Day of Mourning Ceremony to Honour All Workers Killed at Work

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)

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Labour activists plan to leaflet Tory convention

EDMONTON - Delegates to the Conservative convention will be greeted on Saturday morning with leaflets reminding them how the Klein government has betrayed the party's own policies on issues such as health care premiums.

Between 8 and 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 23, activists from the Alberta Federation of Labour will hand out leaflets to Tory delegates as they arrive at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton.

WHAT: Leafleting of Conservative convention
WHEN: 8-10 a.m., Saturday, March 23
WHERE: Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton

"This is a party that has passed dozens of resolutions about keeping taxes down. And last year they even adopted a resolution calling for the elimination of health care premiums," says AFL president Les Steel.

"What we'll be doing on Saturday is pointing out the hypocrisy of the government's recent decision to increase health premiums and their betrayal of party policy in other areas such as education and children's services."


For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications Director @ 483-3021 or 910-1137 (cell)

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Budget is a "triple whammy" for working people in Alberta, says AFL

EDMONTON - The budget unveiled by the Klein government late this afternoon is a "triple whammy" for working people in Alberta, says the president of Alberta's largest union organization.

As a result of the new budget, Albertans will be paying higher taxes and facing declining quality of services in areas like health care and education, says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Before the last provincial election, the premier wooed working peoples' votes by offering a big tax cut. A year later he's broken that promise by substantially increasing health premiums - which are a tax hike in all but name. That's the first whammy."

Steel says the second "whammy" has to do with the way the government is handling education funding.

"This budget represents a lost opportunity to resolve the dispute with the teachers," says Steel. "They could have dealt with some of the problems that lie at the heart of the dispute - like the issue of over-crowding. But by refusing to put more money into the classroom they've basically guaranteed more labour unrest."

The third assault on the interests of working people cited by Steel has to do with health care. In particular, Steel says the government has failed to make funding adjustments that reflect Alberta's growing population.

"On the surface, a seven percent increase in funding sounds great. But in reality it doesn't keep up with the combined pressures of inflation and population growth. In effect this so-called increase is actually a cut for our health care system. So much for the government's supposed commitment to Medicare."

Steel concluded by pointing out that many of the cuts announced today are a direct result of the government's "irresponsible flat tax and cuts to corporate taxes.

"We're a wealthy province but our government has basically impoverished our public sector by slashing taxes for big business and the wealthy. Today we see that it's ordinary working people who are going to have to pay for these irresponsible cuts."


For more information call:

Les Steel, President @ 780-499-4135 (cell)

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Tories Stab Teachers in the Back, Says AFL

The Education Services Settlement Act, introduced today in the Legislature, is an affront to the principles of fair collective bargaining, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). The Premier has reneged on his promise to teachers and is ensuring many more years of labour unrest in our school system.

"Premier Klein stabbed teachers in the back today," says AFL President Les Steel. "He promised them a fair process and instead rammed an unfair settlement down their throats."

"This is not arbitration. This is dictation," says Steel, pointing out that the bill exempts teachers from the Arbitration Act, which sets the rules for arbitrations. "This Act is not abiding by any of the basic rules of arbitration and collective bargaining. It is a bully act."

"Klein is a copycat. He is using the same bully tactics as Gordon Campbell in B.C. by striking out legally binding clauses in existing contracts," Steel highlights. "Not only is this immoral, it is most likely unconstitutional."

Steel states there are a number of horrible aspects to this bill. First, the restrictions place on the arbitrator are so tight that none of the teachers' issues can get heard. "He has shackled the arbitrator to force them to toe the government line."

Second, the bill strips away any clause in any active collective agreement that addresses class sizes, instructional time or classroom conditions. "These are legally binding contracts being ripped up by a rabid, ideological government."

Steel predicts more unrest and anger from teachers. "With this kind of provocation, I suspect to see years of increasing anger and action from teachers."

"Look out Ralph Klein; you may have released a tiger." Steel concludes.

For more information call:

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

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Court ruling highlights important role strikes can play in resolving disputes

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)

-or-

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

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2002 IWD Events

Kerry Barrett, Secretary Treasurer, AFL

Numerous events were held across the province to celebrate International Women's Day.

In Edmonton on Friday March 8 there was a shared supper at the Queen Alexandra Hall. Following the dinner there were a few speakers including Karen Beaton from the ATA, representatives of Women in Black, G8 women activists, health care workers and an open mike for speakers, poetry, and music.

To celebrate International Women's Day in Calgary a potluck dinner and celebration were held on Friday, March 8 at the Carpenters Hall. The evening began with a potluck dinner, which was followed by a short program including a guest speaker, the singing of "Bread and Roses" and "Equal Rights". About 60 people in attendance.

On Saturday, March 9 the traditional Celebratory March took place from City Hall to the Vision of Hope Monument in Edmonton. Following the march there was a gathering at City Hall that included guest speakers, entertainment and displays. The theme was "Women Moving Mountains". About 100 people attended the event.

The program included the song "Bread and Roses performed by Marie-Josee Ouimet, a poetry reading by Shirley Konrad and greetings from the City of Edmonton by Karen Leibovici. A dance performance by Amasaro, a play by "Check-wazai" Aboriginal U of A drama students, a presentation of a donation to the Cathy Sewell Scholarship for Indigenous Arts and the presentations of the Edmonton International Women's Day Youth Achievement Awards were also part of the program.

The keynote speakers included Liv Lunde who is a 19 year old spokesperson for non-violence and tolerance. She helps provide a forum for discussion of youth justice through a weekly radio show on CJSR. Liv also writes about alternatives to violence for the Red Tear. The YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the youth category was awarded to her in 2000.

Another keynote speaker was Linda Bull who is a member of the Cree, Saddle Lake and the Goodfish Lake First Nation. She has a Masters degree of Education and is currently completing her doctoral work in Peace Education. She is the first recipient of the Ghandi Millenium Graduate Fellowship and has traveled to 5 continents with her message of empowerment, solidarity and peace.

The Edmonton International Women's Day Youth Achievement Awards were presented to Christine Jairamsingh and Erin Fitzgerald who have launched a constitutional challenge to have the voting age lowered to 16. Samantha King was also the recipient of an award. She is a 16 year old Edmonton singer who performs at a variety of charity events to help raise money and awareness for such charities as the Youth Emergency Shelter and the Michael Cuccione Foundation (childhood cancer).

J'Lyn Nye from Global TV hosted the event and reminded everyone of the history surrounding IWD. In August 1910, at a meeting in Copenhagen, the Women's Socialist International decided to commemorate the strike on March 8, 1857 of hundreds of women working in garment and textile factories in New York City by observing an annual International Women's Day.

The Centre for Immigrant Women from Latin America also hosted an event which included workshops followed by a plenary session, cultural entertainment and music from Notre Dame Des Bananes.

These events are a great way to celebrate International Women's Day and raise awareness of the accomplishments women have made and commit to the struggles we continue to face.

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New Legislature session will feature renewed attacks on basic workers rights

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)

-or-

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

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Back-to-work order will not solve the problems plaguing our schools

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)

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AFL welcomes nurses into the House of Labour

EDMONTON - The Alberta labour movement became stronger and more cohesive yesterday, thanks to a decision by the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) to join the Alberta Federation of Labour.

The decision to affiliate to the Federation was made directly and democratically by UNA's 18,500 members, who cast ballots at hospitals, clinics and other health facilities across the province.

Delegates to the nurses' annual convention set the wheels in motion for affiliation last November when they overwhelming supported a resolution to join the AFL and Alberta's seven district labour councils.

But under UNA's constitution, the motion had to be approved by both a majority of the unions' members and a majority of its 163 locals.

The final vote was held throughout the day yesterday - and a clear majority of nurses and UNA locals gave the green light to affiliation.

"Obviously we're extremely pleased by the decision," said AFL Secretary Treasurer, Kerry Barrett after the results of the vote were announced last night at UNA headquarters in Edmonton.

Barrett, who is standing in for AFL President while he is out of province dealing with a family emergency, described the affiliation decision as a "win-win" situation for the nurses and the AFL.

"By joining the Federation, UNA and its members will benefit from the strength and solidarity that comes from being a part of the House of Labour," said Barrett. "And the AFL will benefit from an infusion of new people, new ideas and new energy."

Barrett added that UNA has a reputation for being one of the "most successful and principled unions in the country - so we welcome them into the fold with open arms. We're looking forward to working more closely with them."

With UNA on board, the AFL now represents more than 100,000 unionized working people across the province. UNA will become the Federations' largest single affiliate, joining about 30 other unions from both the public and private sectors.


For more information call:

Kerry Barrett, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 720-8945 (cell)

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 483-3021 (wk)

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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)

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