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)