CALGARY-The Alberta Federation of Labour marked the first Alberta Farm Worker Day by announcing a strategy to pressure the Alberta government to include farm workers in the basic employment protections provided to other workers.
"In Alberta, if you work on a farm, you work in an environment with almost no protections. Nothing governs the hours of work, rate of pay or working conditions. You can't refuse unsafe work, and you can't get WCB if you are hurt," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "Farm workers are denied the basic protections all other workers take for granted."
"And looking across the country, Alberta is again at the back of the pack. Alberta offers the worst level of protection for farm workers in the country," observes McGowan. "We are the only province that has not committed to including farm workers in health and safety legislation."
"We are launching a strategy that proclaims "End the Drought!" to bring basic protections to farm workers," announces McGowan. "We hope to persuade the government to follow the lead of other provinces and protect farm workers."
McGowan also notes that the government continues to ignore the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that guarantees farm workers the right to organize unions.
"Things on the farm are different today. Huge hog barns and corporate farms are replacing small family farms. Large operators employ dozens of workers. Farming has changed. So should the law," says McGowan.
"A farm worker's life is about hard work and a constant fear of getting fired or cheated. Speak out and you get blackballed," says Eric Musekamp, President of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta (FUA). "We need legal protections to make our workplaces safer and more fair."
UFCW Canada agricultural worker coordinator, Stan Raper, was also at the announcement. His union has led the fight in Ontario for farm workers. "In Ontario, our Charter challenges brought about political change. We hope it doesn't take that much in Alberta for the government to see that farm workers deserve basic legal protections, just like every other worker," says Raper.
McGowan states that the AFL intends to make protection for farm workers a key issue for the labour movement over the coming months. The first phase of the strategy includes:
- Distributing a leaflet calling on Albertans to pressure the government
- Town hall meetings in rural communities
- Lobbying Human Resources Minister Mike Cardinal
- Asking Albertans to contact their local MLA
- Highlighting the issue in upcoming legislation reviews
Future actions will be determined depending on the response from the first phase.
The FUA called for August 20 to be Alberta Farm Worker Day to highlight the conditions agricultural workers experience. August 20, 1999 was the day a Taber-area farm worker was killed by his employer for overturning a water truck into a ditch.
"The AFL will commemorate Alberta Farm Worker Day as long as the government continues to deny them the basic protections every other worker takes for granted," concludes McGowan.
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For more information
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780-915-4599(cell)
Jason Foster, AFL Director at 780-483-3021
The Alberta Federation of Labour is demanding the government do more than simply give Canadian Midway Co a warning for employment law violations at Edmonton's Klondike Days and the Calgary Stampede.
"North American Midway, parent company of the Canadian Midway Co, has been grossly exploiting young South African workers," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "We have teenagers who have been worked 17 hours a day. They have endured terrible living conditions, and, at the end of the day, they have made less than minimum wage for their labour."
"I have news for the Alberta government - these are not "minor" violations," says McGowan. "By brushing aside the blatant mistreatment of these young workers, the government is sending the wrong message to employers everywhere in the province. I assure the government that most Albertans do not agree with the whitewash of this employer's actions."
He is particularly upset with the sly 'wink and nod' attitude of the government. "What's the point of having rules if they're not enforced? Rules without real consequences are not rules at all," says McGowan
In fact, McGowan is convinced that most employers in the province would not agree with the lack of penalties in this case. "One bad actor like this, if left unpunished, could tarnish the image of all Alberta companies," says McGowan.
"This government needs to do a 180 degree turn in its attitudes to working Albertans," concludes McGowan. "Immediately reversing this decision to do nothing would be a good place to start."
At a series of three coordinated rallies in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary Thursday evening, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the B.C. Federation of Labour unveiled the first phase of a joint, multi-union campaign aimed at putting pressure on Telus to reach a fair settlement with its locked-out workers.
"Telus may think they're taking on one union representing 13,000 workers. But they've miscalculated," said AFL president Gil McGowan at the Edmonton rally.
"Starting today, they're going to up against the full weight of the entire labour movement in two provinces. Together, we represent hundreds of thousands of members - and that means hundreds of thousands of Telus customers or potential customers."
About 1,000 people from dozens of different unions attended the rallies outside the downtown Telus towers in Edmonton and Calgary.
McGowan says the labour movement is NOT asking people to boycott Telus services - yet. Instead, union members are being asked to discontinue some of their land-line and cell phone features - like call display and voice mail. The AFL and BCFL are also asking their members to report service complaints with Telus to the federal telecommunications regulator, the CRTC.
"We want to turn up the heat on Telus. We want to send the message that customers are not happy. And we make it clear to Telus managers that there may be a serious economic price to be paid if they don't sit down and negotiate a fair contract."
McGowan says that the dispute is really about defending "family sustaining and community sustaining jobs," which he says are threatened by Telus' plans to send work overseas and rely on more contract and temporary workers at home.
"Telus makes its money here, in our towns, in our cities, from our citizens," McGowan told the rally in Edmonton. "As a result, it has an obligation to give something back by investing here and maintaining good jobs here.
"But (Telus CEO Darren) Entwhistle's contract - the one he's tried to ram down your throats - would allow him to contract out jobs, to strip benefits, to send work down to the southern United States or to the Philippines. Tonight we're here to say "no" to this kind of corporate irresponsibility. We're here to say "no way" to the Entwistle way."
The Alberta Federation of Labour represents about 120,000 workers in Alberta from 29 different unions - including unions like the United Nurses of Alberta, the Communications, Energy, Paperworkers union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Many other unions not directly affiliated with the AFL have also pledged to support the campaign in support of locked-out Telus workers.
The B.C. Federation of Labour represents 470,000 workers from dozens of different unions in both the public and private sectors
For more information about the campaign to support locked-out Telus workers, visit the AFL website at www.afl.org.
EDMONTON-The reputation for good labour relations and excellent service earned over many years by Alberta Government Telephones, EdTel and BCTel have been poured down the drain of corporate mismanagement by Telus in a few short years, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Telus has forgotten how to treat people. They are engaged in 'take it or leave it' negotiating - and that is bullying, not bargaining," says Gil McGowan.
"It is the arrogant unwillingness of Telus management to listen to anyone else's point of view that has alienated their onetime loyal workers and customers. You have to ask yourself why Telus is acting so irresponsibly. In the long run, negotiating fairly with your employees and treating them with respect pays dividends in terms of productivity and customer satisfaction - Telus' tactics are producing exactly the opposite."
McGowan says that the affiliated unions and members of the AFL will be supporting the Telus strikers throughout the dispute.
"We will be providing picket line and other support as requested by the Telecommunication Workers Union (TWU). "For now the TWU is asking our members to consider dropping some, but not all of their Telus services, and to cancel automatic payment provisions," says McGowan.
McGowan warns Telus that such actions must not be treated lightly.
"If we move to a full boycott of Telus goods and services, experience has shown us that many of those customers will never come back to Telus. The company needs to show some common sense at the bargaining table before irreparable damage is done," says McGowan.
EDMONTON-The Alberta government decision to delay the strike for two months at the Lakeside Packers in Brooks by calling a Disputes Inquiry Board (DIB) is a step in the right direction - but may not be enough, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Alberta's largest union organization.
"Tyson Foods, Inc, the American mega-corporation that owns the hugely profitable Lakeside plant, could simply use the two months during which workers are legally prohibited from striking to undermine the union and intimidate workers," says Gil McGowan. "At the end of the day, a Disputes Inquiry Board recommendation is just that - a recommendation that the employer can ignore as it chooses. This just isn't good enough. Only if the government uses the DIB recommendation as the basis for a mandatory settlement will the exercise have been worthwhile."
"The government needs to enforce a compulsory binding arbitration on the two parties to produce a fair and just settlement," says McGowan. "That would protect all of the parties involved in this dispute - the workers, the cattle producers and the beef industry. It would also recognize that it is the government's own weak and ineffective labour laws that have allowed the employer to bring things to this crisis anyway."
"Tyson resisted certification for years and years despite being repeatedly found guilty of unfair labour practices. During that time, they created a workplace that was so unbearable that there have been 100,000 workers in and out of that plant in the last decade. Lakeside has one of the highest injury rates of any industrial plant in Canada and they do not even pay the industry standard wages."
"If there was ever a workplace crying out for union protection of workers, it's the Tyson Lakeside operation. The workers desperately need a union and a collective agreement to help create a safer, healthier workplace and to secure decent wages and benefits for the hard, dangerous work they do every day."
But Alberta labour laws have stymied the workers' desire for a union, and allowed the company to run roughshod over its workers, according to McGowan. "Most provinces have first contract arbitration to prevent companies from avoiding unionization be stalling bargaining," he notes, "but Alberta laws don't have that provision nor any significant penalty for not bargaining a collective agreement. Tyson is simply doing what the Government is allowing them to do."
McGowan, who is in Brooks today, demands that the government act decisively to end this dispute. "We need immediate action to resolve this crisis - not delays. The government should act more decisively for the good of the provincial economy and to prevent further economic hardship to Alberta's beef industry."
EDMONTON-The death of a 14-year boy working with heavy equipment at the Reynolds Auto and Aircraft Museum in Wetaskiwin is a tragedy that illustrates why children should not be allowed to perform adult jobs, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The provincial government opened a dangerous door last month when they said it was okay for 12 to 14 year-olds to work in restaurants," says Gil McGowan. "And then the Minister of Human Resources went further by telling the media that jobs actually help children build character. I wonder if the minister is singing the same tune today?"
The boy killed in Wetaskiwin did not have a permit to work and would not have been eligible for one even under the newly relaxed rules for child workers. But McGowan says by weakening its rules and being so openly dismissive of critics, the government has created a climate in which the safety of children has been put on the back burner.
"They've created an expectation and acceptance amongst both young people and adults, that kids can - and even should - be working," says McGowan. "It's a green light from the government - one that will likely lead to a repeat of the tragedy we've seen in Wetaskiwin."
McGowan says the government has attempted to pass off responsibility for regulating kids' involvement in the work place, saying it's up to the parents to decide. But he says that's not fair to parents.
"Young teens can seem very articulate and capable. And, as every parent knows, they can be very persuasive," says McGowan. "It's not hard to imagine a 12 or 13 year-old being able to convince his or her parents that they're ready to take a job. But at the end of the day, no matter how big, smart or tough these kids appear, they're still kids. And they need to be protected."
McGowan says that even the most mature 12 to 14 year olds lack the knowledge and experience to stand up for themselves in the workplace and recognize basic workplace hazards.
"This is not meant as a criticism of kids, but rather as an acknowledgement of reality - kids of that age are not ready to be in an adult work environment, especially if that environment includes dangers such as heavy equipment, fast fryers or cutting machines."
McGowan - who grew up on a farm and remembers pressuring his own parents for permission to work on heavy equipment at an early age - says his heart goes out to the father of the boy killed in Wetaskiwin.
"As a father of young kids, I can't even imagine the pain the family is feeling right now," he says. "But if we want to avoid this kind of thing from happening again, what we need is a strong message from the government. We need firm regulations so that when an eager youngster asks for permission to work, parents can honestly say: �You'll have to wait another few years son. It's the law.'"
With that in mind, McGowan is encouraging the government to reconsider its recent policy changes regarding kids in the workforce.
"Whether it's a machine shop or a fast-food kitchen, kids should not be working there. This tragedy is a wake-up call - one that should not be ignored."
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, June 29, 2005
We're here today because a crime has been committed.
Laws that were supposed to protect workers have been broken.
Rules that were supposed to compel companies to honour the contracts they sign were trampled on.
As a result of these violations of the rules, these failures to observe the letter and the spirit of the law, jobs have been lost, careers have been interrupted, families have been forced to endure unexpected and undeserved economic hardship.
To make matters worse, the villains in the story didn't act alone - they had accomplices.
And those accomplices were people who - in theory at least - the workers were supposed to be able to rely on.
Unfortunately, this is not some prime-time crime drama that you might see on TV. This is real life.
The bad guys in this story are the managers at Finning - and their accomplices are the Labour Relations Board and the provincial government.
We're all familiar with what's gone on here.
The business we see in front of us today is a testament to the mean-spiritedness of one employer and the complete inadequacy of our province's labour and labour relations institutions.
Finning bankrolled OEM. Finning owns most of the stock in OEM. Finning provided OEM with most of its business.
But the Labour Relations Board, in its wisdom, says OEM is different from Finning and is not bound to honour any of the contracts negotiated by Finning.
They also saw nothing wrong with OEM signing a new deal with CLAC even before this building was finished - and even before workers had been hired.
How much can you trust a so-called union that is hand-picked by the employer?
We all know this is a shell game. For all intents and purpose, OEM is Finning. All that's happened is that they've moved down the street and put up a new sign.
The goal of this superficial identity change has been clear from the beginning. This wasn't about contracting out or doing business differently. This was about breaking a duly negotiated contract. This was about breaking a real union and replacing it with a lap dog association that was more to the employers liking.
One important point that needs to be made is that these kinds of tactics would not have been allowed in any other Canadian jurisdiction.
In any other province, Finning would have been slapped down, found in violation - and you would be working inside as proud members of IAM.
Even here in Alberta, the law says that employers can't simply change their address or change their name to get rid of a duly elected and duly constituted union.
But our government wrote its laws badly and they tipped the playing field in favour of the employer. And our Labour Relations Board has abandoned all pretext of being object - they've bent over backwards and tied themselves in knots trying to find ways to justify what Finning has done.
The LRB is supposed to be a watchdog. But it's clear they're a lap dog - one that Finning has on a very short leash.
So where do we go from here? The message that we need to send today is that we're not giving up. IAM is continuing to fight this unjust situation in the courts. The AFL and all of our affiliates will continue to support them in that effort.
But we have to go further. If we let Finning get away with this, it's just a matter of time before another employer tries the same shell game.
So we need to support IAM. We need to fight CLAC whenever they slither out from under their rocks. And we need to make this a political issue - so working people understand that this is what Tory government brings us.
Today, they were supposed to be having a grand opening here. Ralph Klein was supposed to be in there celebrating with corporate types who have broken the letter and spirit of Alberta law - the laws that the Premier is supposed to protect and uphold. But they're not inside. We chased them away. That's a step in the right direction - but we still have a lot more chasing to do.
In conclusion, I want all of you to know that the AFL and the rest of the labour movement are behind you in this fight.
We all have a stake - because if Finning is able to get away with this kind of union-busting - then no working people in this province are safe.
That's why we're here for you today and that's why we'll continue being with you as you continue your fight.
Good luck and thank you.
EDMONTON - As of June 3, 2005, Alberta employers can now legally hire 12, 13 and 14-year olds to work in restaurants, the Alberta Federation of Labour revealed today. In a quiet policy change, implemented without public debate or discussion, the Alberta government decided to allow for a blanket exemption to the Employment Standards Code for the entire restaurant industry. Previously, a person had to be 15-years old to work in a restaurant.
"With the stroke of a pen, the government has created a new type of child labour in this province. 12-year olds can now serve you your Big Mac, or prepare your salad," says Gil McGowan. "What's next? Letting 10-year olds work on construction sites?"
"It is particularly appalling that a change of this magnitude was made without public consultation, without debate and without notice," McGowan adds.
"Allowing 12-year olds to work in restaurants is not in the child's interest, it is not in the customers' interest, and it is not in society's interest. Kids that young should be doing two things - going to school and playing," observes McGowan. "There is plenty of time in life for working, why are we in such a rush to push children into the workforce?"
McGowan said the real motivation for the policy change is clear - propping up the interests of restaurant operators.
"Restaurant employers are having a hard time finding adults willing to work for the low wages and lousy conditions they offer, and rather than raise their wages, they get the government to create a whole new pool of vulnerable workers."
The old policy prohibited children under 15 from working, except in select jobs such as newspaper carrier or odd jobs in an office or retail store. If an employer wanted to hire an adolescent (12-14), they needed to get a special exemption for that individual from the Director of Employment Standards.
The new policy now allows restaurants to hire adolescents without permission, if they meet certain safety and consent requirements. This is the first time employment standards have provided an industry-wide exemption to the age limit. (A copy of the new policy is available at www.gov.ab.ca/hre/employmentstandards.)
"The supposed safeguards are nothing of the kind," says McGowan. "They are paper tigers that will do nothing to protect these children against abuse, exploitation or danger." McGowan points out the 'requirements' are that the employer must fill out a checklist, and get the consent of the child and their parent.
"A 12-year old is not in a position to defend themselves against employer abuse. They have no way of recognizing a safety hazard, or understanding their rights," McGowan argues. "We have created a situation where young children are being put in very vulnerable positions. It's a recipe for exploitation."
"Is this the Alberta Advantage?" McGowan asks. "Child labour in our restaurants? I don't think this is what Albertans want."
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915.4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - In a key decision released today, the Alberta Labour Relations Board has, once again, proven itself little more than a lapdog for big business, says Gil McGowan, the new president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The Board today reversed its earlier decision that found Finning Canada and O.E.M. Remanufacturing were common employers and that the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Lodge No. 99 had successor union rights to the operations of O.E.M.," said McGowan.
"If this results stands, 160 long-term Finning employees are going to be out of work - and their families are going to suffer the consequences."
According to McGowan, the situation began when Finning built a new remanufacturing plant in Edmonton, but thinly disguised its complete ownership of that plant in order to avoid its responsibilities to its current union and current employees.
"By reversing its original decision that the two employers were in fact the same entity, the Board has legitimized Finning's actions which include signing a deal with a different employee group at the new plant, and laying-off and replacing the employees in their current rebuilding facility," said McGowan.
The Board could only reach its current position by pretending that Finning International and Finning Canada - a wholly-owned subdivision of Finning International � were two different entities, claimed McGowan.
"The Alberta Labour Relations Board has once again jumped through hoops in order to get to an employer-friendly decision," charged McGowan. "This is a good example of why working people and unions have no faith or trust in the Board any longer. To say that Finning International and Finning Canada are separate entities flies in the face of past precedents and run counter to common sense."
The real relationship between Finning and OEM was recognized by the LRB in its original ruling and can be summarized as follows:
- Finning Canada, a division of Finning International, pays the total costs for the construction of the new O.E.M. component rebuilding centre.
- Finning provides all of the money for the creation of O.E.M. - financing the purchase of two existing independent firms.
- Finning International controls all of the Class A shares in the parent company for O.E.M.
- Finning contracts all of its rebuilding work to O.E.M., announces it will be shutting down its own facility and dismissing the workers.
- The "new" company signs a union contract with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) leaving IAM Lodge 99 and its members out in the cold.
"The Alberta Labour Relations Code section 46 was clearly written to prevent employers from evading their union responsibilities and the rights of workers by simply starting up a new company," concluded McGowan.
"But now the Alberta Labour Relations Board charged with enforcing the Act is actually undermining the intent of that Act. This is a betrayal of working people, plain and simple. If there ever was any doubt where the LRB's real allegiance lies, those doubts have been put to rest. With this decision, the LRB has proven that they are not really an impartial referee in matters of labour relations."
For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 915-4599 (cell)
Three Issues Intertwine to Create Powderkeg in Fort McMurray
In recent weeks, Albertans' TV screens and newspapers have flickered with trades workers rallying, marching and protesting against "foreign workers" in the oilsands. One woman walked from Fort McMurray to Edmonton to highlight the problem. The stories never garner the front page, but the issue doesn't seem to be fading away either.
Quite understandably, most Albertans are probably scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss is about? Is this just a group of privileged unionists using xenophobia to keep out newcomers? Or is this a case of employers finding new ways to undercut their wage costs? How is a citizen to make sense of it all?
This is a complex issue that has become oversimplified. As a result, the real issues are being drowned out by a cacophony of charged rhetoric. It is time to take a step back and look at what is really involved.
It is really three issues that intertwine to create a labour relations powderkeg in Fort McMurray.
By Jason Foster