AFL calls for boycott on Shaw Conference Centre

EDMONTON - In an effort to show support for striking workers at the Shaw Conference Centre, the Alberta Federation of Labour is urging unions and union members to boycott the facility.

In a letter to more than 200 locals, provincial and national presidents, AFL president Les Steel asked unions to cancel events at the conference centre and encourage members to stop attending things like concerts and trade shows held there.

"Appeals to fairness and decency haven't worked," said Steel. "So maybe they'll start to pay attention when we hit them in their pocketbooks."

Steel admits that unions are not the biggest users of the conference centre - but they still represent a significant amount of business, especially when you include all the union members who individually attend functions held at the centre.

In response to the AFL's call for a boycott, the Alberta Teachers Association and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters have already agreed to take their business elsewhere. The ATA will also be encouraging local school principals to move events such as graduations out of the conference centre.

Workers at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton have been on strike for more than two weeks in an effort to win a first collective agreement.

Steel points out that the workers aren't asking for the moon. They're satisfied with their current wage level, so money isn't an issue. What they're really looking for is protection from unfair treatment. In particular, they want the conference centre to stop its practice of classifying people as part-timers even when they work full-time hours. And they want something done about racism, harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

"This is clearly a group of workers that needs a union and the protection that a collective agreement can bring," says Steel. "A boycott of the facility is the least we can do to help them win a fair deal."

For more information call:

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

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Government plans to download responsibility for health care could cost Alberta businesses $500 million a year, says AFL

CALGARY - The Alberta government's plan to limit Medicare coverage will end up costing businesses in the province $500 million or more each year, says a presentation prepared by the Alberta Federation of Labour for Roy Romanow's commission on the future of health care.

"The recommendations contained in the Mazankowski report aren't just misguided - some of them are downright dangerous from an economic point of view," says AFL President Les Steel, who will be appearing before Romanow in Calgary today.

In its presentation to the commission, the AFL focuses on the impact of government plans to download health costs from the public sector onto the shoulders of individuals and businesses. In particular, the AFL says that plans to de-list services and introduce so-called Medical Savings Accounts will create a market for supplementary private health insurance.

"For those of us in the labour movement, our preference would be to maintain a comprehensive and fully funded public system," says Steel. "But make no mistake - if the Alberta government goes ahead with plans to limit what's covered publicly, then unions will have no choice but to fight for supplementary private insurance at the bargaining table. It will become one of our top priorities."

As it stands right now, Canadian employers pay an average of $93 a month for extended health benefits to cover things like dental and vision care. That compares to the U.S. where employers pay as much as $600 per employee every month for health benefits. Steel says any move to limit Medicare coverage will result in dramatic increases to benefit costs for Alberta businesses.

"There are 275,000 unionized workers in this province," he says. "So if supplementary private insurance health insurance costs another $50 per month per employee that's an extra cost to Alberta businesses of $165 million per year. If it costs an extra $100 per month, that's a cost of $330 million per year. And if it costs an extra $150 per month, that's an added cost to business of $495 million each year. And that's just the unionized workforce."

In the end, the AFL says the Mazankowksi plan will saddle Alberta businesses with hundreds of millions - many even billions - in extra, on-going costs. This will drive up the cost of doing business in Alberta; it will reduce the competitive advantage that we currently enjoy because of Medicare; and it will probably mean the loss of thousands of jobs as companies scramble to pay the bills.

"The message for the Alberta business community is clear: wake up and smell the coffee," says Steel. "They should not be supporting this government's health policy. It will be very bad for business."

For more information call:

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

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-910-1137 (cell)

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"Would You Call Two Deaths a Week An Epidemic?"

Marking the 7th International Day of Mourning, the Alberta Federation of Labour is asking why workplace deaths are given much lower priority than other causes of death. The AFL suggests that any other thing that killed two people a week would be called an epidemic.
Sunday April 28th is the International Day of Mourning, and is recognized around the world as the day to remember workers who have been killed and injured due to work. Day of Mourning started in Canada in 1986 after the labour movement persuaded the House of Commons to proclaim the day.

"If a disease killed two people a week every year, we might call it an epidemic," says AFL President Les Steel. "There would be millions poured into research and prevention."
"Last year in Alberta 118 workers were killed because of work - and that is just the official figure," Steel points out. "That is more than two workers a week. And the rate has remained that high for years now."

But, Steel points out, the Alberta government only puts $4 per worker into health and safety enforcement and prevention. By comparison, the meningitis outbreak in Alberta has killed 4 people. The Alberta government launched a $22 million campaign to immunize young people from the disease.

"Meningitis is a serious disease that deserves prompt preventative action such as immunization," says Steel. "My question is why does the death of 118 workers each year not spark the same concern?"

"The answer is that still too many people, including the Alberta government, believe that workplace accidents are just another cost of doing business. What we need is a zero tolerance policy on workplace accidents."

Steel points out that the government refuses to even lower flags to half-mast on April 28 in respect for the 118 killed workers. "We made a request to the Minister to lower flags on that day, but he refused outright. This says a lot about what kind of priority he places on injured workers."

The City of Edmonton and other Alberta municipalities regularly proclaim Day of Mourning. Flags at City of Edmonton buildings will be flown at half mast on Sunday. "I can't see why the provincial government can't do the same."

"We want to use the Day of Mourning to recommit ourselves to working for safer workplaces and an end to workplace death. We want every worker in Alberta to make it home safe at the end of the work day," Steel concludes.

For more information contact:

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

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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)


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)


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

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