Labour Rally at Edmonton International Airport

The Alberta Federation of Labour is organizing a rally at the Edmonton International Airport today (Thursday, January 25, 2001) from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

The rally is being called in support of members of the International Association of Machinists Local 1681 who have been on strike against Airport Terminal Services since December 18, 2000.

For further information call:

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

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Audrey Cormack to step down as President of the Alberta Federation of Labour

EDMONTON - Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour since 1995, has decided not to seek a fourth term. She leaves after twelve years as a full-time officer of the AFL - six years as Secretary Treasurer prior to her terms as President.

"I believe that I successfully met the goals I set for myself," said Cormack. "I helped unite a divided labour movement, and made the Alberta Federation of Labour more relevant to union members in the Province."

Cormack is also proud of the increased credibility the AFL has enjoyed with government and media under her leadership. "When I was elected, the labour movement did not seem to be able to speak to government, let alone meet with them," observed Cormack. "That is not to say that we have agreed with government on the burning issues of the day, but at least we have been able to make our voice heard."

Under Cormack, the labour movement has played a key role in creating debate in the province over critical issues like health care and education funding and workers' rights. "The Federation brought people together at our People's Summit in the fall of 1997 - and in various coalitions and common fronts we forged with many organizations and individuals," said Cormack. "I believe the Federation played a central role in organizing the campaigns to restore health care and education funding and in the opposition to Bill 11," she said.

She feels that one of the most important victories of the AFL under her leadership was the prevention of American-style right-to-work laws. "I truly believe that if it were not for a province-wide labour campaign, we would have seen right-to-work laws in this province - which would have been a disaster for Alberta workers," said Cormack.

Ms. Cormack intends to continue to be as energetic and dedicated on the last day of her tenure as President as she was on the first day. "This has been a challenging, fulfilling time of my life," she concluded, "And I intend to enjoy it to the very last second of my term on May 6, 2001."

For further information call:

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

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New century brings little comfort to working people, says AFL

Edmonton - The year 2000 won't be fondly remembered by the working people of Alberta says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Although unemployment was down, there were no other positive indicators for workers in an economy that showed strong growth.

"With the provincial unemployment rate at just 4.8 per cent," said Cormack, "and with exports and the energy, manufacturing and retail sales sectors all showing strong growth, you would expect there to be a real improvement in wages."

Average weekly earnings actually did rise by 3.9 per cent between September 1999 and September 2000, but Cormack doesn't place much credence in the statistic. "Once you realize that average hourly wages basically remained flat throughout 2000, it is obvious that the increase in average weekly wages is attributable to increased overtime work and not to actual wage increases at all," she observed. [Average hourly wages actually declined slightly from $15.66 in January 2000 to $15.63 in August, 2000]

"And," she added, "with the year to year inflation rate at 4.4 per cent in November, it is painfully clear that most Alberta workers are actually making less real income this year than last year."

The continued depression of wage levels is going to create real hardships for working families in the New Year, according to Cormack. "Albertans are just beginning to face the consequences of the Klein government's power deregulation policies," she said. "Let's face it, Alberta is a cold country - and electrical power and gas heating are not simply commodities to Albertans, they are necessities."

Cormack sees no immediate end to the spiraling costs of electricity and heating for Alberta households. "No quick-fix cheques from the government will ever address the intolerable increase in family energy costs," she said. "With wages stagnant, workers are going to be in trouble."

Cormack blames the continued attack on workers rights to organize and bargain collectively for the continued lack of wage gain in the province.

"The year 2000 was marred by several key labour disputes that clearly posed the government on the side of anti-union employers," says Cormack. "The refusal of the government to intervene in the Calgary Herald strike - despite the fact that then-owner Conrad Black publicly announced that he was going to bust the union - sent a clear message to all employers and workers that the provincial government wasn't interested in protecting the rights of Albertans to belong to unions.

Cormack also points to the strike/lock-out at Brewers Distributing Limited where the government refused to check the employers decision to simply contract out long-time unionized workers' jobs to a cheaper non-union company. "In the BDL dispute, the government basically gave employers the green light to contract-out entire operations to evade the democratic rights of unionized workers," says Cormack.

Cormack sees little difference in government activity in the public sector. "Although hospital workers got modest wage increases," she notes, "it was only after an 'illegal' strike - and the government is still seeking punitive damages against the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees for having the audacity to actually stand up for their members."

Things were even worse for non-unionized workers according to Cormack. "The lack of policing and enforcement of the most basic workers' rights contained in the Employment Standards Code is a disgrace," says Cormack. "And, even when offenders are caught and found guilty of violating workers' rights - as in the recent Buffet World case - the courts refuse to take effective action."

"The year 2000 was not a good one for working people," summarizes Cormack, "and things don't look any better for 2001. Costs are rising, wages are depressed, and we are dealing with a chronic shortfall in public services and programs like health care and education which is costing us and our families in many ways."

Nonetheless, Cormack remains hopeful. "I believe that the working men and women of Alberta will not accept the dismal future the Klein government seems to have mapped out for them," she concludes. "We will mobilize and organize to force some real, positive changes in our social and economic circumstances."

For more information please call:

Audrey Cormack, President, AFL     @     780-499-6530 (cell) / 780-428-9367 (hm)

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AFL marks Human Rights Day by making commitment to continue fighting intolerance

EDMONTON - In recognition of International Human Rights Day, Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, is encouraging Albertans to join labour's struggle against racism, sexism, bigotry and intolerance in the workplace and within communities.

"In order to create change, there needs to be a commitment on the part of Albertans to fight human rights abuses. Discrimination, exploitation and hatred are not solely the realities faced by those on the other side of the globe. Right here in our province, in our homes, our communities and workplaces, intolerance exists," says Steel.

Steel made his comments just days before the 52nd anniversary of the United Nation's Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Declaration - one of the most important and influential documents ever adopted by the UN - sets out a comprehensive framework for the rights and freedoms that should be granted to all people. Ever since its signing, December 10th has been recognized as International Human Rights Day.

Steel says that the labour movement is and has been leading the way in the area of human rights. Just last week the Canadian Labour Congress, along with groups including Oxfam Canada and the Maquila Solidarity Network, launched the "No Sweat" campaign. This campaign aims to provide education and information about sweatshop and child labour, at the same time promoting ethical consumerism.

"We are again encouraging Albertans to shop with a conscience this Christmas. We are asking that consumers let retailers and manufacturers know they will not buy toys manufactured in sweatshops in countries like Thailand, China and India," says Steel. "We are continuing to put pressure on large multinationals like Nike to adopt codes of conduct that would guarantee improved working conditions for workers in overseas worksites."

Steel says those Albertans interested in upholding the principles of the UN's Human Rights Declaration should not be discouraged by the large numbers of human rights problems in nations far removed from their own province.

"Obviously, a single person can't stop all the human rights abuses in the world, or reverse national histories marked by intolerance. There are, however, ways that one person can enact change - shopping with a conscience, educating oneself and others about human rights issues, demanding that local governments are enacting progressive human rights legislation - all these things can make a difference," says Steel.

"If enough good people engage themselves in these struggles against human rights abuses, I am convinced that we can make this world a better place for all workers."

For more information call:

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

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Labour urges province to reconstruct municipal funding

EDMONTON - In a December 6th meeting with Walter Paszkowski, Minister of Municipal Affairs, a labour delegation led by AFL President Audrey Cormack, Canadian Labour Congress Alberta Representative Mike Desautels, Edmonton & District Labour Council President Alex Grimaldi, and Don Mitchell, spokesperson for the Coalition of Edmonton Civic Unions, made a strong pitch for greater provincial financial support for Alberta municipalities.

"We pointed out to the government that Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Medicine Hat have some of the lowest municipal tax rates in Canada," said Cormack. "That is a good thing for citizens and businesses located in our cities," she added, "but the restraint on city taxes is going to have negative consequences soon if other forms of civic revenue are not found."

Speaking for Edmonton civic unions, Don Mitchell pointed out that Edmonton's revenues have only increased by 13% since 1992 - compared to revenue increases of 27% for the federal government and a whopping 69% for the provincial government.

"At the same time," said Mitchell, "unconditional provincial grants to the City have been cut by a quarter of a billion dollars since 1993."

With all costs, particularly in the construction areas continuing to rise, and with a steadily growing population base, this has left Edmonton and other Alberta cities in an increasingly precarious position.

EDLC President Alex Grimaldi and the other civic union leaders present at the meeting voiced their concerns about the future consequences of Edmonton's fiscal dilemma. "No one wants to see a tax increase," said Grimaldi, "but we will all be looking at cuts to badly needed municipal services and cuts in vital municipal employment if things continue as they have been."

"Labour wants both senior levels of government to reinvest in our cities," observed Cormack. "The Alberta government in particular, with its billions of dollars in surpluses, must construct a new fiscal partnership with our municipalities."

"I believe that this use of the surplus would yield a huge dividend in the overall quality of life for Albertans," said Cormack.

The labour group is planning to engage in a long term lobbying effort - involving unions from every Alberta city - to convince the provincial government of that fact.

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President, AFL   @   (780) 499-6530 (cell) / (780) 483-3021 (wk)


Alex Grimaldi, President EDLC        @ (780) 474-4747 (wk)

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Cormack views December 6th as a "reminder that we need to resolve to end violence against women"

EDMONTON - The AFL will commemorate December 6th by holding an annual workshop to strategize concrete actions to eliminate violence against women.

This year will mark the 11th anniversary of the massacre of 14 women at L'ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. The women, all engineering students, were killed by a gunman on December 6, 1989.

"It is important that we honor these young women. Their deaths now symbolize the experience of so many women whose lives have been shattered by gender-based violence," says AFL President, Audrey Cormack.

"Each year, this day serves as a reminder that we need to resolve to end violence against women," says Cormack.

Cormack adds, "when 51% of Canadian women are victims of violence, it sends a clear message that there is still a lot of work to be done."

Since 1990, the Alberta Federation of Labour's Women's Committee has made a commitment to holding annual workshops to develop practical strategies that address the problem of violence against women. This year's workshop, "Action and Healing: It Starts With You" will be held on December 7th in Calgary.

"By bringing men and women together in these workshops to look at ways to end this violence, we are creating change. We are, in effect, giving people the tools they need to actively fight violence against women," says Cormack.

"It is through education, activism and collective action that we can begin to make some inroads - for the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against women," says Cormack.

For further information contact:

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

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Review Committee Reports Agree with Workers that WCB System Not Working

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today responded to the release of two WCB Review Committee Reports by stating that injured workers have been vindicated by the findings. Both reports were highly critical of WCB, calling it unaccountable. Both reports recommend sweeping changes to WCB policies and procedures. The AFL urged the Minister of Human Resources and Employment, Clint Dunford, to act swiftly on the reports.

"I feel injured workers around the province have been vindicated today," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "We have said for years that the WCB is unaccountable, unresponsive and uninterested in helping injured workers. The two review committees agree with us."

"However, I am concerned these reports, like so many before them, will simply gather dust on the Minister's desk," adds Cormack. "I intend to pressure Minister Dunford to act swiftly to implement the recommendations found in the reports."

The MLA review committee found that the core problem at WCB is a lack of accountability. "I agree that accountability is the issue most needing correction at the WCB. It can't happen too soon for me."

Cormack also highlights that the MLA Committee suggests that conflict of interest is a serious potential problem at the WCB. Cormack urges further exploration of this matter.

Cormack says that she is in agreement with most of the recommendations found in the MLA Review Committee. In particular, she is pleased to see recommendations addressing:

  • Recommendations curtailing the power of medical advisors and give more authority to the treating physician and an independent panel of doctors.
  • Establishment of a Tribunal to review past cases where the worker did not receive just compensation.
  • Implementation of an Alternative Disputes Resolution mechanism.

The AFL's opinion of the Appeals Systems Review committee is more mixed. "I am very, very pleased they are recommending the WCB pay for external advocates hired by injured workers. This will make the system much more fair."

Cormack is concerned with recommendations urging the Appeals Commission fall under the Department of Justice, and that a more "legalistic" framework be established for appeals. "In our submission to the Committee, we stated that we did not think a more legalistic approach would help injured workers."

"Today the WCB got its long deserved conviction for failing in its mandate. Hopefully tomorrow we can get the needed changes implemented so we can finally have a fair and just WCB in this province," Cormack concludes.

For further information contact:

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

Jason Foster, Director  (cell) 780-910-1137

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Cormack urges Conservatives to "safeguard our most precious resource"

EDMONTON - On a day dedicated to our nation's children, Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour is asking the Klein government, "where is the money in the provincial budget that is dedicated to developing the province's most valuable resource - its children?"

"With 16 percent of children under the age of 18 living in poverty in this province, it seems pretty clear that there is not enough being done by this government," says Cormack.

"These children are being trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence, which lends itself to an array of other risks, delays and problems.  Kids in these environments will probably face the same bleak reality as their parents - marginal employability and disempowerment," says Cormack.

A Report released in August 2000 by the Department of Children's Services shows child welfare caseloads have increased by 82% from 1992-1993 caseload rates.  The report recommended that families with dependent children who are on welfare should have enough income to provide their children with life opportunities similar to those of other children in their communities.

"What this increase says to me is that there are even more children not being able to experience the so-called 'Alberta Advantage.'  Instead, they are having to rely on a child welfare system that is stretched to the limit," says Cormack. "And we know children are poor because their parents are poor. That means Alberta should increase its minimum wage, for a start, and take a serious look at how Alberta families are coping in our province."

"Children are still bearing the burden of Klein's cuts.  With all the money that has been poured into other resource areas lately, I urge this government to step up and put money into children. Child welfare, education and core funding for organizations that serve children, all need to become substantial parts of this government's spending."

National Child Day was created in 1993 by the Federal government to commemorate the United Nations' adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.  Rights covered under this convention include children's rights to education, healthcare and protection from harm.

President Cormack says, "I would hope that Mr. Klein would use this day to realize that our resources are not limited to oil and gas; Albertans need to be recognized.  By putting money back into children, we take a step to ensuring the rights of children are met.  They are too valuable a resource to disregard."

For further information contact:

Audrey M. Cormack, President (cell) 499-6530 / (hm) 428-9367 / (wk) 471-5525

Statistics Canada, Low Income Persons, 1980 to 1997(Catalogue 13-569-XIB)
The report "Child Welfare Caseload Growth in Alberta" (August 31, 2000) can be obtained from the Deputy Minister's Office, Childrens' Services, Government of Alberta.

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Government Taking On A Health and Safety Headache in Swan Hills Plant

EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour released documents today accessed through the Freedom of Information Act which show that Bovar employees have elevated PCB levels in their blood and that health and safety incidents such as spills and leaks of contaminated waste is frequent on the Swan Hills site.

"If the government intends to take over Swan Hills, they had better know that they have a huge health and safety problem at that site," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Documents we received through FOIP show that PCB blood levels in Bovar workers have grown steadily since 1993. The documents also show that Bovar's health and safety record is questionable."

"When the government takes over, their first priority better be cleaning up the site and doing a better job of protecting the workers."

Cormack pointed out that Bovar records show that in 1993 blood levels of PCBs averaged 1.8 PPB in Swan Hills workers. By 1997, this number reached 8.25 PPB. In 1999 the level was 7.28 (chart attached). A Bovar memo relates the small drop to "the increase of new employees who may not have been exposed to PCB's previously." (memo dated July 17, 1998).

The documents also show that in 1998 that 4% of Bovar's workforce had PCB blood levels over 30 ppb, which is the level at which immediate action is required to limit PCB exposure. While the scientific measurements of PCB blood levels are very complicated, most experts consider the levels seen at the Swan Hill plant to be above normal and at a level that should be addresssed.

"The documents also show that the Swan Hills plant has a track record of consistent spills and leaks of contaminated waste," adds Cormack. Health and Safety reports show that spills or leaks causing exposure to hazards happen monthly at the Swan Hills site.

"My primary concern is the welfare of those workers," says Cormack. "Bovar has clearly not done a good enough job protecting them from PCBs and other hazards. If the government is going to step in, they had better do a better job than Bovar did."

Cormack urged the government to bring in scientific experts independent of the Swan Hills Plant to study the problem and offer actions that can be taken to protect the workers. She also wonders why the government never cracked down on Bovar during all these years of health and safety problems.

"If they can't assure the safety of the workers at the plant, it should be shut down until they can, and the workers compensated for the loss of employment and for the exposure to PCBs." Cormack concluded.

For more information call:

Audrey M. Cormack, President at 499-6530 (cell) or428-9367 (hm)

Jason Foster at 910-1137 (cell) or 471-5525 (office)

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The "Hidden Giveaways" of the Federal Mini-Budget: Corporate Tax Cuts

The hidden secret in yesterday's pre-election mini-budget by Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin was billions in corporate tax reductions, the AFL points out today. Despite the crowings of the Finance minister, the reality of yesterday's announcement is that corporations will be receiving a bigger tax break than Canadian families from the Liberals as they head into a snap election next week.

"While Paul Martin was bragging about tax cuts for Canadians, under the table he was quietly slipping corporations a massive tax cut - one even larger than Canadian families receive," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"The Liberal government's real priorities are surviving the next six weeks, not setting sound policy for the next few years."

"According to the government's own figures, corporate tax rates will be dropping 35% by 2004-05," observes Cormack. "The average tax break for families is 21%."

Cormack pointed out that while the personal tax rate will only be dropping between 6% and 10%, corporate tax rates are being slashed 25%. The cut in the Capital Gains inclusion rate from two-thirds to one-half will amount to billions more in corporate profits going untaxed.

"The cut in the capital gains tax is the move that makes the least sense. It is multi-billion dollar freebie to speculators, the big banks and large corporations with no public policy rationale," Cormack observes. "No one was calling for this cut, and it make absolutely no economic sense."

Cormack says she was looking for more financial support for important people programs - health care and education. "The mini-budget virtually ignored the real priorities of working Canadians." However, Cormack points out that the creation of a fourth tax bracket - a rate of 29% above income of $100,000 - is a positive move, as it restores more progressivity in the tax system. This positive move is unfortunately nullified by the elimination of the Deficit Reduction Surtax on incomes over $100,000.

"The federal Liberals are spinning a tale that they are the friends of working families. However their Bay Street membership cards are showing in the back pockets. And it shows when you take a close look at their policy." Cormack concludes.

For more information call:

Audrey M. Cormack, President  at  499-6530 (cell)  or 428-9367 (hm)

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