Government should stay out of Calgary ambulance dispute

Edmonton - The Alberta Federation of Labour today sent Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry Iris Evans a letter asking her not to step blindly into the paramedics' dispute in Calgary.

"There is a lot more at stake here than the City of Calgary's budget," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "We urged the Minister not to use government powers to keep paramedics on the job."

"Our position is that having and occasionally using the right to strike is the only way workers can gain fair contracts," says McGowan. "The experience of the labour movement in Alberta has been that binding arbitration has consistently failed to meet any standard of fairness for workers."

"If, despite our best advice, the Minister overrides paramedics' basic rights, then we will be holding both the settlement process and the people involved to close scrutiny," says McGowan.  "The Minister needs to absolutely ensure that any settlement realistically deals with the current labour market conditions and cost-of-living increases in Calgary."

"Anything less would simply constitute the province tying workers' hands at the bargaining table and shielding the City of Calgary from the consequences of its unrealistic bargaining strategies," says McGowan. "With its lowball bargaining, the City seems to be trying to pretend that the housing crisis and overall inflation are not a serious problem for City employees - or that the hot labour market doesn't exist."

"In our communication with the Minister, we provided her with four good reasons not to intervene," concludes McGowan. "We can think of no good reason for her to do so."


For more information call:

Gil McGowan   AFL President   @ 780-218-9888


Letter to Minister Evans

July 20, 2007

The Honourable Iris Evans
Minister of Employment, Immigration and Industry
#208 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Ave
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Fax: (780) 422-9556

Re: Government response to Calgary Paramedics Dispute

Dear Minister Evans:

I write to urge you and your government not to use the powers of your office to either force Calgary paramedics back to work or to prohibit them from striking in the first place. Specifically, I ask you not to make use of a Disputes Inquiry Board or Public Emergency Tribunal.

Overriding workers fundamental right to strike is a very serious step. Such actions contravene the most basic of United Nations labour protocols and strip working people of their only effective means of counteracting arbitrary and unfair employer bargaining positions and workplace behaviour.

If the City of Calgary is assured that you will instantly step in to prohibit strike action by their paramedics, they have little reason to alter their bargaining to a more realistic position since they will not be facing any consequences. This disincentive to bargain creates a very uneven playing field for the paramedics.

The inevitable consequence of this uneven playing field in bargaining - where you have essentially disarmed one party but not the other - is bound to be lower wages and benefits for paramedics than the current labour market and cost-of-living increases in Calgary warrant.

You will essentially be forcing the public employees involved to subsidize the general public by working for lower than deserved wages. This is an unfair burden for any group of workers to shoulder.

Furthermore, simply legislating workers back to work with a contract that the majority does not support is an ill-advised step in terms of good labour relations. The loss of productivity due to a drop in morale in these circumstances is both predictable and inevitable. In such cases there is also a high likelihood of higher staff turnover, which will increases training costs and decrease the overall skill level of the workforce and the quality of work done.

It has been the experience of the Alberta labour movement that compulsory binding arbitration has not resulted in fair settlements or properly addressed workers' issues.

I have provided you with four very good reasons not to take the right-to-strike away from Calgary paramedics. The alternative is to shield the City of Calgary from its own failure to bargain realistically in today's economy.

Yours truly,

Gil McGowan

CC: Lieutenant Governor in Council, Mayor Dave Bronconnier

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