Forestry workers urge Klein government to be part of the solution, not the problem in softwood dispute
EDMONTON - Leaders from the Alberta Federation of Labour and two unions representing thousands of forestry workers in the province will meet with Human Resource Minister Clint Dunford this afternoon in an effort to discourage the Alberta government from "going down a dangerous path" on the issue of softwood lumber.
"The softwood dispute between Canada and the United States has already resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in B.C. and it's starting to have in impact here as well," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"We've reached a point where we obviously need a deal. But at the same time we have to guard against caving in to the Americans. That's a cure that would be worse than the disease."
WHAT: Forestry union reps answer questions about their meeting with minister
WHEN: 3 p.m., Thursday, July 3
WHERE: Rotunda, Alberta Legislature
WHO: Dave Haggard, National President, Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA)
Don MacNeil, Western VP, Communication, Energy, Paperworkers (CEP)
Les Steel, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)
Mike Pisak, President, IWA Local 207-1 (Alberta)
Based on internal government documents obtained through freedom of information requests, the unions are worried the Alberta government is negotiating its own deal with the U.S. - one that would essentially give the Americans everything they want.
"That's why we're meeting with the Minister today," says Steel. "We want to urge our provincial government to be part of the solution, not the problem when it comes to finding a resolution to the softwood dispute. If they continue down the path they seem to be on, our province will pay a very high price - in the form of lost jobs and devastated communities. That's what we're trying to avoid."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021 or (780) 910-1137
If you're finding it more and more difficult to keep up with the bills each month, you're not alone. Recently released figures show that the amount Albertans earn each week is falling far behind the increase in inflation - meaning real weekly income for most Albertans is shrinking.
Reports from Statistics Canada show that inflation increased the cost of living in Alberta by 7.6 percent between March 2002 and March 2003. At the same time, average weekly income (unadjusted for inflation) increased by only 1.3 percent.
The result is that, even though paycheques are slightly larger than they were last year, the average Albertan has experienced a 5.9 percent cut in their actual purchasing power.
"In a province that is supposed in the midst of an economic boom, this is a truly disturbing revelation," says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "If working people can't maintain their standard of living in the good times, what's going to happen when we hit the next down-turn?"
Alberta's inflation rate is by far the highest in the country and Steel says the biggest cause of that jump is the provincial government's ill-advised decision to de-regulate power (gas and electricity).
"For a year or so after the last election, the government managed to hide the true extent for their bungling by using our own tax dollars to subsidize power bills," says Steel. "But now those subsidies have been phased out and the real costs associated with de-regulation are clear. Basically, the Tories are taking a huge bite out of our wallets and eroding our standard of living."
In addition to being largely responsibly for Alberta's unprecedented spike in inflation, Steel says the Klein Tories must shoulder a large share of the blame for stagnant wages - the other half of the "cost-of-living squeeze" now being experienced by Albertans.
"This government has driven up costs for Albertans by deregulating power and failing to protect us from things like increasing auto insurance premiums," says Steel.
"But they've also hit working people hard by deliberately putting downward pressure on wages. They've done this through their anti-union and low minimum wage policies - both of which have weakened the ability of workers to get a fair share of the economic pie even during boom times."
Steel says the time has come for Albertans to "connect the dots" between declining real income and the policies of the Klein government.
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 483-3021 or (780) 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021 or (780) 910-1137 (cell)
But the question needs to be asked whether public health care, public education and income security are also competitive advantages, for both employers and workers.
EDMONTON - Despite a booming economy and an expected multi-billion-dollar budget surplus, the Alberta government will not likely use the upcoming session of the Legislature to make life any easier for working people, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Thanks to our abundant natural resources and our strong provincial economy, we are in a better position than any other province in the country to shore up the programs and services that really matter to people," says Les Steel.
"Yet our government is showing no interest in addressing the social deficit it created through years of short-sighted and mean-spirited fiscal policy. In fact, most senior members of the government have their heads firmly in the sand when it comes to acknowledging the problems their own policies have created."
Steel says the government's attitude towards needed social spending was summed up recently when the Education minister denied that parents were being forced to fund-raise for classroom essentials and when a government backbencher accused the Edmonton Public School Board of "grandstanding" when they announced a huge budget shortfall.
"Where have these people been?" asks Steel. "Despite our vast wealth, this government has consistently under-funded the services that matter most to Albertans. But instead of acknowledging the role their own policies have played in the erosion of quality services, they blame the victims. They say it's the teachers fault or the school boards fault - anyone but their own. It's incredible."
As a result of the government on-going ideological aversion to social spending - and their continuing refusal to shed their right-wing, rose-coloured glasses when looking at the consequences - Steel says the next session of the Legislature may be more memorable for the problems it doesn't deal with than for those it does.
"What about the minimum wage?" asks Steel. "We've slipped to the bottom of the pack in the country - again. And what about labour law reform? Last year we saw just how uneven the playing field is for workers during the Shaw Conference Centre strike in Edmonton. And the Minister struck a committee to consider changes. But where are the reforms? Where are the new protections for workers?"
Aside from all the pressing issues that haven't been put on the table, Steel worries that the government may use the next session of the Legislature to push ahead with dangerous privatization schemes (P-3s in particular) and to "get even" with public-sector workers - particularly nurses and teachers - who recently managed to win long-overdue wage increases.
"The Tories talk a good game when it comes to education and health care," says Steel. "They say our nurses and teachers are valuable and that more needs to be done to attract and retain them. But inside, members of the government caucus are seething. They're not used to anyone standing up to them - and that's exactly what both the teachers and nurses did. So what we're concerned about is retaliation. We're worried the government will continue its lip-service on health and education, while at the same time moving to knife the nurses and teachers in the back."
Steel predicts that revenge against the teachers will come in the form of inadequate funding for education - so that deteriorating standards can be blamed on "greedy" teachers and their recent wage settlement. When it comes to the nurses - who are currently at the bargaining table - Steel worries that the government will emulate B.C. and use legislative power to reach into contracts and nullify provisions that have been on the books for years.
"At the bargaining table, the government has repeatedly brought up the B.C. example," says Steel. "It may be just a tactic to scare the nurses. But on the other hand, it may be more than a threat. Only time will tell."
If the government uses legislation to tear up existing contracts or goes ahead with plans to implement P-3s, they will face a battle with the labour movement, says Steel.
"Both issues are red flags for us," he says. "When it comes to contracts, we believe firmly that a deal is a deal - and we'll fight to save our collective agreements. On the subject of privatization, we're also drawing a line in the sand. We don't think P-3s or any other kind of privatization of core services is in the public interest. We'll fight for a moratorium on these schemes until the government provides proof that they save money or improve service."
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 483-3021 (wk) or (780) 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 483-3021 (wk)
The Alberta Federation of Labour expects 2003 to be a year of intense activity on the labour relations front. AFL President Les Steel points to high inflation and slow wage growth in the province fuelling higher wage demands as workers struggle to maintain their standard of living.
"November's inflation figure of 9.7% was a shock to most Albertans. We know that this figure was, to some extent, a statistical anomaly, but we also know that the province has the highest inflation rate in Canada, and that the deregulation of utilities has helped to push up the cost of living. Wages in the province aren't keeping up to increases in the cost of living, and if war in the Middle East causes oil prices to skyrocket, the increased energy revenues may be good for government finances, but the resulting inflation will be a disaster for ordinary working Albertans."
Figures released by the government show that average weekly earnings for Albertans are growing by about 2% per year. "We believe that when the final figures are in, the inflation rate in Alberta in 2002 will be more than twice that figure," said Steel. "There is no reason why, in an economy as strong as Alberta's, workers should continue to see their real earnings fall."
Steel says the AFL also expects more Albertans to seek union membership in the coming year. "A recent Statistics Canada study shows that union representation brings higher wages - over seven percent on average. It also tends to provide better benefit and pension coverage. Most importantly, perhaps, it gives workers the right to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace."
"That's why union membership has been growing in Alberta, supposedly the most anti-union province in Canada; and that's why it will continue to grow.
Shaw Strike Exposes Flaws in Labour Law
Workers at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton won a victory in November by negotiating their first collective agreement after a bitter seven month struggle against bad-faith bargaining and anti-union tactics.
The actions of Economic Development Edmonton, and the senseless prolonging of the strike is clear evidence of the need for improvements to the unfriendly labour laws in Alberta.
"Labour laws in this province fail to recognize that workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. When workers freely choose to be represented by a union, as was the case with the Shaw workers, labour laws should facilitate the process, not act as a barrier to be overcome" said Steel.
The December 10, 2002 ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is an historic first step in addressing the issue of climate change. Throughout the debate on ratification, the AFL has supported Kyoto, and looks forward to continuing to work with all levels of government to ensure that workers and communities affected by necessary job shifts are protected by an effective just transition plan.
Kyoto will mean new jobs in new industries and is an ideal opportunity to diversify the Alberta economy away from its dependence on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels to ensure sustainable jobs for future generations of Albertan workers.
"Kyoto should be seen as a chance for Albertans to become leaders in the emerging industries which will drive the economy of the future" said Steel. "Countries around the world are making the shift already, and Alberta will be left behind unless this government starts seeing Kyoto as an opportunity rather than a threat."
Time for Romanow
With the release of the long-anticipated Romanow Report, Canadians have been given a clear choice about the future of Medicare. The AFL is calling for the quick and full implementation of the recommendations of Romanow by the Federal government.
Medicare is not only the right system, it is the smart system. Study after study proves that public healthcare has better results and is cheaper than for-profit delivery. Public healthcare protects families and is also a competitive advantage which makes Canada an attractive place to do business.
"Companies in Canada must recognize that if we go down the road of for-profit healthcare, they will be joining their American counterparts in paying more for coverage" warns Steel. "What working people lose from the public system, they will be demanding at the bargaining table."
The year 2002 was characterized by an increasing erosion of democratic rights. Effective protest and meaningful participation in government became more difficult than ever.
The G8 Summit held in Kananaskis was the largest, most expensive peace time security operation in Canadian history. All three levels of government actively interfered with the rights of citizens to assemble and protest, and Calgarians were subjected to months of fear-mongering.
Despite broad support for ratification, Albertans were subjected to a multi-million dollar anti-Kyoto propaganda campaign while the Klein government chastised the Federal government for "consulting but not listening." At the same time, the Alberta government has hypocritically pushed ahead with privatization and for-profit healthcare despite strong opposition by Albertans.
"What we are seeing is an increasing disconnect between the wants of ordinary Albertans and the policy coming from government. At the same time government is clamping down on the right to protest" said Steel. "That's why labour, students, activists and community groups will continue to work together in the coming year."
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 499-4135 (cell) or (780) 475-4668 (hm)
OTTAWA - The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, along with several other prominent labour leaders from across the country, will attend a special two-and-a-half hour meeting with federal Environment Minister David Anderson later today.
At the meeting, Steel will demand the creation of a substantial transition fund to help workers who may be displaced as a result of the Kyoto Accord.
"We're on record as supporting Kyoto. It's the right thing to do for our environment," says Steel. "But, at the same time, we can't forget about the thousands of workers who may lose their jobs. If we're going to go ahead with Kyoto, mechanisms have to be put in place to help workers and communities make the transition to a greener economy."
Steel says that millions of jobs will be created over the next decade in Canada, whether the Kyoto Accord is ratified or not. But, he says there is no doubt that Kyoto will result in employment reductions in at least a few sectors.
"The solution to this shift in jobs is not to forego action on climate change," says Steel.
"The real answer is to ensure that those who do lose their jobs are given options to find new employment, particularly in related sectors that are expected to experience growth. That's the message we'll be delivering to the Minister tomorrow: Kyoto, yes, but don't leave workers behind."
The meeting with Anderson will take place today between noon and 2:30 p.m. Alberta time. Steel will be available to answer questions from reporters after 2:45 p.m. Alberta time.
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 499-4135
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021 or (780) 910-1137 (cell)
WHEN: Thursday, October 17, 2002 at 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Inn of 7th, Courtyard Room
10001 - 107 Street Edmonton
The Alberta Federation of Labour, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Unions, Canadian Labour Congress, as well as a number of NGOs and environmental groups will be meeting this morning to discuss the Kyoto Protocol.
Representatives from these groups will be available at 1:30 p.m. to encapsulate discussions from the morning session and respond to questions from the media.
For More Information:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-499-4135 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (work)
|The following is a statement released by Alberta Federation of Labour president Les Steel in the wake of this week's G-8 Summit in Kananaskis, Alberta. The AFL worked closely with social justice groups, youth organizations, churches and other civil society groups to organize counter-summit activities in Calgary, the nearest major city to the G-8 meeting site:|
Now that the G-8 leaders have left Kananaskis and the police barricades are coming down, two important things can be said about the events of the past week. First, as we predicted, the G-8 has failed to offer any real solutions to the problems of poverty, war and disease in Africa. Despite all the rhetoric about the need for the West to pitch-in and help poor nations, the Summit failed to provide any commitments for major debt relief. At the same time, there was no acknowledgement of the role that western governments and businesses play in financing wars on the continent. And there was no agreement to adequately fund the battle against HIV/AIDS, a disease which is killing literally millions of Africans each year and which threatens to completely destabilize the region's already fragile economy.
Instead of measures that could really help ordinary Africans, the G-8 has endorsed a plan that simply calls for more of the same: more privatization of public services, more cuts to social spending and an increased focus on market deregulation and free trade with the west. As many African activists participating in counter-summit events pointed out, these are the same policies that have served African nations so poorly over the past 25 years.
The second, and more encouraging, conclusion that can be drawn from the Kananaskis summit has to do with the nature of demonstrations against the G-8 and its agenda. To put it simply: our protests worked. At previous summits, the world focused its attention on street battles between protesters and riot police. The result was that the causes being championed by demonstrators were usually lost in the shuffle. In Calgary and Kananaskis, however, the situation was entirely different. Instead of tear gas and rubber bullets, Canadians were actually able to learn about the issues.
There were stories about the negative impact that the World Bank's so-called structural adjustment programs have been having on poor nations. There were stories about the exploitive labour practices employed by many multinational corporations. And there were stories about the way in which trade rules concocted by the G-8 and enacted by the WTO are harming the environment and enriching the few at the expense of the many. All of these stories were the result of creative and thoughtful non-violent events organized by activists.
Many observers were surprised (and sometimes disappointed) by the complete lack of violent confrontation between protesters and security forces. But the peaceful nature of protests in Calgary was no accident. For months, labour organizations like the AFL, the Calgary and District Labour Council (CDLC) and the Communication Energy Paperworkers (CEP) were involved in meetings with non-labour civil society groups. Right from the beginning the goal shared by everyone was to stage a series of non-violent events and activities that focused on ideas and not on unnecessary confrontation.
The RCMP and the Calgary police may like to think that it was the large police presence that discouraged violence. But the reality is that it was the protesters themselves who made the difference. They decided that Calgary would be a showcase for the power of non-violent protest - and they made it so.
On behalf of the Alberta Federation of Labour, I would like to thank the dozens of civil society groups and thousands of individual activists who participated in planning and executing counter-summit events here in Alberta. Our approach to protest - which featured unprecedented cooperation between labour and non-labour groups - was so successful that activists from other countries are planning to borrow our ideas.
Obviously, the campaign to draw attention to the failings of the G-8 and its agenda for global trade will not be an easy or short one. But I remain convinced that our approach to protest - with its focus on non-violence - will help to turn the tide. I also remain convinced that our ideas about social justice and fair trade (as opposed to unfettered "free" trade) will eventually win the day. Calgary may very well be the first step in a long campaign to convince citizens, and eventually their governments, that the world economy should be for people, not corporations.
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021(office); 780-499-4135(cell)
Gil McGowan, Communications Director @ 780-483-3021(office); 780-910-1137(cell)
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has produced a new research study examining the economics of public education, public health care and other social programs. The book demonstrates that these public programs are a net advantage to Canada's economy, and they give Canada a competitive advantage over the U.S. and other nations with less well developed social programs.
"We abandon public health care and public education at our peril," says AFL President Les Steel. "They give us a clear competitive advantage over our neighbour to the south."
For example, in health care, the book reveals that employer health costs are two to three times higher in the U.S. than Canada, even when including taxation levels. "Public health care lowers the cost of doing business, and that works to Canada's advantage," says Steel.
The results of the study will be presented at a seminar being hosted by the AFL for interested members of the public. The author of the study will provide a presentation of the study findings and the book will be officially released at that time. Social agencies, education groups and health care organizations have been invited.
Thursday May 23
10:00 am to 11:00 am
Salon "B", Howard Johnson Hotel, 10010 - 104 Street, Edmonton
The book, entitled "The Other Competitive Advantage: The Economic Case for Strong Social Programs", examines five areas: health care, education, retirement pensions, income security (EI, minimum wage and social assistance) and WCB. In each area it compares the economic costs and benefits of delivering these services publicly or privately.
Following the seminar, there will be a media availability. Copies of the book will be available at the event.
For more information contact:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021(wk) 780-499-4135(cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021(wk)
EDMONTON - The provincial government's decision to cut infrastructure spending and impose a public-sector hiring freeze is hard to justify in light of the rosy financial figures released today, says Alberta Federation of Labour president Les Steel.
According to the government's own documents, the provincial economy is expected to grow by 4.9 percent in 2001 - more than double the national average. At the same time, private and public sector investment is expected to increase by 14.2 percent.
"The Premier and the Finance Minister want Albertans to believe that we can no longer afford to hire desperately needed staff in areas like health and education. And they want us to believe we can no longer afford to invest in infrastructure," says Steel. "But the government's own budget forecast paints a different picture. There doesn't seem to be any good reason to embark on another austerity program."
Steel points out that the price of oil is exactly what the government predicted it would be at this time - and the price of natural gas is only marginally lower.
"It's true that the international economy has taken a turn for the worse and that places like Ontario and the U.S. are edging toward a recession," said Steel. "But here in Alberta, the sky is not falling."
Steel says the labour movement is particularly concerned about the public-sector hiring freeze, deferred construction projects and the decision to reduce transportation grants to municipalities - which have already been cut in half over the past seven or eight years.
"The hiring freeze means that we won't be able to deal with the staffing shortage that is currently undermining service in areas like health care and children's services," says Steel. "And the decision to defer infrastructure projects and further reduce grants to municipality's means that our province's infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. These projects were already long overdue. This is just going to make a bad situation worse."
Steel says the government's new fiscal plan proves - once again - that the Klein Tories have an unhealthy and inflexible focus on debt elimination at all costs.
"They want Albertans to believe that cuts to people and services are the only option," he says. "But there are other options for dealing with the dip in natural gas revenues. What about 'deferring' debt elimination for a few years? And what about 'deferring' tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy until resource prices rebound? The government has to realize that cuts are not the solution to every problem."
For more information call: Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 499-4135