A coalition of public sector workers is ramping up its call for no more government cuts.
The Join Together Alberta group launched a new campaign Thursday, essentially creating a coalition including the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA).
The coalition has issued a declaration, asking the provincial government to stop "contemplating cuts, freezes and rollbacks in any vital public services at a time of obvious prosperity."
"We want to really help the public understand how important our public services are in Alberta," says Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the ATA.
It came to light Tuesday that upwards of 1,000 teaching positions may be cut come September, according to a draft budget. Armstrong says the Alberta education system is expecting more than 6,000 new students in September, and 100,000 more by 2020.
Armstrong says the governments recent announcement of more than $550 million for 22 new schools in the province is "short sighted."
"Why you would put money into building schools when you choose not to finance the schools (and) programs that you have right now is certainly questionable," says Armstrong.
The Join Together Alberta group will be launching a series of town halls across the province, starting in Red Deer on June 6. The coalition also plans a telephone town hall on May 31, and a mass telephone campaign reaching more than 250,000 homes in Alberta.
The group welcomes anyone who is willing to sign the declaration. For more information visit www.JoinTogetherAlberta.ca.
Edmonton Sun, Thurs May 26 2011
Byline: Tanara McLean
A plan to lay off more than 1,000 teachers across Alberta is being met with fierce opposition from unions and special interest groups, who say the decision can't be justified.
"Our provincial government wants Albertans to believe these are tough times," said Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We should not be as a province talking austerity, we should not be talking freezes. We are a province that can afford high quality public services."
Roughly 1,200 teaching jobs are expected to be eliminated this fall, the result of funding cuts to education programs that have left school boards unable to balance their books. On Tuesday Edmonton's Public School Board announced that 229 teachers would be lost.
But members of "Join Together Alberta" - comprised of a variety of unions and special interest groups - say that schools boards shouldn't be forced to consider job cuts when the province has money to spend.
"We think in the short term the provincial government should be drawing from the substantiality fund to make sure our public services are maintained," McGowan said.
Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teacher's Association, believes a united voice could help convince the province to loosen it's purse-strings.
"The individual in Alberta has a lot of power if they choose to use it," Armstrong said. "I believe if they speak out strongly, the government will listen."
Vanessa Sauve, president of the Holyrood Parents Council, is lending her voice to the chorus, concerned about what cuts could mean for children.
"Parents are worried," Sauve said. "Larger class sizes for their child means less class time with the teacher and things can get missed."
Education Minister Dave Hancock could not be reached for comment Thursday, but earlier in the week suggested that the province has increased education spending by nearly 70 percent in the last decade.
Global Toronto, Thurs May 26 2011
Teachers and the Alberta Federation of Labour plan to fight layoffs that could cost up to 1,200 teachers their jobs. The Alberta Teachers' Association is holding a news conference this morning within the A-F-L to speak out about budget shortfalls that are behind the expected cuts. Union leaders blame the problem on government boom-and-bust budget cycles. They say the province should come up with a plan that would provide the education system with stable funding.
AM770 News, Thurs May 26 2011
Mass movement calls for urgent revenue reform in Alberta: Join Together Alberta launches campaign to save education, health and social services
EDMONTON – A coalition of hundreds of thousands of Albertans is gathering to force the Conservative government to fix its broken revenue system and save our schools, post-secondary education, health care and other vital social services.
Today (Thursday, May 26), a new campaign was launched under the familiar tartan banner of Join Together Alberta (JTA) to demand that the province reform its revenue model so that the vital public services that Albertans demand and deserve can be protected.
"Alberta is one of the wealthiest places in the world, blessed with an abundance of extremely valuable natural resources – and yet our government has manufactured a financial crisis that is likely to see 1,200 teachers laid off in the next few months and a still to be determined number of vital educational support staff," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers and co-chair of the JTA campaign. "Our education system is experiencing the same kind of chaos that has been inflicted on our health-care system, and that pain is also being felt in post-secondary education and in social services struggling to help vulnerable Albertans."
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta and campaign co-chair, says: "This campaign is going to mobilize people from various public service sectors and citizens across Alberta who care deeply about the fabric of our communities. Albertans know that our public services and communities are worth fighting for, and this campaign is going to help make that loud and clear to all political parties."
Join Together Alberta is an alliance of community groups, social-services agencies and unions and was formed in 2009. The coalition already represents hundreds of thousands of Albertans, but this new campaign will reach out to many more. Coming events include:
- Phoning 250,000 Alberta homes in the coming days, asking citizens to join the new JTA campaign;
- A telephone town-hall meeting at 7 p.m. on May 31 that will allow people from all over the province to join an interactive show, much like a radio call-in show, to talk about solutions to Alberta's revenue problems;
- A town-hall tour that will visit seven cities including Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Grand Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Edmonton (click here for tour details); and
- The signing of the Our Alberta Declaration, which calls on the Conservative government to finally realize the province's real potential, reform its broken revenue system and fund vital public services.
CONTACTS: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director, Public Interest Alberta, 780-993-3736
Wave of school layoffs prompts coalition to launch new province-wide campaign: Join Together Alberta calls on government to fix Alberta’s broken revenue system
EDMONTON – In the wake of reports warning that up to 1,200 Alberta teachers may be laid off in the next few months, a province-wide campaign is being launched to force the Conservative government to fix the real problems facing the province.
"We live in one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world and yet our education system is clearly in crisis," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. "This situation is entirely unnecessary and has been created by Alberta's broken revenue system. We need to fix our revenue system to save our schools."
Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), says: "In September, Alberta's school boards will be $100 million dollars short of the money they will need to maintain the quality of education that we enjoy today. Up to 1,200 teachers across the province will be looking for work this summer elsewhere, because their job in Alberta has disappeared. We appreciate the government's recent announcement of new schools, but the schools are useless unless we have the staff inside them to inspire our students."
The Join Together Alberta coalition - an alliance of community groups, social-services agencies and unions, including the AFL - has been reformed to put pressure on the government to fix the revenue problem so Albertans get the vital public services they demand and deserve.
"The real issue is that Alberta has been crippled by a decade of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts. Alberta has an abundance of natural resources. There is no reason it can't afford stable funding," says McGowan.
The coalition will launch Phase 2 of its campaign in Edmonton tomorrow (Thursday) to demand the Alberta government fix its broken system for revenue generation. McGowan and Armstrong will be joined by people representing various sectors and unions fighting cuts who will be available to speak to media.
TIME: 10:30 a.m., Thursday, May 26
LOCATION: River Valley Room, Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe, 10111 Bellamy Hill, Edmonton
CONTACTS: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888
Foreign companies buying into tarsands: Canada losing profits and control as refining moves to countries with low labour and environmental standards
Foreign corporations, some controlled by national governments, have been using their economic clout to buy into Alberta's oil sands and take control of our natural resources.
US, French, British, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Norwegian interests have all bought stakes in oil-sands projects. According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), international companies have invested nearly $20 billion in the last three years through mergers, partnerships and outright purchases of projects.
Not every foreign interest with a stake in the oil sands has our best interests at heart.
This increased foreign investment raises questions. Who has the right to develop our natural resources? Who sets the rules for how these resources are developed? Who controls where the resources are processed and sold?
For example, in April 2010, the Chinese company Sinopec, a majority-owned subsidiary of a national company, paid $4.65 billion for Houston-based ConocoPhillips' stake in Syncrude. What makes this deal significant is that under the terms of the deal, the state-controlled Sinopec has a veto on the critical decision of whether the company should upgrade bitumen here or export it in raw form overseas.
Most oil-sands producers are thought to be looking to upgrade and refine here or in the US, rather than ship raw bitumen overseas, and then sell their oil to whatever market that offers the most money. Sinopec's investment in the Northern Gateway Pipeline, however, is seen as a strategy to ship massive amounts of bitumen out of North America to Asia for upgrading, refining and finally consumption in mainland China.
Not every foreign interest with a stake in the oil sands has our best interests at heart. A case in point: Koch Industries is a major supplier of funds to the Tea Party in the US and other far-right groups. Their anti-union activities in Wisconsin and dozens of other states are having a serious and detrimental impact on middle-class families.
Koch Industries also makes money off our oil sands. Koch Exploration Canada Corporation has a small oil-sands project, known as Gemini, being developed in Cold Lake. Koch Industries is a major player on the pipeline and refining scene. It already processes and handles some 25 per cent of oil-sands crude imports to the US. Koch Industries would increase this share if the US government approves the Keystone XL Pipeline to export bitumen south (Canada has already given the project the green light).
If the US approves the Keystone XL Pipeline, not only will Alberta lose quality, value-added jobs by not processing bitumen here, we may also see our resources going to fuel anti-union, extreme free-market activities in the US and, perhaps, even here.
But the federal government does not pay heed to those sorts of political considerations. They do, however, pay lip service to environmental concerns.
During the 2008 federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a surprise announcement that his government would stop the flow of unprocessed bitumen to countries with worse environmental standards than our own. This would also keep oil-sands jobs and revenue in Canada, he said.
This decree was thought to be directed at China. China's increased involvement in the oil sands and Sinopec's stake in the Northern Gateway Pipeline might mean a future where hundreds of thousands of barrels of unrefined Alberta bitumen are piped to oil tankers bound for Asia, where environmental standards are virtually non-existent.
In response to Harper's election promise, then Alberta Deputy Premier Ron Stevens said: "Alberta has the responsibility for the development of its natural resources and that certainly includes bitumen."
Stevens is right, but the federal government determines whether resource exports are in the nation's best interests.
Nevertheless, the Stelmach government has since reaffirmed its support for raw bitumen exports. In the 2011 Throne Speech, Premier Stelmach declared: "It is in the national interest that Western Canada has improved port capacity — whether by pipeline or rail — that will open the door to Asia's rapidly growing markets."
Since the 2008 election, the Conservative government has repeated Harper's promise to block bitumen exports to countries with poor environmental standards like China, but has been silent as to what exactly it will do. No binding legislation, regulations or trade barriers have been enacted. We're only just starting to wake up to the reality that there are companies and countries investing in our resources whose track record on human rights, pollution, accountability and transparency as far below the standards we demand here at home.
As a nation and as a province, we've been naïve about being good neighbours and good free traders. We're the owners of this resource. As owners, it's up to us to demand our provincial and federal governments enact strong and meaningful rules on how the oil sands are developed — rules that ensure tens of thousands of jobs are not sent down the pipeline to countries with worse environmental and human rights standards than we demand at home.
As global demand for energy grows, and supplies of stable, accessible energy shrinks, we must set the ground rules now before all the stakes in the oil sands are claimed.
Tony Clark is a researcher with the Alberta Federation of Labour. His research interests include energy and taxation policy.
Straight Goods, Mon May 9 2011
AFL Revenue Policy Paper presented to AFL 47th Constitutional Convention, April 28 to May 1, 2011
Alberta's relatively low revenues from natural resources and taxes dampens our expectations of what government can accomplish, and the result is that Alberta actually spends less – far less – than it ought to on public services. Any clear-eyed examination of public spending (taking into account population growth and inflation) shows that Alberta's spending on services is flat or dropping. Alberta does not have a spending problem; we have a revenue problem. If we have any spending problem at all, it is that we do not the right amount. Alberta lags behind the rest of the country and the rest of the industrialized world on a variety of key social indicators – demonstrating that our investments in social and environmental infrastructure are falling further and further behind.
April 2011: Widespread violations of child-labour laws revealed; government performance on oil sands shameful; fed Conservatives accused of hypocrisy in dealing with immigrants; Albertans...
Widespread violations of child-labour rules revealed in study
- Tens of thousands of adolescent Albertans are in the workforce – 21 per cent of them in illegal jobs, according to an Alberta Federation of Labour study. It found there were widespread violations of employment standards for adolescents and children in the province. For more information...
Government performance on oil sands shameful
- The Auditor General's report revealed the Progressive Conservative government has failed to institute a way of tracking its revenue from oil-sands operations, meaning it might have foregone billions of dollars in revenue. Meanwhile, Premier Stelmach and others in the government continue to act as pitch men for a pipeline company that wants to ship raw bitumen – and good jobs – out of the province. For more on AG press release ... and for Keystone XL release ...
Federal Conservatives accused of hypocrisy in dealing with immigrants
- The Conservative Party of Canada reaches out to immigrants Canadians with one hand, but crafts policies that punish them with the other. It has cut targets for real immigration, while increasing the number of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), who have little protection from abusive employers and recruitment agencies. New rules introduced this month will make it almost impossible for TFWs to even consider becoming citizens. For more information ...
Albertans warned to brace for Tea Party policies
- The infamous billionaire Koch brothers from Kansas – who have spent tens of millions of dollars funding climate-change deniers and the extreme right-wing Tea Party in the U.S. – have hired a lobbyist to push the Alberta government on taxation, economic development and energy and resource issues. Meanwhile, the AFL revealed that a provincial cabinet minister had links to an organization calling for restrictions to collective-bargaining rights in Alberta. For AFL press release ... and for the Edmonton Journal news item ...
Gate Gourmet locks out workers in Edmonton - About 60 workers at Gate Gourmet's facility at Edmonton International Airport have been locked out after rejecting a final offer from the company that included a three-year wage freeze. The employees, represented by UFCW 401, had been seeking only moderate increases that would barely allow them to keep up with the rising cost of living. Show your support by joining them on the picket line at Airport Road. For more ...
- April 28 - International Day of Mourning
- April 28 - May 1 – AFL Convention
- May 1 – May Day
- May 9-13 – CLC Convention
- May 17 - International Day Against Homophobia
- May 21 - International Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
Did you know ...
- 8,200 Alberta children aged nine to 11 have jobs.
- 78 per cent of the jobs done by children are clearly illegal, including newspaper delivery and janitorial services.
- 26,000 adolescents, aged 12-14, work in Alberta.
- More than 21 per cent of working adolescents are employed in prohibited occupations, including janitorial services, sports teams and working on golf courses.
- 50 per cent of the jobs done by adolescents fall into the grey area of babysitting and yard work.
- The AFL study reveals that violations of child-labour laws included working too many hours, being paid less than minimum wage and working in prohibited jobs or performing prohibited tasks.
- The study also showed that parents did not fully understand their children's rights and had difficulty monitoring workplace conditions. For more ...
Government failure on oil-sands royalties shameful, says AFL: "The Tories are allowing billions of dollars to slip through their fingers while they say we can't afford to keep schools o...
EDMONTON - The Auditor General's Report on oil-sands royalties confirms Albertans' worst suspicions – that the Progressive Conservative government cares more about the energy industry's bottom line than what is in the best interests of Albertans, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"Premier Stelmach should hang his head in shame with the release of this report," says Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 137,000 workers. "The Auditor General has confirmed our fears that we may be missing out on billions of dollars in foregone royalty revenues."
In February, McGowan and the leaders of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) wrote to Auditor General Merwan Saher (click here for full text of letter), asking him to investigate why the government is failing to meet its own targets for collecting revenue from oil and gas companies.
"What the Auditor General discovered is that the government doesn't actually have any targets – which is shocking when you consider that the oil sands provide one of our province's most important revenue streams to fund things like health care and education," says McGowan.
"The Auditor also shows that there has been a seismic shift in the way the Conservative government looks at oil-sands royalties. For a brief period, the government paid lip service to maximizing royalties for the benefit of all Albertans, the owners of the resource. But, as the A-G shows, the government is now far more concerned with attracting investment with bargain-basement royalties than it is about collecting a fair amount of royalties on behalf of the Alberta public."
McGowan points out that the government's decision to re-orient its approach to oil sands royalties away from maximizing value for the owner of the resource was made without any public consultation -- and without being honest with Albertans about what the change will mean for government revenue and the funding of vital public services.
"It makes me wonder who these guys are working for: the Albertans who elected them or the oil companies who wine and dine them," said McGowan.
McGowan says the Conservative's failure on oil-sands royalties should infuriate Albertans on two levels: First because it's robbing them of billions of dollars in revenue that could be used to pay for things like schools, health care and infrastructure; and, second, because there is no reason why Alberta should be rolling over in the face of lobbying pressure and scare tactics from big oil companies.
"With high oil prices, instability in the Middle East and dwindling international supplies, we hold all the cards," says McGowan. "And yet the Tories are behaving as if it's the oil companies that have the better hand."
"The Tories are allowing literally billions of dollars to slip through their fingers at the same time that they're saying we can't afford to keep school open," says McGowan. "It's outrageous. The Tories always talk about the need to run government like a business. If a CEO was ever as careless with his company's assets as the Conservatives are with our energy assets, he'd be fired in a minute."
To help Albertans understand just how significant the Auditor General's findings are, McGowan says people should think about how they would treat the sale of assets they own personally, like their homes.
"For individual Albertans, their home is usually their biggest asset. For Alberta as a whole, our biggest asset is the oil sands," says McGowan.
"Can you imagine selling your home without trying to figure out what a reasonable price would be? Can you imagine setting the price for your home far below market value and then patting yourself on the back because so many people are lining up to take advantage of your stupidity? That's what's happening with our collectively owned oil sands assets. The Tories think they're smart because oil companies are lining up to get a piece of the action. But giving away your assets at bargain basement prices doesn't prove that you're smart; it proves you're a sucker. Unfortunately, in this case, it's the Alberta public that's going to pay the price for the government's gullibility in the form of billions of dollars in foregone revenue. Where is a Peter Lougheed or a Danny Williams to drive a harder bargain when you need them?"
Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
March 2011: Wisconsin protests; forklift safety; Alberta govt failing to collect billions; equality still a dream in Alberta; IAMAW 99 fight against CLAC
- From Wisconsin to Egypt, from Mexico to Canada, the rights of workers are under attack. The right of public-sector unionized workers to bargain collectively has been taken away in Wisconsin and similar moves are planned in other states south of the border. Meanwhile, the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded this anti-union, anti middle-class campaign, have been revealed to have significant business interests in Alberta. They may be giving money to right-wing parties here! For more information ... and AFL video ... For the AFL Workers' Rights page ... To stay informed, follow us on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.
- It's been a century since International Women's Day was launched, but Alberta women still earn, on average, only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not give women and official voice to bring focus to this important issue and help to end the unfairness. The AFL is working to change this by aggressively lobbying MLAs. For more information ... and see also ...
AFL - making workplaces safer
- Campaigns by the AFL on workplace safety have resulted in positive moves by the Alberta government, which announced it would be hiring more inspectors and that it would initiate a forklift-safety blitz. However, the government's actions fell far short of what is needed to keep Alberta workers safe, so the AFL pressure continues. For more information ... and for recent release on forklift safety ...
Government pleads poverty while failing to collect billions
- The Alberta government released a budget inspired by the Wildrose Alliance, one that continued the starvation diet for Alberta's valued public services and included no plan to shore up the province's flagging revenues. Meanwhile, a coalition of unions called on the Auditor General to investigate why the government was failing to collect billions of dollars every year, by not meeting its own targets for revenue from oil and gas operations. For more information ... and for the release on the Auditor General's report ...
- Join the fight against CLAC! - IAM Local Lodge 99 is locked in a runoff battle with CLAC to represent hundreds of workers at OEM Remanufacturing in Edmonton, an engine and powertrain component remanufacturing company, serving the railway, natural gas and diesel sectors. IAM has been fighting for nearly seven years to represent these workers, but victory is in sight. The Alberta Labour Relations Board has ruled that the OEM workers have the right to choose their own union, and IAM has a short time to campaign for votes. But they need your help. For details ... Also go to www.oem99.ca
- March 22 - World Water Day
- March 26 - Friends of Medicare health-care rally at the Legislature (www. friendsofmedicare.org)
- March 31 - CUPE Alberta convention, Grande Prairie
- March 31 - Public Interest Alberta Annual Advocacy Conference
- April 2 - 27th Annual Labour Appreciation Night
- April 28-May 1 - AFL Convention
Did you know ...
- That some CLAC contracts say no union activity is allowed at the workplace during working hours "except that which is necessary for the processing of grievances and enforcement" of the collective agreement.
- That some CLAC contracts allow for only four hours' notice of layoffs, or say that no notice is required for layoffs due to equipment failure, material shortage or "other reasons."
- That some CLAC contracts stipulate that, in the event of it and the employer failing to resolve a matter of contention, "it agrees that the decisive word resides with management."
- That some CLAC contracts "will not permit or encourage any cessation of work, strike, slowdown or otherwise restrict or interfere with the employer's operation." For more information ... and go to www.oem99.ca