EDMONTON - In light of yesterday's ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling on the rights of farm workers, the Alberta government should move quickly to revise its labour laws to give agricultural workers the right to join unions, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court declared yesterday that a section of the Ontario Labour Relations Act which prohibits agricultural workers from joining unions is unconstitutional because it violates the workers' right to freedom of association guaranteed under section two of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
AFL President Les Steel says that the Alberta Labour Code has a similar section restricting the rights of agricultural workers. Agricultural workers in Alberta are also excluded from the Employment Standards Code - meaning they have no legal protection when it comes to things like minimum wage, overtime, hours of work or vacations.
"These restrictions are relics of the past and deserve to be swept away," says Steel. "There's no reason why agricultural workers should not have the same rights as people working in other sectors of the economy."
The exclusions have been on the books for decades - dating back to the time when most farms were small, family-run operations. But Steel says agriculture has evolved into a corporate-style business - with factory farms and large, intensive livestock operations popping up all around the province.
"You can't say that people working in these kinds of large-scale agri-businesses are any different than people working in factories or warehouses," says Steel. "Denying these people the right to organize - and the right to have other protections in the workplace - is wrong, plain and simple."
Steel says he will raise the issue of rights for agricultural workers when he meets with Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford early in the New Year.
"This is not just an academic issue," says Steel. "Every year we get calls from agricultural workers complaining about their conditions of work and asking to join a union. In the past, we've had to explain that the laws were stacked against them. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, we can offer them some hope."
According to Statistics Canada, about 80,000 people are employed in Alberta's agricultural sector.
For further information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 483-3021 (wk) / (780) 499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - Unionized workers from around the province are being encouraged to actively support the Alberta Teachers Association and its members in the likely event of a teachers strike.
In a letter sent to more than 250 local union presidents today, AFL president Les Steel urged the labour movement to throw its weight behind the teachers in their fight for smaller classrooms and better pay.
"The ATA is doing everything in its power to win a fair settlement for its members," wrote Steel. "But the reality is (they) will have a hard time winning this struggle on their own - they will also need strong support from the public and their allies in the labour movement."
Steel says that the teachers deserve support because they are fighting to protect and improve a public education system that is being compromised by chronic under-funding.
"We think it's wrong that our young people are being packed into classrooms like sardines," says Steel. "We think it's wrong that parents and students are being forced to hold fund-raisers to fill the holes left by provincial under-funding. And we think it's wrong that the provincial government is doing so little to attract and retain high quality teachers."
"(That's why) we think the teachers deserve support in their fight - because they are fighting to build a public education system that better serves the needs of students and communities across the province."
In addition to concerns about protecting quality education in Alberta, Steel says that working people should support the teachers to protest the inflexible approach to labour relations adopted by the government.
"If the provincial government is able to & force an unsatisfactory settlement on (the teachers), it will send a message to all employers that it pays to be inflexible at the bargaining table," writes Steel. "We simply cannot allow this to happen - we need to stand together with the teachers and show employers that the legitimate concerns of workers cannot simply be swept aside."
Steel says that members of the public can demonstrate support for the teachers by writing letters to their local papers and calling their MLA, the Education Minister or the Premier. They can even bring hot food to the teachers on what are sure to be chilly picket lines, says Steel.
"In short, do everything you can to make it clear that the public sides with the teachers," concludes Steel. "It's the only way that we can win this fight - and ensure that Albertans have the kind of high-quality public education system that they deserve."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021(wk) / 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ 780-483-3021
In his annual Labour Day message AFL President Les Steel predicts a fall of labour unrest, as workers take action for fairness at their workplaces.
"As Albertans sit on our decks, enjoying the last bits of summer weather, we should be readying ourselves for a fall of labour disputes. I predict that this fall will be a busy one for the labour movement," says Steel.
"Health care strikes in the summer were just the beginning. I believe we will see workers in many industries take steps to defend their rights. It will be a busy fall."
"Two things are combining to create an atmosphere of worker militancy," says Steel. "First, two large groups of public sector workers have had enough of years of cutbacks and overwhelming workloads. Federal employees and teachers will both be taking action, and possibly striking, to address important issues of overwork, stress and the quality of the service they provide the public."
"On the private sector side, workers want to make sure they are getting a fair share of the economic prosperity. Employers are making record profits. There is a growing labour shortage and the growing need for workers is giving workers leverage that they will put to good use. This is especially true in the building trades."
Steel says workers' growing willingness to take a stand against their employer is a sign that the labour movement is on the rebound. "Workers have taken a lot of hits in the past few years, and I think there is renewed determination to balance the scales again."
Steel predicted the public sector will lead the season of labour action. Teachers are expected to take action when the school year begins in September, and could be on a widespread strike later in the fall.
"Teachers have had to put up with years of overcrowded classrooms and increasing pressure to hold our schools together under adverse conditions. Now that the government has racked up years of multi-billion dollar surpluses, they want attention turned back to education and fixing our school system."
"The government has insulted the teachers by basically legislating the wage increase before negotiations could go anywhere. The government has created this impasse with its arrogant approach to addressing education issues."
Steel highlighted that a serious teacher shortage is looming, and the current government's attitude will only make things worse. "We need to make sure we keep our teachers and attract many more young people into the profession. This government is doing the opposite."
Similar issues abound at the federal government, Steel observed. "PSAC members working for the federal government will be on a large scale strike within weeks, and maybe days," says Steel.
"They know that government cuts have affected the quality of services, despite their best efforts to hold things together. Their strike is about supporting public services like EI, pensions, environment and other programs."
"Now is the time for workers to be more determined in our efforts for a fair wage and working conditions. The economy is strong and many sectors, including construction, retail and health care, are experience labour shortages," Steel points out. "This gives workers a rare opportunity to use some economic leverage to improve working conditions."
Steel also warns Albertans that a review of the labour laws will be coming sometime in the next year or so. "With the right wing tendencies of this government, I won't be holding my breath for any great improvements."
He indicates that the AFL will take a lead role in any review that occurs, making sure the government hears the voice of workers.
"We will be very busy. The work of defending workers' rights never ends," Steel concluded.
For further information, contact:
Les Steel, President @ (780) 499-4135(cell) or (780) 475-4668(home)
NOTE: The original version of this news release was sent out this morning with the wrong contact number for AFL President Les Steel. The proper number is 780-475-4668
EDMONTON - A government plan to formally deny ambulance workers the right to strike will poison the relationship between paramedics and their employers and make it easier for the government to sweep service-related problems under the carpet, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
In a brief submitted to a government taskforce today, the AFL said it's not in the public's best interest to see the government's so-called �essential service� legislation expanded to cover emergency medical workers - thereby denying them the right to strike.
�If the recent dispute between paramedics and the City of Edmonton taught us anything, it's that banning strikes and attempting to turn hard-working health care professionals into criminals simply does not work,� says AFL President Les Steel.
The AFL brief argues that any move to outlaw strikes will inevitably undermine the bargaining process and poison relations between employers and workers.
�When workers have the right to strike there is a clear incentive for both parties to compromise and work towards agreement at the bargaining table,� says the brief. �However, in situations where workers do not have the right to strike, the employer has no real incentive to bargain in good faith.�
When employers use strike bans as an excuse not to bargain, workers end up feeling �under-valued� and �brushed off�, says the brief. This poisons the relationship between employers and workers - and in the case of emergency medical services, it could lead to a deterioration in service levels and problems in attracting and retaining skilled staff.
The AFL also says that a ban on strikes will make it easier for the province and various municipal governments to sweep service-related problems under the carpet.
�During negotiations leading up to the recent paramedics' strike in Edmonton, the paramedics wanted to talk about inadequate staffing levels and the shortage of ambulances on Edmonton streets - especially when compared to Calgary,� says Steel.
�But because the City was refusing to bargain in good faith, these issues were never addressed. Clearly, the public would have benefited from an open and frank discussion between management and the union on these issues. But that didn't happen - largely because the City was relying on a strike-ban and binding arbitration to force a deal on the paramedics. This was a clear example of how removing the right to strike is not in the public interest.�
For more information contact:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-475-4668 (hm)
The AFL reacted to the government announcement of a Public Emergency Tribunal in the Edmonton paramedic dispute by denouncing it as an act of a "two bit dictator". The move sweeps away the ambulance workers' rights without respect to process or to the legal right to strike.
"This government is acting like a two-bit dictator," says AFL President Les Steel. "When rights become inconvenient, they act single-handedly to sweep away those rights. This sounds like something a third world dictator would do."
Steel notes that under the Labour Relations Code, paramedics and ambulance workers have the right to strike. By imposing a settlement if one is not found in the next 30 days, the government is overturning this legal right without going through the appropriate legislative process. "It is legislation by decree, which I thought was outlawed in this country."
"Why is the government picking on the workers? Why is it not ordering the City to bargain fairly and find a settlement?" Steel asks.
"There is no public emergency here," Steel added. "This is a transparent excuse to strip away the right to strike from ambulance workers. There is no justification for a Tribunal and forced arbitration." Steel states the government has not adequately proven the existence of an emergency. "The City had contingency plans. Hospitals are still operating at full speed."
"The best way to prevent disruption is to ensure both sides are serious about finding a settlement. Today's action by the Minister makes that less likely, as the City now has no reason to bargain."
"The province has inappropriately taken sides in this dispute. By stripping away the right to strike, it puts the workers into a no-win situation." Steel points out that the City now has nothing forcing it to bargain fairly. If it waits 30 days, the province will come up with a settlement for it.
"If the Minister is capable of sweeping away the right to strike for these workers, who is next? Who is next to arbitrarily lose their rights to this government?" Steel concluded.
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 499-4135 (cell) or 483-3021 (wk)
EDMONTON - Delegates to the Alberta's Federation of Labour's biennial convention will turn their attention to politics and corporate globalization tomorrow, as they participate in a panel discussion on the links between democracy, globalization and workers' rights.
The panel will be made up of four prominent activists and writers including: Linda Goyette, a two-time National Newspaper Award-winning journalist; Colleen Fuller, acclaimed author of Caring for Profit, a recent book on the spread of private health care in Canada; Scott Harris, a youth activist who participated in the demonstrations against the FTAA in Quebec City; and Rodney Bobiwash, a native activist and scholar from Ontario.
"We selected a panel that will effectively shine a spotlight on the ways in which real democracy is being eroded in Canada and around the world," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "They will talk about how, as a result of things like NAFTA and the WTO, the interests of working people are being forced to take a back seat to the interests of corporations and the wealthy."
The panel discussion will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 5. Each panelist will speak for ten minutes. This will be followed by about an hour of discussion and debate from convention delegates.
Other highlights of the AFL convention on Saturday include the following:
- At 3 p.m. delegates will discuss a policy paper on drugs and alcohol in the workplace
- At 4 p.m. there will be an all-candidates forum for all those seeking election to the AFL's Executive Council, including those who are running for the positions AFL President or Secretary-Treasurer.
The AFL convention is being held at the Crowne Plaza-Chateau Lacombe Hotel, which is located at 11101 Bellamy Hill in Edmonton. All major sessions of the convention will be held in the hotel's main ballroom.
Reporters and other media personnel are asked to register at the AFL convention office (River Valley Room). Only people with proper credentials will be allowed on the convention floor. The AFL Convention wraps up at lunch-time Sunday, after the election of a new Executive Council.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communication @ 990-2650 or 910-1137 (cell)
Presented at the 3rd Biennial Convention, May 3 - 6, 2001
EDMONTON - Several hundred union members participating in the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention will rally outside of a downtown PetroCan station tomorrow to show support for striking refinery workers.
The rally will mark the beginning of a province-wide campaign aimed at putting financial pressure on the company to bargain fairly with their employees.
"We'll be asking consumers to stop filling up their vehicles at Petro-Can or buying any products there," AFL president Audrey Cormack. "Our Executive Council has just passed a resolution in support of the local's consumer campaign - and we'll be getting the word out to our members around the province as soon as the convention is over."
The rally will be held between 12:15-1:00 p.m. on Friday, May 4 outside the Petro-Can service station on the corner of 109 Street and 100 Avenue.
Other highlights of the convention agenda for Friday include the following:
- At 9:45 a.m. delegates will discuss a policy paper on human rights entitled "Labour of Loss: An Examination of the Economic Effects of Discrimination in the Canadian Labour Market.
- At 10:30 a.m. Hussan Yussuff, Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress, will talk about globalization and workers' rights.
- At 2:15 p.m. New Democrat leader Raj Pannu will address the convention.
- At 2:45 p.m. delegates will discuss a policy paper dealing with democracy in Alberta and the labour movement's involvement in the political process.
With the exception of the rally, all of the major convention events will be held in the main ballroom of the Crowne Plaza-Chateau Lacombe Hotel, located at 11101 Bellamy Hill. The AFL convention continues Saturday and Sunday.
All reporters and other media personnel are asked to register at the AFL's convention office in the River Valley Room. People without credentials will not be allowed on the convention floor.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communication @ 990-2650 or 910-1137 (cell)
Albertans need to not forget the 14 year old boy killed at a construction site, or the Subway store employee beaten to death by a robber, says Alberta Federation of Labour President Audrey Cormack. Across Alberta on Friday and Saturday, workers will be respecting a minute of silence and participating in other events to remember workers killed at work. April 28 is the 6th International Day of Mourning to commemorate those killed at work.
"We must not forget the needless death of the 14 year old boy killed at an Edmonton construction site, or the Subway store employee brutally beaten to death, or the 116 other workplace deaths in Alberta last year," says Cormack. "If we do, we will learn nothing from these tragedies."
"We need to take time to remember workers who were killed and injured. But more importantly, we need to use the Day of Mourning to strengthen our resolve to end workplace death," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "We need to fight to make workplaces safer and make sure every worker makes it home safely at night."
Cormack points out that new statistics released by the AFL this week show that accident rates have doubled in the last decade. She attributes the increase to lax enforcement of the regulations.
"In Alberta, we are going in the wrong direction," adds Cormack. "There were 118 workers killed in the year 2000, and each and every one of them was avoidable."
"The government, the WCB, employers and workers need to all work harder to make workplaces safer. There don't need to be any more deaths."
The AFL will be hosting a candle ceremony in Edmonton on Saturday at 11:00 am at City Hall. Events will also be held in Calgary, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray and many other centres around Alberta. Flags will be at half-mast in many cities, and tens of thousands of workers will observe a minute of silence during the workday. Thousands of other workers will be marking Day of Mourning on Friday, as Saturday is not a work day at many workplaces.
"Day of Mourning is only one day, but I hope that in that one day, we find the resolve to fight for 365 days for safer workplaces," Cormack concluded.
For further information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 780-499-6530 (cell)