Concerns of working people ignored in reorganization scheme

EDMONTON - Working people in Alberta are being short-changed by a plan announced earlier today to re-organize government departments, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Audrey Cormack says Premier Klein's plan to establish a new Human Resources and Employment department is "a slap in the face for working people."

"The Premier can go on as much as he likes about stream-lining government and preparing Albertans for the new millennium," says Cormack. "But the bottom line is that the concerns of working people are going to get lost in the shuffle within this new super-department."

According to the plan unveiled by Klein this afternoon, the new Human Resources and Employment department will take responsibility for issues previously handled by the Labour department, the Family and Social Services Department and the Career Development branch of the Economic Development department.

Cormack says the new "super department" will put labour programs in the awkward position of having to compete for resources with programs from the family and social services side of the department.

"There are more than one and half million Albertans who work for a living," says Cormack. "Workplace issues like health and safety and the administration of the Labour Code and the Employment Standards Code are so important that they clearly deserve to be handled in their own separate department."

Cormack says the only rationale given by the Premier to justify the re-organization is that it meshes with the government's promises about putting a higher priority on education and training. But Cormack says there is a lot more to labour issues than training.

"We in the labour movement support efforts to improve training for Albertans - in fact, we've been urging the government to invest more in education and apprenticeships for years," says Cormack.

"But the labour department isn't just about preparing people for work. It's also about promoting health and safety. It's about making sure workers know their rights. It's about protecting those rights in the workplace. And it's about making sure employers know and uphold the law. We're afraid that these issues are not going to get the attention they deserve in the new department."

For more information call:

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

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Day of Mourning Commemorates Workers Killed At Work

On Wednesday, April 28, Alberta workers will be marking the 4th International Day of Mourning in their worksites and at special ceremonies.

The Alberta Federation of Labour, in conjunction with the Edmonton and District Labour Council and the Alberta Building Trades Council, are organizing a ceremony to mark the day:

Wednesday, April 28 - 7:00 pm at City Hall

The event mixes cultural performances with speakers and a candle lighting to commemorate Day of Mourning. Strong visual images make up an important piece of the ceremony. A representative of the City will read out the official proclamation.

"Around the world, a worker is killed every 30 seconds," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "Here in Alberta, we lose two workers every week to workplace accidents or occupational disease. And that is just the official statistics. The real numbers are likely much higher."

"Even a single death is not tolerable in this day and age," says Cormack. "We need to make the public aware of the scourge of work-related death so we can work together to wipe it out." Raising the profile of the issue is why the International Day of Mourning was created. Across Alberta, tens of thousands of workers will be marking the day at their local worksite. Many workplaces will respect a minute of silence. Others will wear black armbands, or hold a short lunch hour event, or fly flags at half-mast.

"Interest in Day of Mourning is growing," says Cormack. "More Alberta workers are participating this year than ever before." Day of Mourning actually began in Canada, first proclaimed by Parliament in 1986. It became the International Day of Mourning in 1996 and is now commemorated in over 70 countries worldwide.

"This day is as much about a commitment to safer workplaces as it is about remembering those who were killed. We want this day to remind everyone of the need for safe workplaces." Cormack concludes.

For further information contact:

Audrey Cormack, President         @     499-6530 (cell)
Jason Foster, Executive Director  @    483-3021 (work)

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AFL Announces New Environment Policy for 21st Century

To mark this year's Earth Day, the Alberta Federation of Labour is announcing a new Environment Policy for Alberta's labour movement. The policy is intended to guide unions in making decisions about Alberta's environment.

The policy was ratified at the AFL's biennial convention in Calgary last week. The policy paper passed with resounding support from delegates.

"The labour movement is looking forward. We know that environmental change must happen, and we need to be a constructive part of the discussion," says Audrey Cormack, AFL President.

The policy outlines a distinctly labour perspective on environmental issues. "We must end the false jobs vs. environment debate and turn it into a jobs and environment discussion," says Cormack.

Among other initiatives, the policy paper calls for a new type of decision-making process for environmental issues, one that includes government, business and labour working as equals. The key, says the policy, is to look at the long term and make decisions well in advance of economic change.

"Working people pay the highest price when the wrong decisions are made. We pay with our jobs and with the environment in our communities," highlights Cormack. "We need to be a part of the decisions that get made to ensure we can create a healthy environment and good jobs."

Over the years, the AFL has done its part in promoting environmental awareness and encouraging members to become more environmentally sensitive in their activities. It will become even more active in the future to ensure the voice of working people is heard.

Other highlights from the policy include calling for a "just transition" fund to help workers displaced by environmental change and demanding increased government enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. It also calls on the AFL to encourage unions to "bargain for the environment".

"The message for Albertans is clear. All of us have to take a leadership role in protecting the environment. The labour movement has heard the message," concludes Cormack.

For more information call:

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

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AFL wraps up successful convention

CALGARY - Unions in Alberta are prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century, said Audrey Cormack president of the Alberta Federation of Labour as the AFL wrapped up its biennial convention in Calgary today.

"In the dog-eat-dog global economy of the next century, workers here in Alberta and around the world are going to need unions more than ever," said Cormack.

"Protecting the interests of working people from attacks by conservative governments and unscrupulous business people has never been easy. But based on the energy and commitment that was demonstrated at our convention this week, I'm convinced that unions in Alberta are up to the challenge."

More than 350 union members representing dozens of unions from across the province attended the AFL convention - which is the last of the 20th century.

Over the course of the four-day gathering, convention delegates dealt with a wide range of issues - everything from workplace health and safety to funding for schools and from basic worker rights to privatization in the health care system.

Among other things, the AFL committed itself to continue its fight against government cutbacks and the spread of private, for-profit hospitals. Delegates also pledged to support workers currently on strike against Dynamic Furniture in Calgary; Georgia Pacific in Edmonton; and Bell Canada in Ontario and Quebec.

Delegates also passed a strongly worded resolution condemning the Saskatchewan government for attempting to legislate striking nurses back to work.

The convention concluded this afternoon with elections in which Cormack and AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel were each acclaimed for another term. Delegates also debated and passed a statement of workers� rights and principles.

"The Alberta labour movement is strong and united," said Cormack. "We are ready, willing and able to do what we do best - and that's to fight for the interests of working people."

For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, AFL President:    (780) 499-6530 (cell)
 Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:   (780) 910-1137 (cell)

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AFL Convention Wraps up Tomorrow

CALGARY - The biennial convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour wraps up in Calgary tomorrow afternoon.

Elections for Executive Officers and members of the AFL Executive Council will take place at 11:00 a.m. Closing ceremonies will begin at 12:30 p.m. and the convention will adjourn at 1:00 p.m.

The AFL convention is being held at the Calgary Westin Hotel, located at 320 - 4th Avenue, SW in Calgary.

Reporters are asked to register at the convention office. No one will be allowed on the convention floor without proper credentials.

For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, AFL President:    (780) 499-6530 (cell)

 Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:   (780) 910-1137

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Delegates to explore the role of unions in protecting Medicare

CALGARY - The Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention continues in Calgary tomorrow.

Highlights from the convention agenda for Saturday, April 18 include the following:

  • A panel of labour leaders will discuss the role that workers and unions can play in protecting Canada's system of public health care. The panel will be made up of: Dianne Wyntjes, Alberta Director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); Pauline Worsfold, Vice President of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA); Kathleen Connor, President of the National Federation of Nurses Unions (NFNU), and Dianne Mair, Provincial Executive Board Member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). The panel discussion will start at 10:00 a.m. and continue until 11:15 a.m.
  • Barbara Sarria Aparicio, Secretary Treasurer of the Cuban national communications union, will discussion the concerns of workers in Latin America. Ms. Aparicio will address the convention at 2:45 p.m.

The AFL convention is being held at the Calgary Westin Hotel, which is located at 320-4th Ave. S.W. in Calgary.

All speeches and presentations will be made in the hotel's main ballroom unless otherwise stated. Reporters are asked to report to the convention registration office before preceding to the hall. No one will be allowed on the convention floor without the proper credentials.

For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:  (403) 508-5129 (office) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:   (780) 499-6530 (cell)


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Unions more important than ever, says report

CALGARY - In the turbulent workplace of the 1990s, workers in Alberta need the kind of protection that unions provide more than ever.

That was the central message of a research report released today at the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention, being held this week in Calgary.

The report - called Now More Than Ever - examines the challenges and opportunities facing the Alberta labour movement as it prepares to enter the 21st century.

"Some of our critics argue that unions are relics of the past and that we have been rendered obsolete by the so-called global economy," said AFL president Audrey Cormack. "But what this report shows is that Albertans still want and need unions. In fact, in the dog-eat-dog labour market of the 21st century, workers will probably need unions more than ever."

Highlights of the AFL report include the following:

  • Despite declining union membership south of the border, union membership in Canada has remained stable and strong. One in four Alberta workers are currently covered by union-negotiated contracts.
  • Union membership in Alberta climbed from 253,000 in 1997 to 286,5000 in 1998. That represents an annual increase of six percent.
  • Many non-union workers want to join unions. A recent survey of Alberta high school and university graduates shows that about 30 percent would join a union if they had the chance. Another 40 percent would be at least open to the idea. These findings are consistent with other surveys conducted in Alberta and across the country.
  • The average wage for workers paid by hour in Alberta is 11 percent lower today than in 1983, once inflation is taken into account. At the same time, the gap between the wages earned by men and women is wider in Alberta than any other province. This suggests that many Alberta workers could benefit from union representation.
  • Union members get paid more than non-union workers. On average union workers earn $18/hr versus an average of only $14/hr for non-union workers. This translates into a union wage advantage of about 30 percent. Union members are also more likely to have "non-wage" benefits like pensions, dental plans and paid sick leave. Eighty-two percent of union members have a pension versus only 33 percent of non-union workers.
  • Despite criticisms from the business community, studies show that unions can actually improve the productivity of firms. Some of Alberta's most prominent and profitable firms have highly unionized workforces. For example: Suncor, Imperial Oil (refineries), Petro-Canada (refineries), Telus, Luscar, Weldwood, Safeway, Celanese and Sherritt.

"This is a good news report," says Cormack. "It shows that unions still have an important role to play in Alberta. We face many challenges as we head into the next century. But based on the findings of this report, I'm confident that the labour movement will be around for a long time to come. And I'm confident that we will continue our proud tradition of fighting for improved conditions in the workplace and in the broader community."

For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications: (403) 508-5129 (office) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:   (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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Convention Delegates join picket line outside Dynamic Furniture

CALGARY - Hundreds of delegates attending the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention in Calgary will be joining striking workers on the picket line outside Dynamic Furniture (5300 - 6th Avenue, SE) today at 4:00 p.m.

Workers at Dynamic Furniture have been on strike for nearly a year in an effort to win a first contract. "These workers have been terribly mistreated by their employer," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "We felt it was important to show support for them in their struggle."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:    (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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

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Our Children's Alberta: Fighting for Jobs and the Environment (1999)

Environment Policy Paper presented at 2nd Biennial Convention (April 15 - 18, 1999)

The range of environmental issues needing attention is extensive, too extensive for a single policy paper. This paper does not suggest AFL positions on specific environmental issues, such as pollution or water quality. Instead, it sets a broad focus for the AFL perspective on environmental issues, and establishes a plan for future action.

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"State of the unions" report will cap busy day at AFL convention

CALGARY - Delegates to the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention will be kept busy all day tomorrow with a number of important guest speakers and special events.

Highlights of the agenda for Friday, April 16 include the following:

  • Nycole Turmel, national executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada will talk about her union's fight for pay equity in the federal public service. Turmel will address the convention at 10:30 a.m.
  • A rally will be held outside the McDougall Building in downtown Calgary between 11:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The purpose of the rally is to draw attention to union concerns with both the provincial and federal governments. Speakers at the rally will include: Turmel, AFL president Audrey Cormack and New Democrat MLA Raj Pannu.
  • Professor Elaine Bernard, director of the Trade Union Program at Harvard University, will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing unions in the 21st century. Professor Bernard will address the convention at 2:30 p.m.
  • The AFL will release a report on the state of the labour movement in Alberta. The report - entitled 'Now More Than Ever' - will describe the current strength of unions in Alberta and identify challenges facing the provincial labour movement in the 21st century. The report will be presented to convention delegates at 3:15 p.m. Cormack will be available to answer questions from the media regarding the report at 3:45 in the Greenfield Room (second floor).
  • Pam Barrett, leader of the Alberta New Democrats, will talk about economic and political concerns her party shares with the labour movement. Barrett will speak at 4:15 p.m.
  • The AFL's biennial convention is being held in the Calgary Westin Hotel, located at 320-4th Ave., S.W., Calgary. Unless otherwise specified, all convention speeches and presentations will take place in the hotel's main ballroom. Reporters are asked to check in at the convention registration desk. No one will be allowed on the convention floor without proper credentials.

For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:  (403) 508-5129 (office) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:   (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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