2005 June Speech OEM Rally

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, June 29, 2005

We're here today because a crime has been committed.

Laws that were supposed to protect workers have been broken.

Rules that were supposed to compel companies to honour the contracts they sign were trampled on.

As a result of these violations of the rules, these failures to observe the letter and the spirit of the law, jobs have been lost, careers have been interrupted, families have been forced to endure unexpected and undeserved economic hardship.

To make matters worse, the villains in the story didn't act alone - they had accomplices.

And those accomplices were people who - in theory at least - the workers were supposed to be able to rely on.

Unfortunately, this is not some prime-time crime drama that you might see on TV. This is real life.

The bad guys in this story are the managers at Finning - and their accomplices are the Labour Relations Board and the provincial government.

We're all familiar with what's gone on here.

The business we see in front of us today is a testament to the mean-spiritedness of one employer and the complete inadequacy of our province's labour and labour relations institutions.

Finning bankrolled OEM. Finning owns most of the stock in OEM. Finning provided OEM with most of its business.

But the Labour Relations Board, in its wisdom, says OEM is different from Finning and is not bound to honour any of the contracts negotiated by Finning.

They also saw nothing wrong with OEM signing a new deal with CLAC even before this building was finished - and even before workers had been hired.

How much can you trust a so-called union that is hand-picked by the employer?

We all know this is a shell game. For all intents and purpose, OEM is Finning. All that's happened is that they've moved down the street and put up a new sign.

The goal of this superficial identity change has been clear from the beginning. This wasn't about contracting out or doing business differently. This was about breaking a duly negotiated contract. This was about breaking a real union and replacing it with a lap dog association that was more to the employers liking.

One important point that needs to be made is that these kinds of tactics would not have been allowed in any other Canadian jurisdiction.

In any other province, Finning would have been slapped down, found in violation - and you would be working inside as proud members of IAM.

Even here in Alberta, the law says that employers can't simply change their address or change their name to get rid of a duly elected and duly constituted union.

But our government wrote its laws badly and they tipped the playing field in favour of the employer. And our Labour Relations Board has abandoned all pretext of being object - they've bent over backwards and tied themselves in knots trying to find ways to justify what Finning has done.

The LRB is supposed to be a watchdog. But it's clear they're a lap dog - one that Finning has on a very short leash.

So where do we go from here? The message that we need to send today is that we're not giving up. IAM is continuing to fight this unjust situation in the courts. The AFL and all of our affiliates will continue to support them in that effort.

But we have to go further. If we let Finning get away with this, it's just a matter of time before another employer tries the same shell game.

So we need to support IAM. We need to fight CLAC whenever they slither out from under their rocks. And we need to make this a political issue - so working people understand that this is what Tory government brings us.

Today, they were supposed to be having a grand opening here. Ralph Klein was supposed to be in there celebrating with corporate types who have broken the letter and spirit of Alberta law - the laws that the Premier is supposed to protect and uphold. But they're not inside. We chased them away. That's a step in the right direction - but we still have a lot more chasing to do.

In conclusion, I want all of you to know that the AFL and the rest of the labour movement are behind you in this fight.

We all have a stake - because if Finning is able to get away with this kind of union-busting - then no working people in this province are safe.

That's why we're here for you today and that's why we'll continue being with you as you continue your fight.

Good luck and thank you.


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