Government must resolve meat packing dispute - not simply delay it

EDMONTON-The Alberta government decision to delay the strike for two months at the Lakeside Packers in Brooks by calling a Disputes Inquiry Board (DIB) is a step in the right direction - but may not be enough, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Alberta's largest union organization.

"Tyson Foods, Inc, the American mega-corporation that owns the hugely profitable Lakeside plant, could simply use the two months during which workers are legally prohibited from striking to undermine the union and intimidate workers," says Gil McGowan. "At the end of the day, a Disputes Inquiry Board recommendation is just that - a recommendation that the employer can ignore as it chooses. This just isn't good enough. Only if the government uses the DIB recommendation as the basis for a mandatory settlement will the exercise have been worthwhile."

"The government needs to enforce a compulsory binding arbitration on the two parties to produce a fair and just settlement," says McGowan. "That would protect all of the parties involved in this dispute - the workers, the cattle producers and the beef industry. It would also recognize that it is the government's own weak and ineffective labour laws that have allowed the employer to bring things to this crisis anyway."

"Tyson resisted certification for years and years despite being repeatedly found guilty of unfair labour practices. During that time, they created a workplace that was so unbearable that there have been 100,000 workers in and out of that plant in the last decade. Lakeside has one of the highest injury rates of any industrial plant in Canada and they do not even pay the industry standard wages."

"If there was ever a workplace crying out for union protection of workers, it's the Tyson Lakeside operation. The workers desperately need a union and a collective agreement to help create a safer, healthier workplace and to secure decent wages and benefits for the hard, dangerous work they do every day."

But Alberta labour laws have stymied the workers' desire for a union, and allowed the company to run roughshod over its workers, according to McGowan. "Most provinces have first contract arbitration to prevent companies from avoiding unionization be stalling bargaining," he notes, "but Alberta laws don't have that provision nor any significant penalty for not bargaining a collective agreement. Tyson is simply doing what the Government is allowing them to do."

McGowan, who is in Brooks today, demands that the government act decisively to end this dispute. "We need immediate action to resolve this crisis - not delays. The government should act more decisively for the good of the provincial economy and to prevent further economic hardship to Alberta's beef industry."

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