AFL convention opens tomorrow in Edmonton

EDMONTON - More than three hundred union leaders and activists from around the province will be in Edmonton tomorrow to participate in the opening day of the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention.

During the course of the four-day meeting, delegates will focus their discussions on the linkages that exist between democracy, globalization and workers rights.

The convention is being held May 3-6 at the Crowne Plaza-Chateau Lacombe Hotel in Edmonton, which is located at 10111 Bellamy Hill.

Highlights for the first day of convention (Thursday, May 3) include the following:

  • Out-going AFL president Audrey Cormack will deliver her address to delegates at 10:30 a.m. This will be Cormack's final formal address as AFL president. After six years as president, she will be stepping down at the end of this convention.
  • At 11 a.m., the AFL will present a research paper entitled "Losing Ground: The Slow Decline of Workers' Rights and Privileges in Alberta 1975-2000." The report shows in detail how conditions for most working people in the province have actually declined over the past 25 years, despite strong growth in the economy and business profits.
  • Former B.C. Premier Dave Barrett will speak to the convention at 11:30 a.m. Barrett will talk about the important role unions have to play in promoting democracy and protecting working people from the negative impacts of corporate globalization.
  • Michael Fraser, Canadian Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) will address the convention at 2:30 p.m. Fraser will talk about his union's highly successful efforts to organize young workers in the service industry. UFCW is one of North America's largest private sector unions.

In addition to hearing from speakers and receiving reports, delegates will discuss resolutions on a wide range of issues. All of Thursday's convention activities will take place in the hotel's main ballroom.

All reporters and media personnel are asked to register at the AFL Convention office, located in the Lacombe Room. No one will be allowed on the convention floor without a formal media credential.


For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 990-2650

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Union activists and leaders gather in Edmonton for AFL Convention

EDMONTON - Union leaders and activists from around the province will gather in Edmonton this week to attend the biennial convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

This year, the AFL has borrowed a slogan from the Quebec City anti-globalization protests to act as the convention's theme. The slogan is "This is What Democracy Looks Like!"

"We'll be talking about democracy both inside our unions and in the broader Canadian society," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "In particular, we'll be talking about the need for unions to get involved in the democratic process in order to better protect and promote the interests of working people."

The convention will take place May 3-6 in Edmonton. It will be held in the Crowne Plaza-Chateau Lacombe Hotel, which is located at 10111 Bellamy Hill.

Delegates to the convention will hear from a number of high-profile speakers including, Dave Barrett, former Premier of British Columbia. Barrett will address the convention on Thursday, May 3 at 11:30 a.m.

In addition, a panel will be held Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to discuss the threat to democracy and workers rights posed by international trade agreements like NAFTA and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

The panel will include former Edmonton Journal columnist Linda Goyette, health care researcher and author Colleen Fuller, anti-globalization activist Scott Harris and native activist Rodney Bobiwash.

Convention delegates will also discuss a wide range of resolutions and policy documents, including papers on human rights, drug testing in the workplace and strategies for political action by the labour movement in Alberta.

This will be the last convention for Audrey Cormack, who is stepping down as AFL president after serving in that position for six years. A new president and Executive Council will be elected by delegates on Sunday morning.

"The past six years have been eventful for the labour movement and we have had our fair share of victories," says Cormack. "I'm confident that this convention will lay the groundwork for even more success for working people over the next two years."


For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 483-3021

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Day of Mourning Chance to Make Workplaces Safer

Albertans need to not forget the 14 year old boy killed at a construction site, or the Subway store employee beaten to death by a robber, says Alberta Federation of Labour President Audrey Cormack. Across Alberta on Friday and Saturday, workers will be respecting a minute of silence and participating in other events to remember workers killed at work. April 28 is the 6th International Day of Mourning to commemorate those killed at work.

"We must not forget the needless death of the 14 year old boy killed at an Edmonton construction site, or the Subway store employee brutally beaten to death, or the 116 other workplace deaths in Alberta last year," says Cormack. "If we do, we will learn nothing from these tragedies."

"We need to take time to remember workers who were killed and injured. But more importantly, we need to use the Day of Mourning to strengthen our resolve to end workplace death," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "We need to fight to make workplaces safer and make sure every worker makes it home safely at night."

Cormack points out that new statistics released by the AFL this week show that accident rates have doubled in the last decade. She attributes the increase to lax enforcement of the regulations.

"In Alberta, we are going in the wrong direction," adds Cormack. "There were 118 workers killed in the year 2000, and each and every one of them was avoidable."

"The government, the WCB, employers and workers need to all work harder to make workplaces safer. There don't need to be any more deaths."

The AFL will be hosting a candle ceremony in Edmonton on Saturday at 11:00 am at City Hall. Events will also be held in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray and many other centres around Alberta. Flags will be at half-mast in many cities, and tens of thousands of workers will observe a minute of silence during the workday. Thousands of other workers will be marking Day of Mourning on Friday, as Saturday is not a work day at many workplaces.

"Day of Mourning is only one day, but I hope that in that one day, we find the resolve to fight for 365 days for safer workplaces," Cormack concluded.


For further information contact:

Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 780-499-6530 (cell)

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Dues Suspension Decision Slap In Face To Alberta Workers

The Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the Labour Relations Board decision today to suspend the collection of dues for AUPE health care workers for a two month period by calling the decision "disappointing" and a "slap in the face to workers". The Board ruled on an application to punish AUPE for a strike last year involving 10,000 health care workers.

"Today's decision is a slap in the face to Alberta workers," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "It sets a dangerous precedent, one that workers must fight."

"This is an extremely disappointing ruling, one that highlights just how badly Alberta's labour law stacks the deck against working people," says Cormack. "Alberta is the only province in the country that allows employers to punish workers in this manner."

Cormack points out that the decision will affect any worker who does not have the right to strike, which is thousands more than any other province. "It is a statement from the government that an individual worker's right to free association will not be respected in this province."

The AFL intends to pursue a challenge to section 112 of the Labour Code as a violation of the Charter of Rights. Section 112 is the section which permits an employer to apply for a suspension of dues. The Board has already set dates for a hearing on these arguments on May 11.

"We intend to intervene in the hearing to argue that the section violates the constitutional right of an individual worker to free association," says Cormack. "We want the section struck down."

Cormack states the AFL's argument that such punitive action allowed under section 112 interferes with a worker's right to association by restricting the ability of the bargaining agent to represent the member. The collection of dues has been found by the Courts to be a protected part of freedom of association, as dues are the vehicle which allows a union to effectively represent their members. If a member is not effectively represented, their rights are breached.

Cormack also points out that the union has already been punished through a court-imposed fine. Any further action is an unjustified interference with workers' rights, Cormack believes.

Cormack says the decision will only further sour labour relations in Alberta. "Alberta's labour laws create poor labour relations by creating an unlevel playing field, this decision tips the balance even further."

"The message to workers today is that your rights won't be respected in this province." Cormack concluded.


For further information contact:

Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/499-6530 cell/428-9367 hm

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New Statistics Show Workplace Accident Rates Have Doubled in Past 10 Years

As the 6th International Day of Mourning approaches, the Alberta Federation of Labour released new figures today showing that the rate of workplace accidents in Alberta has nearly doubled in the past decade.

"The tragic reality is that workplaces are more dangerous today than they were 10 years ago," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel. "There are three times as many accidents today as a decade ago. Even factoring in the growth in the workforce, Alberta's accident rate is double what is was."

"April 28 is the International Day of Mourning," added Steel. "Last year 118 workers were killed at work. It is a reminder to all of us that we need to do more to make workplaces safer." It is the fourth straight year in which more than 100 workers were killed.

Steel stated that the Alberta government and WCB are not doing enough to combat unsafe workplaces. "We need stronger enforcement from the government and the WCB needs to pay more attention to injured workers and less to the financial bottom line."

Using figures from WCB, the AFL calculated that in 2000 there were just over 12 accidents for every 100 workers. This compares to 6.3 accidents in 1991. "Accident rates have creeped upward during the past decade, and the Alberta government and WCB have not acted to stem the rise."

"Employers can get away with almost anything in health and safety, because there aren't enough inspectors in the field and there is not enough political will to prosecute employers who break the law," says Steel.

The AFL used the total number of claims accepted by WCB and divided it by the number of workers covered to come up with the accident rate. Total claims include all officially reported accidents.

"The only accurate way to determine how safe workplaces are is to measure how often accidents are occurring."

The WCB presents misleading figures to the public, Steel charges. The WCB commonly refers to the lost-time claim rate, which is the rate of claims that resulted in a worker missing work for more than one day. The measure ignores more than 100,000 claims. Some are less serious injuries, not requiring the worker to miss workdays. Some are serious injuries, but the employer prevents time-loss by offering modified work or other programs to keep the employee at work.

"The trend toward modified work and other "make-work" programs distort the true health and safety picture," observes Steel. "Workers are still getting injured, but employers are just getting better at minimizing the loss in productivity." Steel indicates the growth in modified work programs is due in large part to the fact WCB sets premiums based on time-loss claims only, and not all claims, creating an incentive for employers to hide time-loss.

"WCB should be setting premiums based upon the number of accidents in the workplace, not the number of time-loss claims."

To mark Day of Mourning, the AFL will be holding a ceremony at City Hall on Saturday, April 28 at 11:00 am. The International Day of Mourning was started in Canada by the Canadian Labour Congress. It has now spread to more the 100 countries worldwide. Day of Mourning remembers those workers who were killed at work.

"Instead of more of the same old word games, we should use this year's Day of Mourning to make a new effort to make workplaces safer. Two deaths a week is too many. One death is too many," Steel concluded.

For further information contact:

Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer   @ 780-483-3021 (wk)/499-4135 (cell)

Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021

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Tories continue to ignore the sacrifices made by majority of public sector workers

EDMONTON - The provincial government's budget does not set aside nearly enough money to cover long-overdue wage increases for the majority of public sector workers, says the Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"It's great that money is being put in place to boost the salaries of nurses and teachers," says Les Steel. "But they're not the only public sector workers who have made sacrifices over the past seven or eight years. Given the size of the budget surplus, this government could have afforded to pay back all public sector workers, not just a chosen few."

Steel was particularly critical of the government's decision to earmark funds specifically for wage increases for nurses and teachers instead of boosting overall funding for regional health authorities, school boards and other public sector employers.

He warned this approach is similar to the one taken by the Harris government in Ontario, where school boards were given money to finance raises for teachers but not enough to pay for increases for support staff. The result has been bitter a three-week strike by support workers.

"The only way to avoid a similar scenario from playing our here is to make sure public employers have enough funds to negotiate fairly with all of their employees," says Steel, adding that, when inflation is taken into account, most public sector workers in the province are currently earning between 10 and 15 percent less than the did in 1993.

Steel also expressed regret that the government is not using its huge budget surplus "to build something lasting for the future."

"This government is taking oil and gas out of the ground at a record pace. But what will we have to show for it when it's all gone?" he asks.

"The revenues generated by this bonanza could be used to leave a real legacy for future generations. We could be investing in a better system of workplace training and apprenticeship to meet the shortage of skilled workers. We could be investing in a universal, $5-dollar-a-day childcare program that would ease the financial crunch on young families.

"We could be investing in a pharmacare program that brings down they cost of prescription drugs. We could be doing any or all of these things - but instead the government has decided to do muddle along. So in the end, this budget represents nothing more than a tremendous, squandered opportunity."


For more information call:

Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ (780) 483-3021

or

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021

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Government still refusing to acknowledge serious problems facing Alberta

EDMONTON - Yesterday's Throne Speech was much like the Conservative's recent election campaign - long on reassuring rhetoric and short on substance, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"As usual, the government was quick to take credit for our province's strong economy - even though the current boom has much more to do with high international prices for oil and gas than that any policies adopted by the government," says Cormack.

"At the same time, they are still refusing to acknowledge that, despite our wealth, Alberta is facing a number of serious problems. For example, they are still refusing to admit that power deregulation has been a costly failure. And they are still refusing to acknowledge that classes are too large in our schools; that funding for municipalities is inadequate; and that tuition fees are too high in our colleges and universities."

Even in cases where the government promised to take action, Cormack says the Throne Speech focused on symptoms without getting at the root causes of problems.

"They talked about the need to address poverty - but they didn't talk about increasing the minimum wage. They talked about giving our children the best possible start in life - but they didn't talk about improving access to day care or reducing class size. This continues to be a government that simply cannot connect the dots."

Cormack predicts that Albertans who actually took the time to listen to or read the Throne Speech will come away feeling disappointed.

"Here in Alberta, we have been blessed with abundant resources - resources and wealth that make us the envy of the country," says Cormack. "We could be using our wealth to invest in people and build a better future for our children. But instead of progressive investment, we get tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation and an incredibly expensive and ill-conceived rebate program.  In this Throne Speech the government could have outlined a real vision for post-debt Alberta - instead all we got was platitudes. It was a wasted opportunity."


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President at 499-6530 (cell) or 483-3021 (work)

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AFL president available for questions after Throne Speech

EDMONTON - Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, will be available to answer questions from the media following today's Throne Speech. The Throne Speech will be delivered today at 3 p.m. at the Legislature. Cormack will be in the Legislature's rotunda immediately afterwards to offer the labour movement's response to the speech.


For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:    @    (780) 483-3021

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AFL urges Calgary city council to show some movement on transit strike

CALGARY - An agreement to end Calgary's 41-day old transit strike is within reach if city council is willing to show some movement on the key issues of shuttle buses and a wage study for ticketed trades people, says a spokesperson for the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Those are the two big issues that are still on the table," said AFL Secretary Treasurer Les Steel. "If the political will is there, this strike could be over tomorrow and the drivers could get back to the job of providing top-notch service to Calgarians."

Most Calgarians would be frustrated if they knew just how quickly and inexpensively a deal could be reached, said Steel. He pointed out that the union is now willing to accept an increase in the number of shuttle buses to seven percent of the city's fleet during daylight hours. Previously, they had drawn the line at six percent.

Unfortunately, the city is still refusing to budge from its demand that shuttle buses make up nine percent of the city's fleet. The city is also refusing to consider a wage study to determine if the mechanics, electricians and other ticketed trades people working for Calgary transit are being paid fairly compared to other trades people in the province.

"At the end of the day, this all about fairness and common sense," said Steel. "All the drivers want is an assurance that their jobs aren't going to be put on the chopping block. And all the trades people are saying is that it's going to be hard to recruit and retain people if wages fall below the prevailing provincial average."

Steel says it would cost the city only $187,000 more to operate the transit system under the union's latest contract than it did before the strike. He says that figure pales in comparison to the $6 million that has already been spent on taxi vouchers and the $2 million that the city has spent on advertising.

"Add to that all the overtime wages that are being paid to management personnel and the inconvenience that is being caused to commuters and it becomes clear that the cost of this strike is too high," said Steel. "The time has come for city council to abandon its hard-line position and start treating its employees as respected partners, not adversaries. Now that the union has made a move on shuttle buses, there's a real opportunity to settle this. It's an opportunity city council shouldn't squander."


For information, contact:

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

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Losing Ground: The Slow Decline of Workers' Rights and Privileges in Alberta 1975-2000

Losing Ground: The Slow Decline of Workers' Rights and Privileges in Alberta (1975-2000)

This booklet examines what effects this has had on the lives of working people in Alberta. In a sense, it represents a snapshot of daily life for workers that is then compared to a similar snapshot taken 25 years ago in 1975. This provides the perspective of an historic view that compares the lives and working conditions faced by two different generations of Alberta workers and their families.

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