Chilean activist asks Canadians to remember the "other September 11"

EDMONTON - As people around the world look back on last year's terrorist attacks in the United States, a Chilean activist is urging Canadians not to forget the horror of the "other September 11."

Viviana Diaz, President of the Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Chile, is on a cross-Canada speaking tour aimed at reminding people of the military coup that took place in her country on September 11, 1973.

During that coup, terrorists bombed the Chilean Parliament buildings, assassinated the elected president, Salvador Allende, and toppled Allende's popular government. Thousands of people were killed on that day and in the 17 years of military dictatorship that followed. Thousands of others "disappeared" and remain unaccounted for today.

WHAT:  News Conference to Discuss the "Other September 11"
WHO:  Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Chile
WHEN:  11:30 am, Tuesday, September 24
WHERE: CUPE 474 Boardroom, 10989-124 Street, Edmonton

As part of her visit to Edmonton, Diaz will meet with many of the hundreds of Chileans who settled in Edmonton after fleeing or being exiled from their homeland. She will also hold a news conference on Tuesday, September 24 to review the history of the "other September 11" and give an update on efforts to uncover what really happened to the "disappeared."

"Americans often talk about September 11 as an attack on freedom and democracy," says Ramon Antipan, an activist from Edmonton's Chilean community. "But September 11, 1973 was even more devastating to the people of Chile. It robbed them of their freedom and it destroyed their democratic system - which, at the time, was the oldest and most stable democracy in South America."

In addition to her news conference, Diaz will participate in a special reception and seminar at the Stanley Milner Library Theatre at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 24. Her visit to Edmonton is co-sponsored by the Chilean-Canadian Community of Edmonton, the Stanley Milner Library, the University of Alberta's International Association and the Alberta Federation of Labour.


For more information call:

AFL Communications    @ 780-483-3021

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Labour tackles workplace literacy issue in Alberta

The Alberta Federation of Labour is marking 2002 World Literacy Day (September 8th) by releasing a new video on literacy to labour councils and unions across the province.

"Our new production is designed to bring the many workplace and labour issues around literacy to the attention of union members and union leaders," said AFL Secretary Treasurer Kerry Barrett. "It is intended to encourage our affiliates and regional labour councils to set up literacy programs."

The 15 minute video was created by local videographer Don Bouzek with the assistance of the AFL, its literacy committee, and affiliated unions and members of the AFL. Financial support for the project was provided by the National Literacy Secretariat of Human Resources Development Canada.

"We use the video - which is designed for viewing at local union meetings - to get several important messages out," said Barrett. "First, that literacy is not just about reading and writing - literacy also encompasses number skills and computer skills and basic communications skills that are becoming more and more critical at work, at home and in our communities."

"Then", said Barrett, "we show people some successful literacy programs that they can easily adapt for use in their union local and their workplace."

"I am proud that the labour movement is taking some concrete steps to tackle literacy problems," concluded Barrett, "and I am confident that this project will produce real benefits to working people in Alberta."

Copies of the AFL Literacy Video are available to the media upon request.


For more information, contact:

Kerry Barrett, Secretary Treasurer @ 780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-720-8945 (cell)

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Labour Relations Board Out of Line in AUPE Ruling

The Alberta Labour Relations Board is jeopardizing its fundamental need to be seen to be neutral on labour relations conflicts by its continued insistence upon assessing punitive damages against the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Alberta Federation of Labour says today. The Board yesterday rejected AUPE's appeal of the two-month suspension of dues ordered by the Board following a strike in the health care sector in May 2000.

"The Labour Relations Board has crossed a boundary with this ruling," charges Alberta Federation of Labour President Les Steel. "Prior to this, the Board - like other such bodies in Canada - has restricted its rulings to efforts to restore or 'make whole' damages arising from violations of labour law," said Steel. "But now, long after normal relations have resumed between the effected parties, the Board has chosen to issue punitive damages against the union."

"We have never seen punitive damages issued to employers for willful, and permanently damaging actions against workers," said Steel. "For example, there have been no punitive actions taken against the Economic Development Edmonton for its disgraceful conduct during the ongoing Shaw Conference Centre Strike."

"By taking this unusual and ill-considered action against a union while at the same time refusing to take punitive actions against offending employers, the ALRB is showing itself not to be an impartial umpire in labour relations" said Steel.

"This decision undermines the Board's function in labour relations while at the same time sending a very bad message to unions, workers and employers in Alberta," concluded Steel.

 

For more Information, contact:

Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-499-4135 (cell)

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"Labour" available for Labour Day Message

Alberta Federation of Labour officers, Les Steel, President and Kerry Barrett, Secretary Treasurer are available for annual Labour Day comments this weekend.

Les and Kerry will both be attending the Edmonton & District Labour Council's barbeque for the unemployed and underemployed on Monday, September 2nd, 2002.

Feel free to contact them anytime this weekend for a "labour" perspective this Labour Day.


Please contact:

Les Steel  President  @  499-4135 (cell)

- or -

Kerry Barrett Secretary Treasurer @ 720-8945 (cell)

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BBQ and Rally in support of striking workers at the Shaw Conference Centre

EDMONTON - A barbeque and rally is planned for tomorrow, August 27th, 2002 at 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. respectively at Sir Winston Churchill Square in front of City Hall.

WHEN:  August 27th, 2002
WHAT:  BBQ - 3:00 p.m. RALLY - 5:00 p.m.
WHERE:  EDMONTON CITY HALL -
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL SQUARE
WHY: To support striking workers at the Shaw Conference Centre

This BBQ and rally has been planned to make Edmonton City Councillors and Edmontonians more aware of the issues in the dispute between striking members of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 and the Shaw Conference Centre Board (Edmonton Economic Development).

The workers at the Shaw Conference Centre, members of UFCW 401, have been on strike since May 1st in an attempt to achieve a first collective agreement.

For more information call:

UFCW Local 401 Strike Headquarters  @ 420-0245

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Activists Leaflet Zellers and the Bay in Campaign Against Sweatshop Abuses

EDMONTON                             CALGARY
Sunday, August 25, 2002      Sunday, August 25, 
12:00 noon                              2002     12:00 noon
Zellers and the Bay                 Zellers and the Bay
West Edmonton Mall               Sunridge Mall


The Human Rights and International Solidarity Committee of the Alberta Federation of Labour will be leafleting "The Bay" and Zellers stores in Edmonton and Calgary this Sunday, starting at 12:00 noon.  The protestors will be trying to persuade the Hudson's Bay Company to work with unions and suppliers to eliminate sweatshop working conditions.

Currently the Hudson's Bay Company has contracts with three factories in the southern African country of Lesotho which produces clothing under the Zellers brand name. However, HBC has indicated that it was cutting and running from at least one of the factories rather than working with the factory management and the Lesotho garment workers' union to help eliminate sweatshop abuses.  This is the same factory that recently signed an agreement with the union to make improvements in working conditions.

"We need to send a message to the Hudson's Bay Company to be responsible corporate citizens and stay in Lesotho and be part of the solution to end sweatshop abuses," says HR&IS Committee Chairperson, Ramon Antipan.


For More Information:

Ramon Antipan, Chairperson, AFL's Human Rights  & International Solidarity Committee @ 780-423-9000 (wk)  or   @ 780-475-6856 (hm)

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Dunford Refuses to Meet Striking Workers

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)



Attachment


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.

 

Yours sincerely,

ALBERTA FEDERATION OF LABOUR



Les Steel
President

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Labour Code Review Could Be a Trojan Horse for Union Busters

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)

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Fiscal Management Commission Report Means $2 Billion in Cutbacks, says AFL

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 attached*


Backgrounder - July 8, 2002

Resource Revenue Dependency, 1993-2002

Year Resource Revenue ($millions, 2001 dollars)
1993 $2,651
1994 $3,374
1995 $3,954
1996 $3,191
1997 $4,528
1998 $4,194
1999 $2,566
2000 $4,512
2001 $10,833
April, 2002 $6,200

10 year average:  $4.6 billion

 

Commission Recommendations' Effect on Government Revenues

2001-2002 Actual

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)

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Activists out-perform G-8 leaders


The following is a statement released by Alberta Federation of Labour president Les Steel in the wake of this week's G-8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta. The AFL worked closely with social justice groups, youth organizations, churches and other civil society groups to organize counter-summit activities in Calgary, the nearest major city to the G-8 meeting site:


Now that the G-8 leaders have left Kananaskis and the police barricades are coming down, two important things can be said about the events of the past week. First, as we predicted, the G-8 has failed to offer any real solutions to the problems of poverty, war and disease in Africa. Despite all the rhetoric about the need for the West to pitch-in and help poor nations, the Summit failed to provide any commitments for major debt relief. At the same time, there was no acknowledgement of the role that western governments and businesses play in financing wars on the continent. And there was no agreement to adequately fund the battle against HIV/AIDS, a disease which is killing literally millions of Africans each year and which threatens to completely destabilize the region's already fragile economy.

Instead of measures that could really help ordinary Africans, the G-8 has endorsed a plan that simply calls for more of the same: more privatization of public services, more cuts to social spending and an increased focus on market deregulation and free trade with the west. As many African activists participating in counter-summit events pointed out, these are the same policies that have served African nations so poorly over the past 25 years.

The second, and more encouraging, conclusion that can be drawn from the Kananaskis summit has to do with the nature of demonstrations against the G-8 and its agenda. To put it simply: our protests worked. At previous summits, the world focused its attention on street battles between protesters and riot police. The result was that the causes being championed by demonstrators were usually lost in the shuffle. In Calgary and Kananaskis, however, the situation was entirely different. Instead of tear gas and rubber bullets, Canadians were actually able to learn about the issues.

There were stories about the negative impact that the World Bank's so-called structural adjustment programs have been having on poor nations. There were stories about the exploitive labour practices employed by many multinational corporations. And there were stories about the way in which trade rules concocted by the G-8 and enacted by the WTO are harming the environment and enriching the few at the expense of the many. All of these stories were the result of creative and thoughtful non-violent events organized by activists.

Many observers were surprised (and sometimes disappointed) by the complete lack of violent confrontation between protesters and security forces. But the peaceful nature of protests in Calgary was no accident. For months, labour organizations like the AFL, the Calgary and District Labour Council (CDLC) and the Communication Energy Paperworkers (CEP) were involved in meetings with non-labour civil society groups. Right from the beginning the goal shared by everyone was to stage a series of non-violent events and activities that focused on ideas and not on unnecessary confrontation.

The RCMP and the Calgary police may like to think that it was the large police presence that discouraged violence. But the reality is that it was the protesters themselves who made the difference. They decided that Calgary would be a showcase for the power of non-violent protest - and they made it so.

On behalf of the Alberta Federation of Labour, I would like to thank the dozens of civil society groups and thousands of individual activists who participated in planning and executing counter-summit events here in Alberta. Our approach to protest - which featured unprecedented cooperation between labour and non-labour groups - was so successful that activists from other countries are planning to borrow our ideas.

Obviously, the campaign to draw attention to the failings of the G-8 and its agenda for global trade will not be an easy or short one. But I remain convinced that our approach to protest - with its focus on non-violence - will help to turn the tide. I also remain convinced that our ideas about social justice and fair trade (as opposed to unfettered "free" trade) will eventually win the day. Calgary may very well be the first step in a long campaign to convince citizens, and eventually their governments, that the world economy should be for people, not corporations.


For more information, contact:

Les Steel, AFL President @  780-483-3021(office); 780-499-4135(cell)

Gil McGowan, Communications Director @  780-483-3021(office); 780-910-1137(cell)

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