibility for providing adequate funding for schools in this province."
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)
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)
EDMONTON - The government can use its legal clout to force teachers back to work, but they can't make teachers and parents forget their concerns about over-crowded classrooms and chronic under-funding, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Using a back-to-work order may end the strike, but it will do nothing to address the problems that caused the dispute in the first place," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"As long as these problems remain unaddressed, teachers and parents will continue to be angry and dissatisfied - and the quality of education in our province will continue to suffer."
Steel says Premier Ralph Klein and Education minister Lyle Oberg are deluding themselves if they think that everything will return to business as usual once teachers are back on the classroom.
"The problem with these kinds of heavy-handed tactics is that they almost always backfire," says Steel. "Sure, you can force people back to work. But the government is running the risk of poisoning labour relations in Alberta schools for years to come."
Steel says that if the teachers don't feel they're being fairly treated, more and more of them are simply going to quit and it will become more difficult to attract new people to the profession.
"So, by playing tough-guy today, the government may win a short-term victory. But there will be a big price to pay in the long-run."
Steel also expressed skepticism about government plans to bring in a mediator if teachers and school boards are not able to reach an agreement by March 16.
"Arbitration only works if the arbitrator is completely independent and not a puppet of the government. We don't have confidence that this will be the case when it comes to the teachers' dispute," says Steel.
Steel says that the real problem - the problem that has been at the heart of the things since negotiations began - is that the government is refusing to put more money on the table.
"By refusing to consider new funding, the government is not giving the either school boards or the arbitrator any room to move," says Steel. "As a result, the arbitration process will be a sham - it's really just a front for an imposed settlement."
Steel says that what's really needed to end the dispute with the teachers is for the government to stop hiding behind the school boards and acknowledge that more provincial money is needed to properly fund schools throughout the province.
"I have no doubt that a settlement can be reached with the teachers without having to resort to heavy-handed legal action," says Steel. "But it's not going to happen until the provincial government acknowledges its responsibilities and gives the school boards the resources they need to reduce class sizes and pay teachers a fair wage."
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 483-3021 (wk) 499-4135 (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)