EDMONTON - The door is open much wider for temporary foreign workers in six construction jobs, and tradesmen from the U.S. can now pick up work permits at the airport, the federal immigration minister announced Monday.
But organized labour is worried Canadians may be left out if companies are no longer required to consider them first in six job categories.
At Alberta's request, the federal government has agreed to eliminate the requirement that an employer must prove that Canadians were not available (called a labour market opinion) in six job categories — welder, ironworker, carpenter, estimator, millwright and heavy duty equipment mechanic. Pipefitters have been coming for a year without a requirement for the LMO.
These are high-demand occupations and employers need to be able to recruit workers much faster to meet growing demand in the oilsands and in Edmonton, where the unemployment rate is 4.4 per cent, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
Once inside the province, temporary workers will now be able to take jobs with other employers when their first contracts are over, Kenney said. Previously, foreign workers could not change employers.
Kenney said he had no concerns about eliminating the requirement for the LMO, a document outlining evidence of a shortage in a particular category of worker and proof the employer had advertised in Canada for workers but got no response.
Kenney stressed he would rely on the provincial government to keep an eye on trends in construction employment to determine if the shortage turns into an oversupply of labour in those categories.
Kenney said he doesn't think the federal government will be "so keen" to open the doors that wide in other areas, including for unskilled temporary foreign workers.
Temporary foreign workers must have job offers and documents to prove they are qualified in a trade before getting work permits.
The new rules will help companies recruit in the U.S., where many construction workers remain unemployed, Kenney said. U.S. workers can work for three weeks and spend a week back home — a pattern common for many Canadians working in the oilsands.
But Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said it's a mistake to eliminate the LMO, the one check in the system that protected Canadian access to such jobs.
"We're troubled by this decision, which eliminates the checks and balance," said McGowan.
Alberta's non-union contractors gain a big advantage under the new system, he said. Along with elimination of the LMO, Prime Minister Stephen Harper three months ago announced foreign workers can be paid up to 15 per cent less than the going Canadian wage.
But union employers must abide by the collective agreement, said McGowan.
"This will help make foreign workers the first choice not the last resort," said McGowan.
"This is not about a labour shortage, it's a low wage strategy. This is mostly designed to give companies access to a big pool of construction labour in the U.S. that is desperate for jobs."
McGowan noted that half the companies looking for construction workers do not have apprenticeship training programs, and said those companies should not be allowed to bring in temporary workers.
"They don't want long-term solutions, they want quick fixes, and that's what Harper will give them."
Some parts of Canada have not recovered from the 2008 recession and unemployment remains high in parts of Eastern Canada, he said. "The federal government should be ashamed of itself given the high unemployment in some provinces."
Stephen Khan, Alberta's minister for enterprise and advanced education, said he's pleased with the new rules, which will create a fast track for six occupations by eliminating paperwork and weeks of waiting involved to obtain the LMO.
"We are engaging industry" to take a bigger role in recruiting labour, he said. "They can identify what they need and who they want."
Khan said he's not concerned there is no check in the system to make sure Canadians get first shot at the jobs. The government will be guided by "internal metrics" about the job market, he said.
"We have to make sure we stay ahead of the curve," said Khan.
In a meeting Monday with the Journal editorial board, Kenney noted there is high unemployment among aboriginal youth and up to 14 per cent of immigrants are jobless or chronically underemployed.
"I think employers have to do a lot more about skill training," he said.
Kenney said he is not considering extending permanent residency to temporary foreign workers, since that would add another 180,000 people to the 280,000 annually allowed into the country.
"If we were to grant residency to all, that would be 400,000 and I don't think that is sustainable."
The Edmonton Journal, July 16 2012
Byline: Sheila Pratt
Testing ineffective and invades privacy, says labour federation boss
Alberta labour advocates say random drug testing in the oilpatch isn't the answer to making workers safer.
Criticism of the tests followed the announcement Wednesday that three major oil companies will begin random drug screening of workers as part of an industry pilot project this fall.
Oil giants Suncor Energy, Total E&P Canada and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. have all signed onto the Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project, set to begin this fall.
While most oil companies already use some form of screening, DARRPP hopes to prove that random testing will significantly deter substance abuse in the workplace.
But according to some labour experts, random tests are not necessarily the best method for determining impairment.
"Drug tests, particularly pee tests, typically test for the presence of residue of previous or prior substance use, but that doesn't necessarily mean you are presently impaired," said the Athabasca University professor.
"And if it is not an effective way to determine present impairment, then what purpose does it serve other than to invade the privacy of employees?"
Alberta Federation of Labour boss Gil McGowan said he worries the measures are too heavy-handed.
"It's rare for workers to be under the influence of intoxicants in the workplace," said McGowan.
"This kind of testing is a gross overreaction. By their very nature, random tests are designed to sweep thousands of innocent workers into the net in the hopes of finding one or two under the influence."
But one of the top occupational drug testing services in the country says the new measures aren't all that drastic.
"This is certainly not anything new and drug and alcohol testing is very frequently done before anybody can get on site," said Peter Deines of Cannamm Occupational Testing Services.
Workers are tested routinely before accessing the site, whenever an employer has reasonable cause to be suspicious of substance abuse, and after any incidents, says Deines.
He said testing is not meant to be a 'witch hunt' and that all tests allow for a small amount of drugs in an individual's system to account for passive, or "indirect" exposure, such as second hand marijuana smoke.
"It's not a witch hunt. It's to determine the safety risk," he said.
News of the pilot project spread quickly in Alberta's bitumen capital.
A Fort McMurray DJ who posted a fake ad online offering tricks to cheat on drug tests said he's 'shocked' by the number of response the ad received.
Chris Byrne said the ad was viewed more than 50 times and that he received a dozen e-mail responses in under a day.
"I just wanted to see what the reaction would be," said the Rock 97.9 radio announcer. "I was shocked over the number of people who sent me an e-mail."
Byrne said responses to the ad ranged from curiosity over what was being offered to the logistics of how to obtain a "clean" urine sample.
But he added that most McMurrayites seem comfortable with the idea of random testing.
"People on site know that any incident that happens, they have to go for a drug test," said Byrne.
"I was kind of surprised at the number of people that weren't taking offence to the drug testing but were saying 'yeah this should be done'," said Byrne. "It was more like, 'let's try to make it safer'."
Calgary Herald, Fri Jun 22 2012
Byline: Meghan Potkins
The City of Edmonton is honouring the 100th anniversary of a local union with its very own dedicated week of recognition.
Mayor Stephen Mandel and numerous councillors were on hand at city hall on Monday to declare June 11 to 17 Alberta Federation of Labour Centennial Celebration Week.
"It's to recognize that it's the 100th anniversary, and the contributions they've made to the city and to the workers in the province," said Mandel.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) was first formed by workers and farmers in 1912.
Today, the AFL represents 145,000 workers across the province, comprised of 29 unions from the public and private sector.
"We're very proud of what our organization has been able to accomplish over the last 100 years," said ALF President Gill McGowan.
"Many of the battles that were started by my predecessors that many years ago have been won, frankly."
Initial AFL objectives included ending child labour, setting a minimum wage, establishing occupational health and safety regulations, and hammering out a standard 40-hour work week.
McGowan said that while workers are better off as a result of AFL's work over the past century, both the current federal and provincial governments threaten worker rights.
"The (Stephen) Harper government has used back to work legislation not once, not twice, but five times just in the last year alone. And now they're considering legislation that is going to make it much more difficult for unions to do the job that they need to do on behalf of working people," he said.
McGowan also points to election platform policies from Premier Alison Redford and the Alberta Progressive Conservatives that aim to close "frivolous lawsuit loopholes," and give union members the ability to opt-out of union dues that "fund activities unrelated to collective bargaining and grievance administration."
Other policy points include laws that make it mandatory for the AFL to provide annual financial statements for members to show "how dues were spent in the previous year."
"As we come together today to celebrate 100 years, we also have to remind ourselves that there are battles that still need to be fought in order to protect the right of workers to join together in unions and bargain collectively," said McGowan.
The week of celebration includes a large gathering at Fort Edmonton Park June 16 that includes games for kids, a seniors tea, BBQ buffet dinner and a salute to labour tribute.
Edmonton Sun, Tues June 14 2012
WASHINGTON — As a laboratory of democracy, the battle to recall Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin had all of the messy pieces: a clash of armies on the ground, the influence of a vast amount of money and the broader context of an improving but still sagging economy.Republicans harnessed it all to Mr. Walker's advantage, tapping into the public's queasiness about the wisdom of a recall and its divided opinions about union benefits to deliver a blunt warning to President Obama and Democrats about what they might face in November.
Mr. Walker's victory was helped by political crosscurrents unique to Wisconsin, where the historic union-led attempt to remove the governor halfway through his four-year term was the culmination of red-hot anger over his push to end collective bargaining for public workers. But the outcome also provided a kind of election-year exercise that put on full display the financial, economic and organizational forces that are already shaping the presidential contest between Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.
"Wisconsin was a microcosm of the national race," said Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, chairman of the Republican Governors Association. "The issues that Scott Walker campaigned and ran on are the same issues that are going to divide Mitt Romney and Barack Obama."
But whether Mr. Romney can produce the same result as Mr. Walker is unclear. Exit polls showed that 17 percent of the same voters who opposed the recall of their Republican governor also said they preferred Mr. Obama. Many also said Mr. Obama would do a better job on the economy and for the middle class than would Mr. Romney. And swing states, including Wisconsin, are generally doing better economically than the country as a whole.
Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney's campaign, said the Wisconsin vote underscores the power of the broader Republican argument in the presidential race about the size and role of government. But he noted that Wisconsin does not automatically lean Republican.
"I don't think we should assume that because there was a victory yesterday, there will be a victory in November in Wisconsin," Mr. Gillespie told reporters on Wednesday at a Bloomberg News breakfast. "I do think it's in play, and that's telling."
Although Mr. Obama kept his distance from the state in the final weeks of the union-led recall effort, his party, his campaign team and his labor allies exerted an enormous joint effort there that proved to be mismatched for the organized and well-financed Republican apparatus.
The corporate interests and billionaires who are pouring cash into Mr. Romney's "super PACs" gave millions to Mr. Walker. To combat those resources, Mr. Obama's campaign, aided by union allies, constructed a turnout machine in Wisconsin that they said will be a model for other battleground states.
More than 40 offices run by the Democratic National Committee and Mr. Obama's campaign deployed more than 100 paid staff members alongside union and state volunteers for months in what amounts to the first real test of the president's ground game before November's election.
Before Tuesday's vote, Democratic leaders had bragged about what they predicted would be their superior on-the-ground turnout efforts. In an interview late last month, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, called the Wisconsin recall a "dry run" for the party and for Mr. Obama's campaign.
"All of the Obama for America and state-party resources, our grass-roots network, is fully engaged," Ms. Schultz said.
But the Democratic effort on the ground — so successful in a state that Mr. Obama won by 14 points in the 2008 presidential race — failed to turn out enough voters for the Democrat, Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee. Turnout was up by about 400,000 from 2010, but many of those voters cast ballots to keep Mr. Walker in office.
The outcome prompted top Democrats to warn on Wednesday that the party — and the president — can't count on organizational superiority to trump the hundreds of millions of dollars in television advertising that is likely to come from outside groups in the coming months.
"The Wisconsin results should serve as a wake-up call for Democrats: on-the-ground organizing is critically important, but it must be coupled with an aggressive air campaign," Representative Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "Without robust air cover, the voice of the middle class will be silenced."
Yet the deluge of television advertising and activity may have had little effect, given the strength of feelings on the issue. Nearly 9 in 10 voters said they made up their minds a month ago.
Mr. Walker and Mr. Obama may have each benefited from incumbency, earning some credit for the improving economy in Wisconsin even as the two parties point fingers at each other for slowing down the recovery.
Graphic: Shifts in Wisconsin Voters
Graphic: Millions Spent on Wisconsin Recall Election
Graphic: Wisconsin Recall Exit Polls: How Different Groups Voted
Talk of Higher Office Swirls Around Wisconsin Governor in the Spotlight (June 7, 2012)
Unions, at Center of Wisconsin Recall Vote, Suffer a New Setback in Its Outcome (June 7, 2012)
Related in Opinion
Editorial: The Message From Wisconsin (June 7, 2012)
Brooks, Collins: Recall of the Wild (June 6, 2012)
.Taking Note: Over-Interpreting Wisconsin (June 6, 2012)
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.But five months before the general election, the biggest political lesson from Wisconsin may be that the overwhelming dominance of money on the Republican side will continue to haunt Democrats.
The biggest contributors to Mr. Walker included investments from Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder whose family has spent more than $8 million this election cycle; Foster Friess, the entrepreneur who was the leading benefactor to Rick Santorum; Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who provided millions to Newt Gingrich; and Charles and David Koch, whose group helped finance millions in advertisements.
"The fact that you've got a handful of self-interested billionaires who are trying to leverage their money across the country," said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's senior campaign strategist, said in an interview. "Does that concern me? Of course that concerns me."
State law allowed unlimited contributions to Mr. Walker's campaign, mirroring the free flow of money into presidential campaigns via federal super PACs that were allowed under the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
Steven Law, the president of American Crossroads, a Republican super PAC that did not provide money to Mr. Walker, said that conservative donors were motivated by fears of huge spending by labor unions to oust the Republican governor.
"The expectation that unions will spend aggressively in the fall is continuing to galvanize donors," Mr. Law said.
Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., told reporters on Wednesday that the results in Wisconsin underscores the union's concern about letting unlimited money into politics.
"Let's be clear," he said, "Citizens United has ushered in a new era of elections, and it's not a pretty picture."
But Mr. Axelrod said he was confident that the president's campaign would be in a better position to respond aggressively than was Mr. Barrett.
"We start off in a better place, and we're not going to get outspent eight to one," Mr. Axelrod said. "We are not going to have just a month to run our campaign. You cannot draw that parallel here. We're in an entirely different situation."
Democrats on Wednesday sought to portray the vote in Wisconsin as a special case featuring two local candidates and issues — like Mr. Walker's push to restrict collective bargaining rights — that limit the parallels that can be drawn with Mr. Obama's race against Mr. Romney.
Party officials said the support for Mr. Obama among voters leaving polling places suggests Wisconsin residents were uncomfortable ousting a sitting governor but are supportive of the president's policies and are not inclined to vote for Mr. Romney in the fall.
At a fund-raiser in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday, Mr. Romney characterized the outcome of the recall election as "another signal — and it will echo throughout the country."
New York Times, Wed Jun 6 2012
Byline: Jeff Zeleny
It's not a good time to be organized labour, or most types of labour, in Canada.
And I'd define "time" as the period when Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada. It began as a minor concern back in 1996 and seems likely to continue at least until the Tories' year-old majority in Parliament faces an election in or around 2015.
A booming economy in the West has unemployment at 7.3 per cent nationally, so it's not the dark days of labour strife in the 1970s and early '80s. Regardless, unions are battling the Harper government over their right to strike while the Conservatives legislate changes that raise the retirement age and restrict employment insurance benefits.
Ottawa also just repealed - deep within the omnibus, and/or ominous, 452-page 2012 budget - a relatively obscure but significant piece of legislation called the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. Depending on your personal politics, it's either music to your ears or a funeral dirge.
"Connect the dots," says Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This is not just a war on unions. It's an attack on all working people in Canada to fundamentally change the labour market in ways that benefit employers.''
Others, like Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty, applaud the fact Ottawa is moving to address the persistent labour shortages in the western provinces and he urges more action to resolve "the No. 1 issue" for business in the country.
A number of events have pushed labour issues to the forefront of the policy agenda.
On Monday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced back-to-work legislation to bring an end to a strike by 4,800 workers at Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway.
Earlier, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced Employment Insurance benefits would be scaled back and the provisions to qualify for payments under the program that is funded by employers and workers would be stricter.
A story this week by The Canadian Press on the unexplained repeal of the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act simply asked: "Is the Harper government fundamentally anti-labour?"
Most observers would describe Harper's Tories as ideologically strongly pro-business, highly opposed to unions and collective bargaining, and steadfast about reducing Ottawa's $23.5-billion budget deficit. In that respect their actions hardly come as a surprise.
Canadian Pacific wouldn't be the first time Harper used back-to-work legislation. In the year since winning his first majority in Parliament last May, his government used it three times - once with Canada Post and twice with Air Canada.
To be fair, the Tories aren't the only Canadian government to override collectively bargained rights of workers.
In 1997, Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien ended a two-week postal strike by imposing a settlement and current Liberal Leader Bob Rae's "social contract" with Ontario's public sector unions when he was NDP premier in the early 1990s arbitrarily rewrote contracts to address budget woes.
The federal NDP has allowed back-to-work legislation to pass.
For the first five years of Confederation, union activity was a criminal act in Canada. It was 1872, near the end of the Industrial Revolution, when Parliament passed the Trade Unions Act.
Labour leaders would contend it's not simply a coincidence growth of the union movement in the 20th century corresponded with improvements in public health care, public education and the overall working conditions for employees in Canada.
The percentage of working Canadians represented by unions peaked in the 1980s at 38 per cent. It's now about 30 per cent.
Now, Canada's biggest unions are looking at a possible merger. The Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers also acknowledged they're looking to the unemployed and the retired as potential new members.
Critics, mostly union leaders and academics, contend Harper's government is abusing labour laws.
One issue in the CP strike centres on a provision Canadian Labour Code that allows Ottawa to force employees to continue to provide services "to prevent an immediate and danger to the safety or health of the public."
Raitt has said she's considering changing the code so "the economy" is deemed essential service for the country.
While the unions fight on, it's uncertain how much clout organized labour carries these days.
The movement isn't what it once was and the report on the CAW/CEP merger acknowledged a goal is to change a perception unions aren't relevant in today's society.
Given their challenges, and common foe in Ottawa, teaming up likely makes sense.
Harper famously said in 1997 "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term," so you can pretty much see how public policy in Ottawa is going over the rest of his mandate.
Perhaps the best hope for labour leaders might just be that for all of Harper's neo-conservative zeal, the politician in him knows it's smart to get the heavy lifting done in year one of the mandate and hope that voters forget, or at least accept, it.
It means 2012 is shaping up to be a historic year in labour relations in Canada, historically bad.
canada.com, Mon May 28 2012
Byline: Stephen Ewart
Daniel Aguirre becomes the seventh Colombian trade unionist killed this year, and the 61st since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010.
Colombia (07 May 2012) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is expressing sadness at the recent murder of Daniel Aguirre Piedrahita, the General Secretary of Colombia's Nation Union of Sugar Cane Cutters (SINALCORTEROS). Aguirre was assassinated on April 27 as he accompanied his wife, Helena to make a telephone call in their west-central Colombian neighbourhood.
The killers shot him twice in the head only 70 metres from his home. SINALCORTEROS issued a statement saying that the cold-blooded murder demonstrates the continued violence and persecution of trade union leaders in Colombia. It urged members and activists not to let this "reprehensibly violent action torpedo our union" and derail activities, but rather to "reaffirm our actions and our mission."
The Colombian government has condemned the killing. Deputy Minister of Labour David Luna Sanchez supported the Interior Ministry's Protection Unit director's call for an investigation.
Aguirre, 35, astalwart leader of sugar cane cutters, fought for trade union recognition from sugar mill employers who consider them self-employed independent contractors.
He led the strike that led to the creation of SINALCORTEROS, now an affiliate of the International Food and Agricultural Workers' Association (IUF). He led strikes of 18,000 sugar cane cutters in 2008 which, after two years, resulted in collective agreements and labour pacts that made organizing less cumbersome.
Recently, he had been pushing for revisions to Colombia's labour statutes to raise them to International Labor Organisation (ILO) standards. Aguirre was also known as a strong opponent of Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. and Canada.
Daniel Aguirre becomes the seventh Colombian trade unionist killed this year and the 61st since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010. He is survived by his wife and three daughters, ages 14, 10 and 4.
NUPGE, Tues May 22 2012
The Wisconsin Story: Scott Walker's Unprecedented Assault on Unions and Democracy And the June 5th Recall Vote
Wisconsin's populist rebellion came after state GOP leaders attacked workers' rights and dignity.
March 23, 2012 | LIKE THIS ARTICLE ?
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"The folks that were angry about this started a recall....Not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing. They stood up and took their government back." -- Gov. Scott Walker, discussing the 2002 recalls that led to his election as Milwaukee County Executive.
Those words, uttered by Wisconsin Republican Gov. Walker in an ad during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, are strikingly relevant today.
In a 60-day period during a cold Wisconsin winter, state residents collected nearly one million signatures for Walker's recall, with an election date now scheduled for June 5. That election, which will likely be very close and will almost certainly break new records for spending in the state, will end this stage of a year-and-a-half-long battle over Walker's divisive reforms, including his controversial attack on public employee unions.
When Walker first announced his plans to reform collective bargaining on Feb. 11, 2011 he anticipated the fight would be over in less than a week. Claiming the state was broke (just weeks after cutting the corporate tax rate), Walker announced Act 10 on a Friday and planned a vote the following Wednesday, leaving almost no time for public debate or deliberation. He even scheduled a bill signing at the end of the week.
Things did not go according to plan. The events of the following week were pivotal in changing the course of Wisconsin history and sparking a democracy movement across the country.
On Monday, February 14, the University of Wisconsin's graduate assistants' union and their students marched from campus to the state capitol with Valentines expressing love for their university and support for their teachers' right to bargain. Their message was clear: "All public sector workers are under attack. Faculty and staff are under attack. The UW as a whole is under attack. With these extreme acts, Scott Walker is seeking to undermine the labor peace of 50 years....You need to get active now!" Their commitment and organizing is widely viewed as essential to sparking the fire that continues to burn.
Public hearings on the bill started the following day and thousands lined up to testify. Republicans quickly abandoned the hearings but Democrats remained to listen to citizens testify through the night and into the next day (and eventually into the following day, and the next, for weeks). The state constitution requires that the doors of the capitol must stay open whenever the legislature is in session, so the capitol sleep-in began as those waiting to testify set up camp on the marble floors of the capitol. This act of occupying the capitol became a signature part of the Wisconsin protests, and helped inspire the tactics later used by the Occupy movement.
On Wednesday, public school teachers from around the state called in sick and came to the capitol to protest, shutting down schools in districts statewide. High school students marched on the statehouse to decry the attack on their teachers' collective bargaining rights. On the other side of the world, Egyptians were rising up against the Mubarek regime, and signs like "Cairo is cold in winter" and "Walker like an Egyptian" (a play off the Bangles song) were seen in the crowd.
It could have all been over on Thursday. Republicans had a 19-14 majority in the Senate and the votes to pass Act 10 without a single Democrat. As the Senate convened that morning to put the nail in the coffin of public employee unions in Wisconsin, the Democrats were...gone. The 14 Senate Democrats fled across state lines into Illinois early Thursday morning, depriving Republicans of the quorum necessary to take a vote and pass the bill. This act by the Fab 14, as they came to be known, prolonged debate on the bill, and the longer it remained on the floor, the more Wisconsinites came to realize what was really in it. The Fab 14 allowed the fight to continue.
And it did. Each day of this first week, the crowds grew from around 1,000 on Monday to 25,000 on Wednesday to 40,000 on Friday. State residents who had previously paid little attention to politics and who had never participated in a protest were shocked as they came to recognize what Walker and the Wisconsin GOP were trying to do, and carpooled to Madison from towns and cities across the state. An unseasonably warm Saturday saw 70,000 people descend on the capitol square, the largest protests seen in Wisconsin since Madison was at the center of protests over the Vietnam War.
Ongoing Protest and Solidarity
But in contrast with the Vietnam-era protests and the Occupy protests to come, the Wisconsin protests were incredibly conflict-free. There were only a handful of arrests throughout weeks of demonstration and with hundreds of thousands of protesters. Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney famously told Walker his police department "would not be the palace guard" and refused to suppress the grassroots uprising. Off-duty law enforcement officers donned "Cops for Labor" T-shirts and marched alongside students, teachers, farmers, the elderly, and firefighters.
Walker had not planned it this way. He did his best to divide and conquer, attacking collective bargaining rights for teachers, snowplow drivers, nurses, and other public employees, but exempting law enforcement and firefighters. It backfired.
"Firefighters are taught that when there's an emergency you don't run away from it, you run to it," said Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the state firefighters union, at rallies throughout the protests. "This is the emergency. They're trying to burn down the house of labor, and we won't let them do it." (Mitchell, the youngest and first African-American president of the state firefighters' union, recently declared his candidacy for lieutenant governor in the recall election against Walker.)
Despite the peaceful nature of the protests and the solidarity between demonstrators and law enforcement, right-wing media went out of its way to portray the Wisconsin uprising as violent. Fox News' Mike Tobin claimed he was "hit" by a protester while taping a segment at the capitol, but it did not happen (I was there and can also attest that he was not hit). Bill O'Reilly spliced in footage from an altercation in California – with palm trees in the background – as they discussed the Wisconsin protests. Palm trees became an enduring symbol in Wisconsin of right-wing spin and misleading portrayals of what really was happening in the state.
Protests continued throughout the following weeks. During the day, the capitol rotunda was filled with drumming and chanting, and in the evening, people snuggled into sleeping bags and curled up on the floor. Ian's Pizza received orders for delivery to the capitol from all 50 states and dozens of countries around the world.
On Monday of the uprising's second week, Walker accepted a phone call from a person he believed to be David Koch, who asked how the governor's efforts to "crush that union" were going. The caller was actually a blogger from the Buffalo Beast, who recorded the conversation. Walker had reportedly refused to return phone calls with Democratic legislators, but he gleefully accepted a call from "David Koch," and chattered for 20 minutes about how he considered planting "troublemakers" in the crowd, how he would not budge or negotiate, and how he was being courageous, just like Ronald Reagan. Walker also asked that Koch have "his guy on the ground" – then-head of Americans for Prosperity Tim Phillips – organize rallies and encourage people "to call lawmakers and tell them to hang firm with the governor."
Prior to the prank phone call, many Wisconsinites had never heard of the Koch brothers, despite Koch Industries being one of Walker's top donors in 2010 and David Koch having given $1 million to the Republican Governor's Association (which in turn spent almost $5 million on the race in Wisconsin). But the Koch connection became apparent after recordings of the call went public, and Koch references soon started appearing on handwritten signs at Wisconsin rallies.
The protests reached 100,000 the next Saturday and the capitol occupation continued. The following week, the Walker administration tried to shut down the capitol and defied a court order to re-open it; Walker then introduced a biennial budget bill with massive cuts to K-12 education and the state Medicaid program, as well as eliminating in-state tuition for undocumented university students and a registry for home healthcare providers.
The week after that, in a barely announced meeting, Republican senators rapidly stripped Act 10 of "fiscal" provisions but kept the collective bargaining limits, which allowed them to pass the bill without a quorum (and without the 14 Democratic senators). The Assembly passed the stripped-down bill days later and Walker signed it into law. But Wisconsinites were undeterred. That Saturday, around 150,000 people marched on the capitol in protest and to welcome home the 14 Democratic senators who had fled the state.
The state constitution provides that an elected official may be recalled one year after taking office – which meant that fired-up Wisconsinites had to wait until at least November to start collecting signatures. But Wisconsinites remained motivated and engaged during those intervening months as almost everything in the state became hyper-politicized.
The campaign for state Supreme Court, originally expected to be a sleepy affair with incumbent Justice David Prosser almost guaranteed to win, turned into a referendum on Governor Walker, with millions of out-of-state dollars poured into the state and record turnout on election day. Kloppenburg was originally announced the winner with 200 votes until Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a Republican activist in the state's most conservative county, announced she had failed to account for 14,000 votes, giving Justice Prosser a 7,500-vote lead that was upheld in the recount.
As the Supreme Court race heated up, the Dane County district attorney filed suit alleging that Walker's collective bargaining bill was passed in violation of the state's open meetings law, which requires that public notice of meetings be posted 24 hours in advance. Dane County judge Maryann Sumi temporarily blocked implementation of the bill in March (which the Wisconsin GOP tried to ignore), and made her order permanent in May. The prolonged court battle compelled a wide array of Wisconsinites to scrutinize the process of how bills are passed, rather than just the content, and made residents acutely aware of previously obscure provisions in their state constitution.
Sumi's decision was overturned in a contentious ruling by a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court. The behind-the-scenes debate between the justices about whether to take the case and how to rule became so heated that at one point, Justice Prosser placed his hands around the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. The ensuing controversy again thrust Prosser into the spotlight, giving Wisconsin residents another controversy connected to Walker's union-busting.
Summer saw recall elections for eight legislators who had been in office for over one year and were eligible for recall; the elections narrowed Republican control of the Senate to just one vote, making moderate Republican Senator Dale Schultz (who voted against the collective bargaining bill) a pivotal player. In coming months, Schultz's opposition would essentially kill a deregulatory environmental bill crafted exclusively for an out-of-state mining company. Walker and GOP leadership had prioritized the bill and Schultz managed to hand them a rare defeat.
ALEC and Koch in Wisconsin
Also in summer, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) published the Web site ALECexposed.org, releasing over 800 previously secret "model bills" from the American Legislative Exchange Council and documenting known ALEC member corporations and legislators. ALEC, described as a "corporate bill mill," allows corporations like Koch Industries and ideological interest groups like the National Rifle Association to hand state legislators changes to the laws that benefit their bottom line and further the right-wing agenda. ALEC "model bills" promote privatization of education and Medicare, environmental deregulation, "tort reform," union-busting, and more.
Many first heard of ALEC during the height of the Wisconsin protests when University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon, a self-described political moderate, published a blog post raising questions about ALEC's role in Walker's reactionary anti-union bill. His posting prompted the Wisconsin Republican Party to submit an open records request for Cronon's emails, an effort widely perceived as an effort to harass and silence the professor.
With the publication of ALECexposed.org, the out-of-state corporate and ideological influence on elected officials in Wisconsin and elsewhere became clear. Walker was an ALEC member when he was a state legislator, and he appointed other ALEC members to key administrative posts. The leaders of both the Senate and the Assembly were active ALEC members. Multiple ALEC bills were spotted in Wisconsin legislation. In addition to Walker's attack on public sector unions, everything from voter ID and anti-consumer bills and narrow tax breaks for tobacco companies to concealed carry and "Castle Doctrine" laws, telecommunications deregulation and more, were discovered to have ALEC roots.
ALEC is also closely tied to the Koch agenda, particularly the family's anti-union zeal. Starting in November, as recall proponents started gathering signatures, the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity (AFP) started running ads supporting Walker and his "reforms." The ads started again in January with a $700,000 TV ad buy, plus an unknown amount on Internet banner ads. Sources say AFP has spent $3 million in the state on its "It's Working!" campaign.
Last month, the real David Koch told a Florida newspaper that "we've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We're going to spend more."
Koch also sees the recall election as a focal point in a national showdown over union rights.
"What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important. He's an impressive guy and he's very courageous," Koch said. "If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power."
The recall election is scheduled for June 5.
alternet.org, Fri Mar 23 2012
The BC Teachers' Federation revealed some elements of its new action plan to fight Bill 22 today, including the possibility of a full-scale walkout in the coming months.
Union President Susan Lambert told reporters this afternoon that the over 700 delegates at the teachers' Annual General Meeting, which took place in Vancouver from March 17-20, debated and reworked the plan over the course of the three days, finally voting "overwhelmingly" in support of taking it back to their local members for a vote.
The plan starts this coming Monday with teachers heading back to their teaching duties after spring break, but also informing the public about their issues with Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act, which they plan to take government to court over.
"We believe that this bill has all the hallmarks, all the characteristics of previous bills that have been found illegal by the United Nations, illegal by our Supreme Court, and so there will be a legal challenge," Lambert says, referring to the teachers' challenge of Bills 27 and 28, which stripped teachers' collective agreements of the right to bargain class size and composition in 2002. Both the International Labour Office and the BC Supreme Court ruled in the teachers' favour.
But that's just the beginning. On April 17 and 18, BCTF members across the province will vote on phase two of the plan, which includes the possibility of withdrawing from extracurricular activities, and even a full-scale teacher walk out.
"We're putting government on notice," Lambert warns.
"Government has a choice: government can rethink this legislation, government can rethink its policies around public education, and we're expecting that government will listen to the voice of teachers, we've been asking for so long."
Some union locals have already declared their intention to withdraw from extracurricular activities beginning next week, which Lambert says is their right as autonomous locals.
Lambert says if government still refuses to make changes to Bill 22, the union's executive committee will meet after the vote to decide when and if another vote would take place for a walkout. The union requires 51 per cent of members in favour for the vote to pass.
Bill 22 makes walkouts illegal, fining the union at least $1.3 million per day, union leaders or representatives at least $2,500 per day, and individual teachers $475 per day of illegally striking. Lambert told reporters she didn't know where the union would find the money to cover those costs.
In the meantime, the BCTF has complied with a government request for suggested mediators to further the bargaining process between the union and their employer under Bill 22. Lambert says they wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education last week, suggesting Justices Stephen Kelleher and Ian Donald for the position, but that doesn't mean the union supports the mediation process laid out under the bill.
"We have done it with a caveat, because in our view the entire process is skewed, is biased, and there is no level playing field here. There's a predetermined end, we call it a mock mediation, and so we have done that, we have forwarded those names with a provisio that we will be looking at the legal implications of legislation that forces one party to play hockey without the sticks. It's unfair," says Lambert.
Education Minister George Abbott is in China this week, but told The Province on Monday he hopes teachers think twice before embarking on an illegal walkout.
"I hope that cooler heads will prevail," he said. "When people go on strike, it's not the government that is punished – it's students and parents.
"They have to find childcare alternatives, they have to find employment alternatives."
The Tyee, Wed Mar 21 2012
A labour law case in Colombia dating from 2004 is still causing suffering to trade unionists, and a court ruling has still not been applied. In 2004, the Municipal Enterprises of Cali (EMCALI) fired 51 workers because they belonged to the SINTRAEMCALI trade union. The union filed cases in Colombia's judicial system and the International Labour Organization (case 2356), both of which ruled in SINTRAEMCALI's favour. However, the union members have suffered both humanely and financially for defending their labour rights, with their President Jorge Ivan Velez Calvo receiving multiple death threats. Over 15 members of SINTRAEMCALI have been forced into exile, eight killed, and more than 100 threatened since the workers were fired in 2004. The lawyer in charge of their case was assassinated in May 2011. On 13 October 2011, the court ruled that the 51 workers who were fired on 26 May 2004 must be reinstated by EMCALI, but the company has refused to obey the court's rulings. The Colombian government, which is responsible for EMCALI because it is a public entity, has not enforced the ruling. This obstruction of justice led five of the 51 fired workers to commence a hunger strike on 5 December 2011 in the so-far vain hope that EMCALI will comply with the court ruling. In the photo, you can see the union leader visiting one of the hunger strikers.
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labourstart.org, Tues Mar 20 2012
The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning ordered a Mexican Consulate in Canada to conduct an anti-union campaign
Three former employees of the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver revealed before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (in Canada) that they had received specific orders from Mexican public service employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores or the SRE] and of the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social or the STPS] to conduct an ''anti-union, rejection and blacklisting'' campaign on compatriots registered in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), who, during their stay in that country, had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in order to demand that their labour rights be respected.
Before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board, where the charges brought against the Mexican government were publicly laid, ex-employees Diego Prieto, Javier Valdez and Félix Martínez made testimonies in relation to Ángel Villalobos, a consul general in Canada. Vice-consul and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning official Estela García León and agricultural worker protection expert Guadalupe Palacios would ask them to produce a ''list of farms where it has been suspected that there are workers who are in contact with UFCW'' in order to put them on a ''blacklist'', which would then be sent to the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning, so that they would not be accepted in the SAWP again or that they would be sent to farms where there was no union.
Furthermore, according to testimonies – of which La Jornada has obtained a copy – made last February by the former employees of the Consulate before the BCLRB, Mexican workers would be warned ''not to contact anyone'' from UFCW and to speak only to Consulate staff.
UFCW lodged a complaint against the Mexican government and the owners of several Canadian farms – where, every year, Mexican citizens registered in the SAWP work – on the ground of an ''alliance'' to prevent farm workers from defending their labour rights and for committing acts such as ''unfounded rejection and barring from SAWP''.
The Union alleges that ''Mexico wrongly interferes with Mexican workers who support the Union by denying them permission to return to Canada or, in other cases, by refusing to send a worker back to a unionized place of work''.
The Mexican government has already requested before the BCLRB that the hearings concerning case 61973/, which was opened after several workers at Sidhu Farms had complained, be ''temporarily suspended''.
''Mexico will suffer irremediable harm if the Sidhu Farms hearings keep on going their current course'', the Mexican government argued after requesting, before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, on February 28th, that the BCLRB be obligated ''not to admit any evidence as to what Mexico has done'' and be forced to ''suspend the hearings''. In stating its arguments, Mexico accused UFCW of ''seeking to violate its immunity and leading the BCLRB to meddle in a foreign state's sovereign actions in relation to its own citizens''.
Below are reproductions of parts of the long testimonies that were made before the Canadian labour authorities last February.
''Excuse me, Mr. Valdez, you were telling us about orders that you received from Mrs. García, Mrs. Palacios and Mr. Villalobos.''
''All of them warned me that I would have to be shrewd and that I was not allowed to speak to anyone who would come to me on the union's behalf. Villalobos would jokingly press me to tell the workers not to contact the support centres because they might stop signing up for the program and that, if they needed anything, they had to contact the Consulate. They would also tell me that if the employers were annoyed because the workers would go to the union, they would stop requesting their help and the consuls and I would lose our jobs. Those warnings were constant, especially from Guadalupe Palacios.''
At another hearing Prieto revealed that ''every time a worker got in contact with the union, there would be a report sent to the Ministry of Labour (...) nothing would get done without someone's letting Estela (García) know about it, as she was the person asked for instructions, and she would say, 'All right, we have to write a comment on the blacklist' ''. This blacklist had the words follow-up on the cases written on it.
Migrant Farmworker Awareness Week,
March 26 - March 29, 2012
University Contact: Kerry Preibisch Community Contact:
University of Guelph Students Against Migrant Exploitation
Phone: 519.830.0040 Phone: 416.420.6992
E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org E-mail: email@example.com
ufcw.ca, Mon Mar 19 2012