The Alberta Federation of Labour is set to undertake a new phase of their Worker Literacy Project. Cormack, President of the AFL resolves that "we will continue training workplace literacy trainers so that we can shift our focus to the actual delivery of literacy programs in the workplace and on job sites."
"The link between literacy and the labour movement has never been stronger," says Cormack, in marking September 8th as International Literacy Day. "When 45% of all new jobs created in this decade require 16 years of education, there is a definite need for literacy programs in the workplace. Literacy IS a labour issue."
According to the International Adult Literacy Survey conducted by Statistics Canada and OECD and released in June 2000, literacy is linked to economic success. Findings showed that literacy levels determine what kinds of jobs people find, the salaries they make and their ability to upgrade their skills.
"The skills workers need to compete in an ever-changing labour market include communication and leadership skills. It is not good enough to just promote literacy, we need to provide workers with ongoing training in reading and writing, paired with a focus on technology," says Cormack.
In 1991, the AFL began work on a Worker Literacy Project. The multi-phase project, made possible through funding from the National Literacy Secretariat, involved a survey of affiliated members, whose findings and recommendations were compiled in a report called the "Worker Literacy Initiative Project."
President Cormack notes that "when we first embarked on this project in 1991, of the average 14 hours of training Canadian companies provided for their employees, only 2% was literacy training. Our government was spending only 0.5% of our GDP on employment and training programs. Something needed to be done to combat the problem of illiteracy in the workplace."
The second phase of the project, started in 1998, focused on literacy awareness and education within the labour movement. This included training labour educators in supportive literacy strategies, and developing literacy modules to be presented at yearly labour schools.
"It has been almost 10 years since we first started the Worker Literacy Project. We have the research, we have developed the workshops, and literacy trainers have been trained. It's time to move into action and get out to the people it impacts - the workers," says Cormack.
"When we provide workers with the literacy training they need to be effective in their jobs, we have also provided them with the skills, knowledge and experience they will need to become empowered as individuals and within their communities," says Cormack. "In the end, everyone benefits."
For more information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President at cell (780) 499-6530
Unions and workers across Alberta should brace themselves for a fight because next year will probably be Ralph Klein's "year of retribution" against organized labour, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
In her annual Labour Day message, Cormack predicted that the Klein government will soon introduce changes to Alberta's labour laws that will make it even more difficult for workers to join unions and for unions to effectively represent their members.
"We already have the most regressive labour laws in the country - laws that stack the deck in favour of employers at the expense of workers," says Cormack. "But that hasn't stopped certain people within government and the business community from lobbying for even more backward laws. They won't be satisfied until the collective bargaining process is completely undermined."
Cormack says the Klein government will package its attack on unions as an effort to "protect the rights of individual workers." This is the approach currently being taken in Ontario, where the Harris government is circulating a policy document calling for the gutting of that province's labour law.
Under the Harris government proposal, unions would have to get "authorization in writing" from each employee before they could collect dues. Approval from individual members would also have to be obtained before unions could use union dues for "political or social causes," such as contributions to political parties or pro-Medicare lobby campaigns.
"This kind of labour law is a dream come true for anti-union employers and conservative politicians," says Cormack. "Laws like these are deliberately designed to weaken unions by starving them of funds. They are also designed to neutralize unions as effective political critics and advocates for their members."
Cormack says she has received information from sources within government suggesting that changes to the Labour Code and the Public Service Employee Relations Act ( PSERA) could be introduced as early as this fall - but more likely after the next election, which is expected to be held in the spring of 2001. Cormack's sources also said the changes are being made, in part, to "get even" with the labour movement.
"This is payback time for Premier Klein," says Cormack. "He wants to get even for the role that unions played in opposing Bill 11 and he wants to punish health care unions for having the audacity to go on strike in support of their very legitimate wage and staffing concerns."
The possibility of even harsher labour laws in Alberta comes as no real surprise, says Cormack.
After all, she points out that this is the same government that recently allowed Labatts and Molson to crush its distribution workers' union by contracting their work to an outside firm; it's the same government that rarely fines companies for health and safety breaches, even when those breaches lead to worker fatalities; it's the same government that regularly turns a blind eye when anti-union employers like Conrad Black use tactics that wouldn't be allowed in other provinces; and it's the same government that for years has supported a union certification process that is rigged in favour of employers.
Cormack predicts that some Albertans will shrug off an attack on organized labour by arguing that unions are not necessary or that they have "out-lived their usefulness." But nothing could be further from the truth, she says.
"Given all the challenges that confront working people at the beginning of the 21th century, it's clear that unions have not lost their relevance or importance," says Cormack. "Far from it. Just look at what's been happening in the world economy and the local economy over the past 20 years. Declining real wages. On-going job insecurity. Deep cuts to public services. Erosion of employment standards and health and safety protections. Corporations moving jobs to low-wage countries in the Third world. The polarization between people who work too many hours and those who don't have enough work. In this kind of environment, working people clearly still need the kind of protection that unions provide - maybe now more than ever."
The past year has provided numerous examples of the good unions can do for workers, says Cormack. It has also provided examples showing how the province's existing labour laws stack the deck against workers.
"This year Alberta hospital workers won a long-overdue wage increase and workers at the pulp mill in Edson got an agreement that gave them improved job security. In both cases, the workers involved would not have won fair agreements without the help and leadership of their unions," says Cormack.
"On the other end of the spectrum, the past year also saw strikes that ended badly largely because of the inherent unfairness of Alberta's labour law. Conrad Black took advantage of Alberta's Labour Code to basically starve strikers at the Calgary into submission. And Labatts and Molson used the law to simply close down its unionized warehouse and move operations to a non-union contractor. These kinds of tactics would be illegal in most other provinces."
Cormack says one of the most frustrating aspects of the government's expected labour law "reform" is that it will almost certainly do nothing to address the real labour-relations problems that currently in Alberta - like the section of the existing labour code that allows hostile employers to simply refuse to bargain with newly certified and duly elected bargaining units.
"In a lot of ways, this is about arrogance," says Cormack. "The Tories are so used to being in charge and always being listened to that they can't stand anyone or any group standing up to them. We stood up to them during the Bill 11 fight. Now they want all of us in the labour movement to pay. But I guarantee that unions won't take this sitting down. We will fight to protect the collective bargaining process and we will fight to protect the interests of working people."
If the government proceeds with efforts to weaken Alberta's labour law, Cormack says they will meet with stiff resistance from the labour movement. At the same time, she says the labour movement will continue to aggressively promote and defend the interests of working people.
"If the government thinks that attacks on the labour laws will distract unions or turn us into lap dogs, then they have got another thing coming," says Cormack. "We will continue to support our members when they're at the bargaining table or on the picket line. We will continue to stand up to employers who ignore the important contributions of their workers. And we will continue to act as vocal critics of government policies that threaten working people and the communities they live in."
For more information call:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
Activists concerned about sweatshop labour will stage rallies outside two popular sporting goods shops in Edmonton and Calgary over the weekend.
Both rallies will be held on Saturday, August 26 starting at 11 a.m. The Edmonton rally will be held outside Sportchek at Mayfair Common (Mayfield Rd. and Stony Plain Road). The Calgary rally will be held outside Forzani's, located at 2415-4th Street S.W.
At both rallies, leaflets will be distributed to shoppers explaining the sweatshop conditions under which many sporting good are manufactured. Customers will also be urged to shop ethically.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is asking why Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford is holding back approval of the new working alone regulation and handbook, when it has been complete for over a month. The working alone regulation was promised after the murder of Tara MacDonald in a Calgary Subway store earlier this year.
"Four months ago, the Minister was promising fast action to the serious problem of working alone," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel. "Today he seems content to let it languish in bureaucratic limbo. We know the minister has been getting a lot of bad publicity lately because of his reaction to the death of a 14-year-old construction worker a couple weeks ago. But that's no reason to stop dealing with other important work safety issues. And it's no reason to go back on a promise."
In April the Minister appointed a committee to prepare a handbook on the hazards of working alone. He also instructed a second committee too fast-track the drafting of new regulations governing working alone. Both committees were to have completed their work by June. In a press release dated April 3, the Minister promised the handbook, which builds on the regulation, would "be made available to workplace stakeholders by June 30, 2000."
"The regulation is now almost a month overdue," says Steel. "Mr. Dunford has a responsibility to workers who have to work alone to get the regulation implemented." Currently in Alberta, there are no regulations governing the practice of working alone.
Steel predicts the release of the regulation will spark more controversy for Dunford. As reported by various media outlets, the proposed regulation will not place a ban on working alone. Steel suggests many Albertans will see the regulation as not doing enough to protect workers.
"July has been a hot month for Dunford," says Steel. "But he is compounding his problems by holding back protection for workers who work alone. He needs to lay aside his media concerns and put the interests of workers up front." Steel called on Dunford to release the regulation immediately, so that workers know what their protections are.
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021(work) or 499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - Alarm bells should be ringing in the provincial labour department now that it has been revealed that there may have been no guardrails on the roof where a 14-year-old boy was working before falling to his death last week.
According to a newspaper report published today, Edmonton police are investigating the possibility the fifth-floor barricade that 14-year-old Shane Stecyk supposed fell over was actually erected after the accident.
"It looks like we had a deadly combination of factors contributing to the death of this young boy," says Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "First, we had a roof that was wet and slippery. Second, we had a young worker with no experience; who had not been given any kind of protective harness; and who had not received any safety training. Third, it looks like there was no guardrail as required by law. It was a deadly accident waiting to happen."
Steel says the provincial government has to take a significant share of the blame for the accident because it doesn't do nearly enough to ensure that companies - especially in dangerous industries such as construction - comply with existing health and safety rules.
"It's not enough to have rules saying things like 'guardrails must be erected' or that "'oung workers need special permits'," says Steel. "These rules are meaningless unless they are enforced and violators are punished. That's just not happening in Alberta today. As a result, the lives of working Albertans - young and old - are being put at risk."
In a letter sent to Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford yesterday, Steel pointed out that provincial spending on occupational health and safety programs has plummeted from $10.61 per worker per year in 1993 to $4.61 per worker in 2000. As a result, the province now has only 58 health and safety inspectors - down from 69 in 1993 - to look after 1.6 million workers and nearly 70,000 work sites.
To make matters worse, Steel says companies are rarely prosecuted for breaking health and safety rules - and even when they are, the fines are too small to act as an effective deterrent. For example, only one company was prosecuted in 1999 - out of the nearly 1,000 companies that were cited for violations.
"It's like trying to mop up an ocean with a sponge," says Steel. "Because of their overwhelming case loads, the inspectors spend almost all of their time investigating fatalities, leaving them with no time to investigate less serious incidents or to do preventative spot checks of problem employers."
Steel says that the government and the public are fooling themselves if they think that Shane Stecyk's is an isolated case.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg," he says. "How many other construction sites don't have proper safety railings? How many other young teens are working illegally on construction sites? Probably a lot - but we don't know because we don't do enough inspections. And despite all the attention this case has received, unscrupulous employers will probably continue to cut corners because they know that, here in Alberta, they can get away with it."
One of the most frustrating aspects of this whole situation, says Steel, is that the government knows which employers and which industries are most dangerous - they've compiled a list based on injury statistics from the WCB. Many of these employers have been targeted for preventative spot inspections under the so-called "Planned Inspection Program" - but the inspectors almost never get around to actually doing the inspections because of lack of resources.
"The bottom line is that we believe the death of this young worker - and many of the other workers who die on Alberta worksites each year - is directly related to the government's lax enforcement of health and safety rules," says Steel. "If nothing else, this case proves what we in the labour movement have been saying for years: namely that there is a desperate need for more frequent and more aggressive health and safety inspections in this province."
For more information call:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021 (wk) / 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, Director of Communications @ 483-3021 (wk)
Workplace deaths are the "tragic and predictable result" of under-funding and lack of political will, says AFL
EDMONTON - The Alberta government is not doing nearly enough to promote and enforce adequate health and safety standards on work sites across the province, says the Secretary Treasurer of Alberta's largest labour organization.
In a letter to provincial Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford, AFL Secretary Treasurer Les Steel criticized the government's track record on health and safety. He also accused Dunford of callously shrugging off the case of 14-year-old Shane Stecyk, who died last week while working at an Edmonton construction site.
Steel says accidents like the one leading to Stecyk's death can never be entirely eliminated. But he says they would happen much less frequently if the government put a higher priority on promoting and enforcing basic health and safety standards.
"I think most Albertans would be appalled if they knew how little money this government spends on things like workplace health and safety inspections," says Steel. "They would also be appalled if they knew how soft the government is on employers who break the rules and put their workers at risk."
In his letter to the Minister, Steel points out that the Alberta government now spends only $4.61 per worker each year on occupational health and safety programs - down from $10.61 per worker in 1993. As a result, there are fewer inspectors, doing fewer work site inspections - even though the Alberta workforce has been growing dramatically.
"Here in Alberta, we now have about 1.6 million people working in nearly 70,000 work sites across the province," says Steel. "Yet we only have 58 inspectors - down from 69 in 1993. It's like trying to mop up an ocean with a sponge and a pail."
To make matters worse, Steel says that companies are rarely prosecuted for contravening health and safety rules - and even when they are, the fines are too small to act as an effective deterrent.
To illustrate this point, Steel referred to the government's own figures showing that only 6 companies have been fined for health and safety violations since 1996 - and the fines have averaged just $19,750 (all for incidents involving fatalities). This compares to the situation in Ontario, where General Motors was recently fined $325,000 in relation to a worker fatality at one of its auto plants.
"All of this leaves me deeply troubled," says Steel. "We have a Minister who shrugs off the death of a 14-year-old worker, by saying "accidents happen." And we have a government that seems content to let employers regulate themselves. In this environment, it's no surprise that workplace fatalities are on the rise. It's the tragic and predictable result of under-funding and a lack of political will."
If the Alberta government really wants to bring down the soaring rates of worker injuries and fatalities, Steel says it needs to take the following steps: 1) increase funding for inspections 2) adopt a much more aggressive approach to enforcement 3) levy much stiffer fines 4) place tighter restrictions on the work that children under 16 can do; and 5) require mandatory health and safety training for new workers (especially in hazardous industries such as construction.)
"In relation to the Shane Stecyk's death, the last two points are most important," says Steel. "As adults, we have a responsibility to protect children from harm - and that means keeping kids under 16 away from dangerous places like construction sites. And for workers between 16 and 24, we need legislation ensuring that they get safety training before they start a new job. If we take these steps then we might be able to avoid mourning the loss of another teenager at the beginning of next year's construction season."
For more information call:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021(wk)/499-4135(cell)
Attachment to follow
Alberta Health and Safety Facts
I. Work-Related Deaths (Alberta)
Source: Alberta Workers' Compensation Board
II. Alberta Government OH&S Investigations and Prosecutions
|Investigations||Comply Orders||Convictions(involving fatalities)||Convictions(no fatality)||Average Fine|
Source: Alberta Human Resources and Employment
(Note: There has not been a successful prosecution involving a non-fatal workplace injury since 1994. The average penalty for non-fatality cases in that year was $3,800.)
III. OH&S Budget ($000s)
(Note: The amount the Alberta government spends on occupational health and safety programs has plummeted from $10.61 per worker per year in 1991/92 to $4.36 per worker per year in 2000/01 - all figures adjusted for inflation and presented in 2000 dollars.)
AFL President Audrey Cormack is calling on activists to lobby the Federal Justice Minister, Anne McLellan to demand Leonard Peltier's release.
A rally in support of clemency for the American Indian Movement activist and political prisoner will be held in EDMONTON on MONDAY, JUNE 26TH outside McLellan's constituency office (12304 -107 Avenue) at 4:30 p.m.
"It's time to increase pressure on the Justice Department. Leonard Peltier has been wrongfully imprisoned for almost 25 years, and it's time the federal government stop dragging their heels in this matter," says Alberta Federation of Labour President, Audrey Cormack.
"We are asking that the Canadian government file an official protest to the U.S. President, Bill Clinton, recommend that Leonard Peltier receive Executive Clemency, or that he receive a new trial."
On November 26, 1975, Leonard Peltier, along with three others were charged with the murder of two FBI agents during an altercation at Jumping Bull Ranch between members of the American Indian Movement and FBI agents. The charges against one of the accused were dropped. On July 16, 1976, two were acquitted in a trial in Iowa, where the defense was allowed to use the argument of self-defense.
Peltier, fearing for his life, fled to Canada. On December 18, 1976, Peltier was extradited back to the United States on the basis of affidavits, which were later shown to be false. His trial was moved to Fargo, North Dakota, where the trial judge refused to hear arguments of self-defense. Evidence supporting the defense was withheld. Peltier was convicted to two consecutive life sentences.
"The only honorable option the federal government has is to push the U.S. to grant Leonard Peltier clemency. I urge the Honorable Minister to act on this case and allow the truth to prevail. It's time for justice," says Cormack.
For further information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/ 499-6530 cell/ 428-9367 hm
Yesterday's decision by the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to strike down the section of the Labour Relations Code banning secondary picketing is an important victory for workers and for freedom of expression, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL was commenting on the ruling released that deems section 82 of the Labour Relations Code as contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and therefore inoperative.
The LRB decision affects the ongoing strike between Brewers Distributers Limited (BDL) and CAW Local 285 members. The union was asking for permission to picket the MTE Logistix warehouse, which is contracted to distribute all Molson and Labatt beer. Originally, the LRB had denied workers the right to secondary picket at the warehouse. They are now allowed to picket the location.
"This is a watershed decision," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "The Labour Relations Board has, for once, stood up for workers' right to picket."
"We have said for years that Alberta's ban on secondary picketing is too broad and infringes on the right to free expression. And today we have been confirmed by the Board."
The LRB decided that section 82 is "overbroad" and "goes beyond the protection of bystanders to the conflict and erects an absolute prohibition on expression through picketing..." It says this sweeping ban is not justified under the Charter of Rights. It goes on to say the section shields "ally employers" from the consequences of participating in a labour dispute.
"In Alberta, employers have an unfair advantage because the law shields them from playing fair," says Cormack. "BDL and other employers have used the law to unfairly avoid bargaining in good faith with workers. Maybe this decision will mark a new trend to more fairness."
Cormack called on the government to accept the decision and not appeal to the courts. "They should acknowledge this decision and re-write section 82 so it complies with the Charter."
"When the striking CAW members start picketing the MTE warehouse, I'll be with them. It is a hard-won victory that I hope will help them get a good settlement."
For further information contact:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/ 499-6530 cell/ 428-9367 hm
EDMONTON - The changes to Alberta's Employment Standards regulations announced yesterday prove that the Klein government is more interested in catering to the whims of employers than protecting the rights of working people, says a spokesman for Alberta's largest labour organization.
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the new regulations unveiled yesterday afternoon by a government regulatory review committee amount to a "betrayal of working people" - especially the thousands of people working in the oilfield servicing industry.
Under the new rules, employers will finally be required to pay domestic workers such as nannies at least the minimum wage. Ambulance attendants will also be given a break - they will be guaranteed at least four days free from on-call duties each month.
But that's where the good news for workers ends. Once the new regulations are implemented on July 1, people working in oilfield servicing and fish farming will be denied all protection under the Employment Standards Code - which sets out rules for things like maximum hours of work, overtime pay, vacations and the minimum wage.
Oilfield workers will be particularly hard hit. Under the old rules, there was a 12-hour limit on the length of time these people could be required to work in a given day. Now that limit has been removed entirely - opening the door for 14, 16 or even 18-hour shifts.
"The government review committee said their goal was to 'update and streamline' this province's basic workplace rules," says Steel. "But - with a few small exceptions - the committee is actually moving labour law in Alberta backward not forward. The exemption of oilfield service workers is particularly serious - it's an accident waiting to happen. If people are forced to work too long, injuries and deaths will increase, it's as simple as that."
Steel says the big problem with Alberta's Employment Standards law is that it exempts whole industries and categories of workers - leaving thousands of workers without even the minimum protections guaranteed by the Code.
For example, all agricultural workers and many salespeople are exempt from the Code. Other workers are exempt from certain sections of the Code. Domestic workers for example are still not entitled to over-time pay.
"The position of the AFL is that there should be no exemptions to the basic floor of rights established by the Employment Standards Code," says Steel. "Every exemption granted weakens that floor of rights not just for the workers involved but for the entire Alberta workforce."
Steel says the latest regulatory changes prove that the current Alberta government will always put the interests of employers ahead of the interest of workers - especially when the employers are from the influential oil and gas industry.
"What good are workplace rules like the Employment Standards Code if the government is willing to set them aside every time an industry asks for special treatment?" asks Steel. "We think the time has come for all employers in this province to follow the same basic rules - with no exceptions. These latest changes are clearly a step in the wrong direction."
For more information call:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021 (wk)
Gil McGowan, Director of Communications @ 483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - The Alberta government and the Provincial Health Authorities of Alberta (PHAA) are sadly mistaken if they think large fines will stop unions from doing what's necessary to protect the interests of their members, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"They've got another thing coming if they think they can fine the labour movement into submission," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We at the AFL will stand behind AUPE and its members because we believe they did the right thing. If that means helping AUPE or other unions find the money to pay fines, then that's what we'll do."
Cormack's comments were made in response to the large fines levied against the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) for their recent two-day hospital strike. She was also responding to comments made by Clint Dunford, Minister of Human Resources, who warned that the government will take even stronger action to stop similar strikes in the future.
Late last week, AUPE was found guilty of contempt of court for violating a "cease and desist" order from the Alberta Labour Relations Board. As part of its ruling, the Court of Queen's Bench imposed a fine of $400,000 on AUPE for staging a two-day strike at hospitals and health facilities across the province.
Cormack says the fines are unfair because Alberta's harsh labour laws left the union and its members with no choice but to strike.
"Under Alberta's current labour law, the deck is stacked against unions and the workers they represent," says Cormack. "If AUPE had played by the rules, they would never have been able to win a fair settlement for their members. Given this reality, they had no choice but to do what they did."
According to Cormack, one of the biggest problems with Alberta's current labour laws is that almost all provincial public sector workers are deemed "essential" and therefore denied the right to strike. The problem with this arrangement, says Cormack, is that it removes all incentive from employers to bargain in good faith.
"When public sector workers go to the bargaining table in Alberta it's like banging their heads against a brick wall," says Cormack. "Without the right to strike, unions like AUPE have no leverage and are severely restricted in their ability to defend the interests of their members. That's why the strike took place over the past two days.
"Instead of fining AUPE, the government should look at the hospital strike as an important learning experience.
"What this whole situation really shows us is that Alberta's labour laws are deeply flawed. If the government wants to stop this kind of thing from happening in the future, they shouldn't turn to fines and other penalties. What they should do instead is consider legislative changes that establish a more even playing field for negotiations."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021(wk)/499-6530 (cell)/428-9367 (hm)