Students at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert have created a memorial at the school for Mitchell Tanner, 16, killed on the job in a lumberyard at the local Rona.
Alberta's workplace safety codes are under a microscope after a teen was crushed to death by a forklift this weekend at a St. Albert Rona Building Centre.
Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan says Mitchell Tanner's Saturday death could have been prevented if the province had tougher legislation when it comes to operating forklifts.
"Accidents on forklifts are very common here in Alberta and part of the problem is that the (provincial) government, nor many employers, recognize how dangerous these pieces of equipment really are," said McGowan.
"If we had more appropriate safety codes around the use of forklifts, this could have been avoided."
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau told Metro current safety codes in Alberta are some of the toughest in Canada and already do the job in preventing deaths and injuries of workers operating forklifts.
"We're not at the stage to comment on whether or not all the rules were followed (in this incident) and it's going to take a while to get a full report," said Goudreau.
"We know young Albertans are very capable of learning and capable of handling some equipment ... but we need to find out what happened here and to see if this is something consistent with forklifts."
Students at Paul Kane High School where Tanner attended Grade 10 also made a makeshift memorial for the teen along with creating a tribute page on Facebook.
Tanner is described by students as an amazing guy who was always a good friend, say students on the social networking website.
"You're the nicest kid I ever met and the world could use more guys like you," said Alex Kane in a Facebook wall posting about Tanner.
Metro Edmonton, Tues Jun 10 2008
Forklift wasn't part of job description: Teen was trained to be 'foot soldier,' not work with heavy machinery, Rona store manager says
Sixteen-year-old Mitchell Tanner worked only two shifts at his new job before he was killed.
"He told his friends it was his dream to work (at Rona)," said friend Hailey Hume, 15, standing at a memorial site erected in Tanner's memory. "He thought it would be so much fun."
The Grade 10 student was working his second shift at the Rona Building Centre in St. Albert on Saturday when the accident occurred.
Tanner was hanging off the side of the forklift as it was being driven by one of his friends, a 17-year-old student at St. Albert High School. The forklift tipped over and crushed him.
Tanner had previously worked at McDonald's and Panago Pizza, and friends and classmates from Paul Kane High School recalled his excitement over his new job. He was making dinner for his family when Rona called him with the job offer. Tanner immediately shared the good news with one of his best friends.
"He was just so happy about it," said Nick MacDonald, who has known Tanner for two years.
"He said he'd be working in the lumber yard and using forklifts."
A school memorial for Tanner was erected in the student lounge Monday, but his closest friends preferred to remember him in their own way. Several students at school on Monday were wearing purple ribbons, Tanner's favourite colour.
Lilacs were taped to the side of a nearby overpass where Tanner used to hang out and ride his longboard. Messages were written on the overpass in marker and pen, addressed to "Big Mitch" or the "gentle giant." Tanner was more than six feet tall, his friends said.
"He just liked to have fun," said friend Niki Jaenen, 17, who fondly recalled the Halloween when Tanner painted himself entirely green. "Knowing Mitch, if he stepped on the side of that forklift it wasn't to go fast or anything. It was to have fun."
Tanner was hired at Rona as a "foot soldier" in the lumber yard, cleaning and helping customers retrieve orders. Store manager Barry Campbell said there are two or three other teenaged foot soldiers at Rona, and none of them are supposed to operate forklifts.
He said Tanner had already completed his job training when he died, including workplace safety training, but hadn't received forklift training because he was never expected to use one.
"What was going on was outside the parameters and guidelines of the company for (his) position," said Campbell. "He was trained for the foot-soldier job, but usually for the first few weeks they're with someone else."
Two years ago, the Alberta Federation of Labour tried to introduce changes to Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code, which it says is "virtually silent on the issue of forklift safety."
"Frankly, I'm heartsick," said federation president Gil McGowan. "I can't help but think that if recommendations for change had been embraced and acted upon two years ago, we might have avoided this tragedy."
There are no rules in Alberta about who can operate a forklift, said McGowan, unlike in Manitoba where forklift operators have to be certified.
The weekend's accident is being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety. Spokesman Barrie Harrison said Tanner is the second death in the 15-19 age group this year; last year there were none.
Friends and classmates said Tanner was a model student who aspired to be a teacher and volunteered every Friday at Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School.
"He was amazing, there are no words to describe him," said friend Katie Hagan, who was supposed to meet Tanner after work the day he died. "Everybody just loved him."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 10 2008
Byline: Jennifer Yang
In the wee hours of the morning, the Alberta government passed new legislation which it says will improve the province's labour code, but critics claim it is an attack on the basic rights of workers.
The government passed Bill 26, the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2008, only three days after introducing the legislation.
The bill states that employees in the construction sector must have worked for an employer for at least 30 days in order to participate in a union certification vote.
The government designed the new provisions to prevent salting - planting unionized workers on a construction site before an election vote - as a union-organizing tactic in the construction sector.
"The rebalancing measures contained in Bill 26 will help ensure a competitive and stable labour relations regime exists for construction companies. These measures are desperately needed as the province moves forward developing the oil sands and building much needed infrastructure projects," said Stephen Kushner, Merit Contractors Association president, before the legislation was passed.
"While a handful of internationally affiliated craft union locals use unfair organizing practices and bid subsidy schemes, the impacts can have devastating consequences in critical trade areas such as carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and pipefitting."
In sharp contrast to this view, a spokesperson for the labour movement in Alberta said he believes that Bill 26 is designed to benefit employers at the expense of organized labour.
"The big winners from this proposed change in the labour code are the big non-union contractors under the banner of Merit. This is a gift from the government to them. These changes will tilt the playing field further in their favour," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president, shortly after the legislation was introduced.
"This is not about fairness, because the government is squeezing unionized construction firms out of Alberta."
Merit argued that Bill 26 will promote fairness in the construction industry and would give more democratic control to construction workers during unionization elections.
"The proposed changes simply level the playing field in terms of acceptable organizing and bidding activities and leave critical decision making in the hands of individual employees rather than union leaders. What could be more democratic?" Kushner said.
The AFL argued that Bill 26 is intended to make it almost impossible for construction workers to express their democratic right to join a union.
"The issue of salting is a straw man the government is using as an excuse to ram through these draconian measures, which make it more difficult for workers to join a construction union," said McGowan.
"Many construction jobs last for less than thirty days and many construction workers make a living moving from one short term contract to another. The new legislation is saying these sites can't be organized and these workers can't unionize."
"Bill 26 also gives employees 90 days to reconsider their decision to join a union.
"Even when a union earns the right to certify, employers will have 90 days to have workers change their minds and revoke the certification," McGowan said.
"We all know that employers will use this period to beat up and discourage workers from becoming union members. This should be called a 90-day intimidation period."
Journal of Commerce, Mon Jun 9 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
NAFTA bumps into Albertas upgrader plans; Trade deal would prohibit the province from reducing the flow of bitumen to the United States once it starts
EDMONTON - Eighteen months ago, Premier Ed Stelmach -- the man who said shipping oilsands bitumen south was like selling off the topsoil -- asked his energy minister to develop a strategy to encourage more upgrading in Alberta.
Otherwise, the value-added jobs from this oil boom will go to the United States, said the new premier.
But with two large pipelines underway, which combined could carry all the existing oilsands production, and with billions being invested in converting U.S. refineries to upgrade oilsands bitumen, questions are being raised about Alberta's upgrader prospects.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the premier needs to get the long-promised upgrader strategy in place soon or the opportunity may well be lost.
That's because under NAFTA, the province can't reduce the flow of bitumen once it has started, says McGowan.
"I'm not sure most Albertans -- or the Stelmach government -- realize what could be lost if those exports go ahead.
"I'm not sure all the upgrading here will actually be done here once the super pipelines are built," he said.
"The government wants a target of 70 per cent upgrading here, but it's meaningless unless the government steps into guarantee it."
Energy department spokesman Jason Chance said it's "too speculative" to comment on whether fast-rising bitumen exports under NAFTA will impede Alberta's promised value-added strategy.
The government has no intention of interfering in the free markets protected by NAFTA.
"There is no intent on slowing down exports that create thousands of job," Chance said.
University of Calgary economist Bob Mansell says NAFTA isn't the main issue in developing upgrading in this province.
"There's nothing stopping us from putting on a rule to say it must all be upgraded here," he said. That could be done on future oilsands plants, for instance.
"But Alberta hasn't made that choice."
Alberta oilsands production is currently about 1.32 million barrels a day. Bitumen, the tar-like oil-and-sand mixture dug out of open-pit mines, must be separated and diluted (called upgrading) to make "synthetic crude" which is then sent to a refinery to be made into gasoline, jet fuel and other products.
Currently, about two-thirds of bitumen is upgraded in the province at sites like Suncor and Syncrude in Fort McMurray; about one-third goes south to U.S. facilities.
"So the question is -- what's the right percentage? That's the policy issue from an Alberta point of view," said Mansell. "My position is: let's do as much upgrading as is practically possible."
But upgrading and refining capacity in Canada is limited because no new facilities were built for years on this side of the border, he added.
According to a U.S. report released last week, U.S. refiners are investing $56 billion to convert old facilities to process an additional 1.6 million barrels a day and two-thirds of that is aimed at handling Alberta oilsands product -- more than one million barrels.
Under NAFTA's proportionality clause, Canada is prohibited from reducing oil, gas and bitumen exports to the U.S. unless there is similar reduction to Canadian consumers. Also, Canada cannot change the mix of exports products to substitute, say, gasoline for bitumen.
The new Keystone pipeline, which starts construction this spring, will be able to carry 600,000 barrels of bitumen a day from Hardisty to the U.S midwest. The Alberta Clipper will carry 800,000. There are reports TransCanada has plans for a second pipeline for 800,000 barrels a day to Gulf Coast refineries and two-thirds of that is aimed at handling Alberta oilsands product.
"If you add all that capacity to new pipelines, it could take all the bitumen and leave none for Alberta," said McGowan.
"The government wants a target of 70-per-cent upgrading here, but it's meaningless unless the government steps in to guarantee it. The market is already moving in the direction of more exports. American refiners got out of the gate first."
But Mansell says the urgency is overstated. Oilsands production has only just started -- 90 per cent is still ahead. So there is still plenty of opportunity for upgrading in future.
Currently, Canada exports 60 per cent of its oil to the U.S. and more than half its natural gas, while eastern Canada imports its oil from the Middle East. In the event of a shortage, Canada must maintain exports at the same percentage of overall production as the three previous years under NAFTA.
In a recent report, the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute says the proportionality clause makes it impossible for Canada to supply its own needs if there is an energy crisis. It could not divert U.S. exports to eastern Canada.
Also, Canada's ability on the environment is restricted, the report argues. If Canada wanted to reduce oil production by, say, 10 per cent, in order to cut back on polluting emissions, it would have to cut domestic production by eight million barrels (four days' consumption) in order to reduce exports by the same amount to meet proportionality requirements, says the report Over a Barrel by Gordon Laxer, political economist at the University of Alberta, and Sarnia-based researcher John Dillion.
The debate over proportionality surfaced recently in Quebec, which gets all its natural gas from Alberta. The province is looking at building liquefied natural gas terminals to bring Russian natural gas in for local consumption and into the United States. If that goes ahead, more Alberta gas will be freed up for export to the United States -- increasing NAFTA obligations, argues the Parkland report.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says a free market protected by NAFTA provides the most efficient distribution of supply.
If it were efficient to send oil to eastern Canada, that would happen, but who wants to pay more for it, asked CAPP vice-president Nick Schultz.
Also, NAFTA is based on the principles of "neighbourliness" -- that you don't do things to a neighbour that you don't want done to yourself."
Mansell also defended the NAFTA's proportionality clause as necessary to create long-term stable conditions necessary to attract investment in oil and gas production.
If the supplier reserves the right to withdraw supply at any time, the U.S. buyer has no certainty and therefore no incentive to invest in a long-term agreement, he said.
"We are to an extent giving up some sovereignty, but most trade agreements do that," said Mansell. "But we're not like Russia, we don't just cut the flow."
If people are really concerned about national security issues, they should worry about electricity supply. "You can get a substitute for transportation, but not for" turning the lights on, he added.
Mansell also downplayed the concern raised by the Parkland report that the country's ability to make environmental policy is restricted by NAFTA.
"As for climate change, we'll have to continue to reduce emissions. But is it likely that one side of the border will reduce and the other won't? Realistically, no."
Recently, the more worrisome problem for the Stelmach government is the growing environmental movement against oilsands products because of the high level of greenhouse gases and pollution released in production.
The Parkland report also argues the provincial government is violating its own 1949 Gas Resources Preservation Act that requires a 15-year established supply of gas on hand before exports are approved.
Natural gas production peaked in 2002. Currently there is only about an eight-year supply of natural gas to serve all customers, says the report.
Alberta Energy's Chance says Parkland is misinterpreting the act. The legislation does not protect all users, only residential and small commercial users who cannot go out and find their own contracts -- and there is 15-year supply for those "core users."
Edmonton Journal, Page A19, Sat Jun 7 2008
Byline: Sheila Pratt
Amendments to the Alberta's new labour relations code are causing a stir among some labour groups.
Bill 26, introduced in the legislature by Employment Minister Hector Goudreau on Monday, strips ground ambulance services of their ability to strike during labour disputes and restricts union "salting" techniques aimed at organizing non-union workshops.
The bill, approved early Thursday morning, requires labour disputes for ground ambulance services to be settled through mandatory arbitration, an amendment that prevents threats to public safety, Goudreau said.
To restrict "salting," the bill would require employees to work for an employer at least 30 days before voting on certification and would allow 90 days for employees to reconsider their vote.
Doug Knight, president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees said Bill 26 violates Charter rights that give people the right to strike as part of the negotiating process and cited a Supreme Court ruling last June that said freedom of association includes the right to bargain a collective agreement.
"If it ever went to court the government would lose," Knight said of potential challenges to the bill.
He said the amendment to the labour code that allows people to reconsider certification votes could subject employees to harassment from employers looking to reverse the results of tight certification votes in their favour.
But Goudreau said the amendment allows employees to weigh the pros and cons of their certification vote allowing employees relief from regret, similar to buyers remorse.
"It's to allow a sober second thought," Goudreau said during a phone interview on Wednesday.
Market enhancement recovery funds (MERFs) collected through union dues and used by union contractors as a bidding tool would also be restricted under the bill.
Bill Stewart, vice president of Merit Contractors Association, said MERFs limit the ability of non-union contractors, especially those limited in size to bid competitively with unionized contractors.
Unionized workshops with access to MERFs can bid on contracts without factoring in labour costs, Stewart said. He added that smaller non-unionized contractors can't compete with the $10-15 per hour difference in costs that can mean a difference of several thousand dollars per contract.
"It can have a huge impact on who gets the work."
He said he is pleased the government is regulating an unregulated practice.
"What this (Bill 26) is doing is putting a window around and saying 'this is permissable, this is not.'"
Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour called Bill 26 a gift to anti-union groups from the Conservatives in a press release and named Merit as one of those groups.
"This bill is about rewarding your friends in the construction industry at the expense of fairness and the well being of thousands of construction workers," he said.
On Tuesday, the government moved to limit debate on the bill to seven hours during the committee stage.
Both the Liberals and the NDP blasted the Tories' decision to limit debate.
"The Tories are ramming this legislation in the dying days of the session to scuttle public debate," Liberal leader Kevin Taft said in a news release.
Goudreau said there was plenty of opportunity to debate the bill in first and second readings.
"If you review Hansard and if you review the comments you will notice that they're basically saying the same thing over and over again."
Goudreau said if you consider debate in first, second and third readings as well as debate before committee, plenty of time has been allowed for debate.
Fort Saskatchewan Record, Fri Jun 6 2008
Byline: Paul Grigaitis
When it comes to how electricians trade certificates are actually being earned, the practice is for some Chinese immigrants to write the exams in Ontario then return to Alberta, pay a registration fee to obtain the equivalency trade ticket then travel to the oilsands for work.
The electrician who called Phd Training, along with two colleagues, recently met with Today to discuss their concerns about what they've been witnessing on site.
Norm Chan said because it's legitimately qualified Chinese electricians raising the alarm that validates the complaint, removing any prejudice. Chan was one of the colleagues who accompanied the caller.
"We're here as concerned citizens," said Chan. Of Chinese descent, the first-generation Canadian holds a legitimate trade ticket after four years on the job following successful completion of Alberta's four-year apprenticeship program. He added that eight years ago, it used to be one in 1,000 electricians were Chinese. Now, there's 20 or 30 on a job. "We're not trying to be discriminatory. They have to go through the (same training) we all did, doing the apprenticeship and being properly taught." After talking to some colleagues of the Ontario tested electricians, he maintained "They shortcutted to get paid the top wages ... which is not right."
More important, they're afraid someone will be hurt, or worse -- killed on the job -- because unqualified people are working as electricians.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, agreed, saying operations that generate unqualified workers make a mockery of the rules and standards for training and certification.
"They're an insult to all those tradespeople who play by the rules and have spent years developing their skills," he said. McGowan added this practice also raises concerns about construction quality and workplace safety.
In recalling reasons for their concerns, a second worker referred to simply as Wong, remembered watching two Chinese men trained Ontario working from a blueprint to connect a series of wires in the junction box.
"They pick up the phone, they're asking their friend outside," said Wong. "They ask their buddy ... how to do this and this ...
"It make me very mad because I'm Chinese. The next job I go, I'm embarrassed. There are some good Chinese."
He also recalled these workers will also ask where they can buy tickets if they see fellow Chinese workers doing something they don't realize is part of an electrician's job.
Chan and his colleagues noted these workers are not restricted to one oilsands construction site.
"I've had my own experience where I was ... put on a crew with a bunch of these other Chinese people, and then we had to go tie-wrap. I asked them to go to their tool boxes ... to get their pair of klines and pair of sidecutters."
As they would pull different tools out, they would gesture with their head, and Chan found himself shaking his head no until the right tool appeared.
What compounds the issue of improperly earned tickets is "nobody's policing it, and more and more are coming along," said Chan.
When the confidential source contacted Phd Training's Edmonton office for information, his call was routed to the Toronto branch. Phd training is based in Toronto, according to its website, though it claims to have schools in major centres across Canada.
In the recent conversation, which lasted about 20 minutes with a man who identified himself as Yuan, he was told people outside Toronto take classes on the Internet. They can reach the teacher through mail or on the telephone. Students could be ready to write an exam for the industrial or electricians trade certificates in as a little as a few months. The cost is $1,100 for the industrial election course, and $1,200 for the construction electrician course. Tax receipts are issued. A workshop is also made available for students to acquaint themselves with the tools of the trade: $450 for construction electrician and $550 for industrial electricians courses.
The workshops, said Yuan, take about one and a half months with two classes a week.
In Ontario, it takes five years to become a properly qualified electrician through the apprenticeship program. In Alberta, it's four years with 5,850 hours of hands-on work.
Yuan explained that the test can be taken in Alberta but it takes longer, about four months, from the time of evaluation to the exam, whereas it only takes about a week in Ontario. Also, he said the school encourages students to write the exams in Ontario rather than Alberta because its easier. Yuan added the school can even help with accommodation at $20 a night for those in Toronto to write the exams.
Yuan said the school encourages people, even if they prepped in Alberta, to write the exam in Ontario because it's less trouble.
And English? No worries. According to Yuan, it's easy for Chinese people to get into this industry where "you don't need a lot of specific technical skills, like a language ... I think the language problems aren't an issue." He added students can bring a translator who can even be their child.
"I think the English requirement isn't high as long as you have the technical terms down," Yuan added later.
Anyone writing an exam is allowed to supply their own translator.
Dove noted that in Ontario, a client writing the trade certification examination arranges for their own translator who can be a family member or person the client feels most comfortable with. However, guidelines and procedures are in place to ensure that a translator is not associated with the trade or a related trade.
As for the reference letter supposed to be written by a former employer in China confirming the required five years experience, Yuan said "if you write it well, it's OK."
"So I can write it myself?" asked the source
"Yes," replied Yuan.
If the letter verifying the experience is accepted, the applicant is not subject to an evaluation to put their skills to the test. However, Yuan cautions that "if you have bad luck," the evaluation will still be conducted and the student can be found out.
"In Canada, they're very trusting of the official certificate," said Yuan.
If students fail, the school will help students write the tests as many times as needed before they pass even though the government states the test can only be written three times in one year. Yuan said if students get a letter from where they're training, they can test again.
McGowan, who had been hearing rumours of this practice for months, said "If decisive action isn't taken ... it will weaken the very foundation of our system for trades training.
"If governments don't act quickly shutting these operations down, "they'll be putting lives at risk. They'll also be jeopardizing the Canadian construction industry's ... well deserved reputation for quality workmanship."
Fort McMurray Today, Page A8, Fri Jun 6 2008
Byline: Carol Christian
The Alberta government is bracing for protests after introducing what critics are calling "anti-union" changes to the province's labour code.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau has confirmed that extra sheriffs have been brought to the legislature this week in case of any unruly demonstrations.
The legislation bans strikes and lockouts for ambulance workers and prevents unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The changes will also prevent union-supporting workers from joining a non-union company to kick start the process of unionizing the firm - a practice known as salting.
NDP Leader Brian Mason says the legislation is an act of "revenge" for the union-sponsored attack ads used against Premier Ed Stelmach during the recent Alberta election campaign.
A spokesman for the Alberta Building Trades Council did not appear overly concerned by the legislation and says the practice of salting is nearly obsolete in the province.
But the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees reacted much more strongly, suggesting the legislation violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of association.
"This is what Conservatives do - squeeze workers for the benefit of employers," federation president Gil McGowan said in a media release Monday.
"The Conservatives have long been anti-labour and this bill is their latest attempt to kick workers in the shins. They are simply using their new majority to exercise their anti-worker reflexes," he added.
McGowan also noted the bill has been timed to keep wages down during the province's economic boom.
Doug Knight of the provincial employees' union said the law ought to be changed so that there is one labour law for everyone, instead of the current system where there is a separate Public Service Employee Relations Act.
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Thurs Jun 5 2008
The Alberta government is bracing for protests after introducing what critics are calling anti-union changes to the province's labour code.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau has confirmed that extra sheriffs have been brought to the legislature this week in case of any unruly demonstrations.
The legislation bans strikes and lockouts for ambulance workers and prevents unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The changes will also prevent union-supporting workers from joining a non-union company to kick start the process of unionizing the firm, a practice known as salting.
The Alberta Federation of Labour opposes the changes as does the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
CHQR Newsroom, Tues Jun 3 2008
Government officials are so concerned about the potential for strife over changes to Alberta's labour code that they have beefed up security at the legislature.
"We expect individuals to come and voice their displeasure with what we're doing," said Alberta Employment Minister Hector Goudreau Monday.
Goudreau said extra sheriffs have been brought in this week, but he would not provide any details.
"We're trying to minimize conflicts by just being more on the cautious side."
The changes announced to the labour code Monday are the first in 20 years. Among other things they will ban strikes by ambulance workers and prevent unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The new legislation will also prevent union organizers from joining a non-union company to kick-start the process of unionizing the firm - a practice known as "salting."
CBC News , Tuesday, June 3, 2008
EDMONTON - The Alberta government moved swiftly today towards passing controversial labour code amendments, despite ongoing criticism from labour groups.
Just before debate started on Bill 26, the government made a motion to limit time spent on the matter. Opposition parties accused the government of stifling its opponents.
An NDP press release said the government was jamming the bill through the legislature "in time to hit the golf courses and barbecue circuit."
Liberal Hugh MacDonald said the sooner the government passes the bill, the less chance they will face opposition. "It's restricting and limiting public debate on a public bill," MacDonald said. "They want to steamroll this through and they do not want people get organized to oppose this legislation."
Conservative MLAs argued that opposition members will still have plenty of time to make their case during the seven hours the bill is in committee.
"What argument cannot be made by the opposition members within their allocated 30 or 40 minutes?" Tory Neil Brown asked.
A spokesman for the premier's office said they are hoping to have the bill passed by the end of the week, but are prepared to go into next week if the opposition prolongs the debate.
Union leaders continued to bash the bill, which was introduced Monday. It bans ambulance workers from striking and puts limits on so-called "salting" and "MERFing" practices.
Salting is when a union employee or sympathizer gets a job at a non-union workplace in order to organize workers or disrupt the company's operations. Unions argue the practice is rare, but contractors' associations say it is fairly common.
Market Enhancement Recovery Funds, or MERFs, are used by unions to help union contractors win bids. They are used, for example, to help employers provide benefits or higher salaries to their workers. The government has argued these funds distort the marketplace and harm non-union shops.
Stephen Kushner of the Merit Contractor's association says it's about protecting workers from unwanted salting practices and protecting non-union shops from unfair bidding.
"It's long overdue," he said. This morning, union leaders met for about 30 minutes with Employment Minister Hector Goudreau. They emerged unhappy. "The minister called us together not to hear our concerns or consider our suggestions, but rather to tell us the way things were going to be," said Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan.
McGowan said the bill isn't about making the market more fair or about worker choice. "What it's really about is tilting the playing field even further in favour of the merit contractors and other friends of the government."
Elisabeth Ballermann, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said the government did little or no consultation with unions. She said the bill does nothing but hurt working people.
"There's nothing there but stripping away workers' rights, whether it's construction workers, ambulance workers, et cetera, et cetera," Ballermann said.
The NDP and others accused the government of hitting back at unions who bankrolled an advertising campaign last election attacking the government.
Goudreau said it was a hot issue on the hustings during the last election, particularly after the ads began to air.
"The ad campaign triggered a pile of discussions as we knocked on doors. They were saying why would they do that? So part of that enhanced that type of discussion. Now that's not the only reason. We've been talking about salting and MERFing for seven or eight years."
Speaking to reporters in Calgary, Stelmach said the bill came up now not because of revenge, but because the government finally had time to do it.
"I'm taking a bunch of issues off the backburner," Stelmach said. "There was only so much I could do in the first 14 months."
Debate continues today.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 3 2008
Byline: Archie McLean