EDMONTON – There's no denying the public sector took a hit in the 2013 Alberta Budget.
In fact, Gil McGowan, the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour claims Thursday's budget introduces the deepest cuts across the public sector that the province has seen since what he calls "the worst days of the Klein era."
As the province aims to deal with a roughly $2 billion deficit, it has flatlined spending. The budget's hard line applies to teachers, nurses, health sciences workers and civil servants. Many are in bargaining or about to start this spring. The budget also revealed about 80 civil service positions will be lost with more job cuts likely as the Redford government continues to reorganize departments.
So what does this all mean for the every day Albertan?
"It will hurt," McGowan says. "It will mean larger class sizes, it will mean less frontline service, and it's going to be very difficult for us to staff all these schools and hospitals that the government promises to build."
He believes that as the wealthiest province in Canada, if anyone should be able to pay for public service to move their economy forward, it's Alberta.
McGowan also thinks that the province's current fiscal problems date back to the time of Premier Ralph Klein.
"While it's true that he got rid of the deficit and the debt, he actually laid the groundwork for the deficit we're dealing with today – by slashing corporate taxes, introducing a flat tax that benefited the wealthy, and presiding over literally billions of dollars of royalty giveaways. When you give away your revenue source, you can't be surprised that you have a hard time funding things."
Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of Grant MacEwan University points out that Klein did an "across the board cut."
"This government is using a different approach," he explains. "They want to borrow money, and this is why they've introduced the Fiscal Management Act that will allow them to borrow, and eventually it will create a debt, but they call it 'net financial assets,' so they've come up with a new term to describe the debt situation."
Mensah adds that in addition to trying to sell Albertans on this budget, she also has to sell her party on it.
"I think she needs to convince Tory party members that this new direction is not markedly different from the views in the past. She faces a leadership view in November, and if she's not careful, and doesn't sell this to the membership, there could be trouble politically."
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Doug Horner says he doesn't think public service unions should be surprised that the province did not allow for any salary increase. The government has warned for some months that salaries for teachers, doctors and nurses here are higher than elsewhere, he adds.
"When you look at comparative numbers from across Canada on a market-based perspective, we have the highest paid teachers and highest paid doctors in the country...This is somewhat of a reset for us to get us back to reasonable levels of expenditures."
Global Edmonton, Friday, Mar. 8, 2013
Byline: Trish Kozicka, Global News
So-called ‘studies’ on public sector workers really an attack on women’s pay
Edmonton – On International Women’s Day, the Alberta Federation of Labour released a new study of women in Alberta’s public sector.
The study showed Alberta women in the public sector have earnings virtually identical to women in the private sector, putting a lie to the claim that Alberta’s public sector workers are overpaid.
Only low-wage occupations in Alberta showed a significant pay advantage in the public sector, and even then, only for women.
The data shows Alberta women are better off in the public sector because they benefit from pay equity, or equal pay for work of equal value.
The majority of public sector workers in Alberta are women. Attempts to roll back public sector wages are attempts to roll back women’s wages. Women in both the private and public sector, regardless of occupation category, earn less than men.
“What this study shows is that the struggles of unions and the women’s movement have paid off for Alberta women,” AFL Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Furlong says. “If women have the protection of a union and a public sector job, they have a shot at pay equity, and that’s good news for all Albertans.”
Alberta men earn significantly more in the private sector than they do in public sector jobs. The private sector advantage for men across all occupations was seven per cent, suggesting Alberta’s public service is underpaid relative to their private sector counterparts.
Alberta has the highest pay gap in Canada. Alberta women working full year and full time earn a median 68 per cent of what men earn.The pay gap is reduced for women in unions – to about 85 per cent of what men earn.
The latest AFL analysis of women’s wages in the public and private sectors is the first of a series of studies on wages in Alberta.
The AFL’s research is particularly important in light of the all-out war that right-wing front groups have been waging against the public sector in Alberta. Groups such as the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and the University of Calgary School of Public Policy have all stepped up their attempts to undermine Alberta’s health care, education, and social services sectors, open up these services to privatization, and undermine wage gains economy-wide.
“The Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, and the old boys club over at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy would like to rewind us back to the 1950s before women started joining unions and winning victories for equal pay,” Furlong says.
Furlong notes that women in the private sector who are not unionized should look into joining a union if they want to work toward equal pay for women.
“If right-wing lobbyists had their way, we’d go back to a time when women did comparable work to men but earned significantly less,” Furlong says. “All of these Tea-Party-style groups are targeting women’s paycheques. This International Women’s Day, the Alberta labour movement is saying ‘enough is enough.’ We’re proud of women have struggled for and won and enough is enough.”
AFL Backgrounder: Study: Attacks on Public Sector Workers Target Women’s Wages
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer at 780-720-8945 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, desperate to cut costs amid a ballooning deficit, is angering the very labour groups she coveted for support during her leadership bid and last year's election.
The province's teachers on Tuesday joined a growing number of groups expressing frustration with Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservative government, dismissing the latest contract offer by the province as a "thinly veiled threat" to roll back salaries and reduce staff.
"Teachers do not respond well to ultimatums," said Carol Henderson, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, which represents the province's 42,000 teachers.
She said the offer, which includes wage freezes, fails to address workloads adequately. She called it "unacceptable" and urged teachers to go back to the bargaining table with Alberta's 62 school boards to find labour peace at the local, rather than provincial, level.
The Tory government is scrutinizing teachers, doctors and civil servants as it prepares to release a very tight 2013-14 budget on March 7. Facing a deficit of $3.5-billion to $4-billion this fiscal year – about four times bigger than projected – the government is looking to pinch every penny it can.
In its third-quarter update last week, the province announced a three-year salary freeze for public-sector managers starting April 1 to save about $54-million. The government also said it would cut the number of managers by 10 per cent over the same period.
Alberta Health Services, which manages health care, told its staff to brace for austerity. The University of Calgary has said enrolment at its medical school would be limited to 155 spots, down from 170, because it expects the budget to slash funding. The fast-growing province already has a shortage of physicians and is stuck in long-running labour talks with doctors.
"It seems like the Redford government is preparing to pick an unnecessary fight," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "If there's any province in Canada that can afford quality public services, it's Alberta. The sky is not falling."
Mr. McGowan said Ms. Redford appears to have forgotten the new constituency – teachers, nurses and public sector workers – that propelled her to a massive majority last April, and warned of labour strife if the province doesn't sort out its revenue problem.
"If they think they can return to Klein-style cuts or rollbacks, then they've got another thing coming," he said.
This month, Alberta Medical Association president Michael Giuffre, who represents about 10,000 physicians, issued a letter accusing Ms. Redford of making "inaccurate and misleading" public comments about the province's doctors. He highlighted a particularly touchy topic: pay.
Dr. Giuffre wrote that doctors are paid 14 per cent more than the national average – not 29 per cent, as the government suggested – and noted that salary also covers the costs of running an office in a province where space and staffing are expensive.
"The tenor of your comments vilifies Alberta's physicians and creates an environment that will poison efforts to recruit and retain doctors in the future," he wrote.
He also said funding cuts will have "serious and negative" impact on health care.
"Some medical practices in Alberta will no longer be viable; offices will close and patients will be without care," he added.
Negotiations with doctors are continuing with a facilitator after almost two years, but there's no deadline for a deal. Health Minister Fred Horne enraged doctors in November when he attempted to force a contract that included an overall raise, cost-of-living adjustments over three years, as well as a lump-sum payment of 2.5 per cent of the previous year's billings that would run through 2016. He revoked the offer to head back to the bargaining table.
"There was an end of February deadline, and then that was extended to as soon as possible once the budget comes out," said Bart Johnson, a spokesman from Mr. Horne's office.
Last week, Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson offered the teachers and school boards a four-year contract with a wage freeze for the first three years, followed by a 2 per cent hike in the final year. He also dangled cash incentives, including 1 per cent of their salary in each of last two years of the deal if an agreement is reached by the end of February.
Otherwise, he warned of the "possibility of salary rollbacks" and expressed his desire to "minimize as much as possible reductions in teaching staff."
The ATA had offered a four-year deal with salary increases at 0, 0, 1 and 3 per cent, and provisions around working conditions, but Mr. Johnson rejected it. On Tuesday, he said he was disappointed the teachers turned down his latest offer, which he said would ensure labour and cost stability.
Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, said the minister's recent offer has "some merit" as well as "some concerns," but her organization recommended boards ratify it. The previous five-year deal with the teachers and boards ended last August.
The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013
Byline: Dawn Walton
Federation president to set the record straight on bitumen glut
Edmonton – AFL president Gil McGowan will be tackling Alberta’s revenue problem this Saturday at the Alberta Economic Summit.
The summit will bring together industry, not-for-profit leaders, academics and government members to discuss Alberta’s economic future in light of the current low price of bitumen. McGowan will use this opportunity to ensure revenue reform and oil royalties are part of the discussion on how to tackle the deficit.
“In the debate so far, we’ve heard a lot of misinformation, some obfuscation – and even outright lies,” McGowan said. “Our economy is red hot. Balancing the budget should not be difficult, unless you’re either being deliberately dishonest, or you’re just bad at math.”
McGowan noted that Alberta does not spend more than other provinces on services, and when looking at expenditures on public services as a percentage of the economy, actually ranks dead last in Canada.
“We need to make sure that revenue is part of the discussion,” McGowan said. “By the government’s own numbers, we could collect $10 billion more in taxes and still be the lowest taxed province in Canada. We could use that $10 billion to protect and strengthen public healthcare and education.”
The summit, which will be held at Mount Royal University in Calgary, will involve four moderated panels. McGowan has been asked to participate in the moderated panel on “Balancing Expectations on the Services Albertans Need.” He notes that the ‘Services Albertans Need’ are already understaffed — Alberta has nearly the fewest public employees per capita in the country.
“It’s childish to think that Alberta can maintain good public services without having a revenue base to pay for them,” McGowan said. “That means royalty reform and it means returning to a progressive income tax like Alberta had before 2001.”30-
AFL Factsheet: “Revenue, spending, and public-sector wages”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email email@example.com.
The President of the Alberta Federation of Labour is offering some free financial advice to the Redford government as it wrestles with rising red ink.
AFL boss Gil McGowan says the governing Tories only have themselves to blame for the financial mess the province is in.
McGowan tells 660News, Alberta is among the richest jurisdictions in the world and there is no excuse for the government to be running a deficit.
He says it's time Alberta imported something from south of the border, namely the current fiscal cliff discussions.
McGowan is calling for an increase to tax rates especially for corporations and for the government to increase it's take from the sale of resources.
The AFL fears the Redford government will do what previous government's have done to erase the red ink, freeze employee wages while gutting programs and services.
On Wednesday Alberta's finance minister admitted the government might not be able to fulfill it's promise to balance the 2013 operating budget.
660 News, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2012
Province’s minimum wage again the lowest in Canada
Edmonton - Alberta has reclaimed the dubious distinction of having the worst minimum wage in the country.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, the minimum wage in Saskatchewan was increased from $9.50 to $10. This leaves Alberta as the province with the lowest-paid workers in the country. It was a title the province had relinquished for only three short months after Alberta increased its minimum wage in September from $9.40 to $9.75.
“It shows how out-of-line this province is with the rest of the country,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “During the three months that Alberta didn’t have the lowest, we had the second-lowest minimum wage.”
Workers in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario can all expect a minimum of $10.25 per hour. Throughout the Maritime Provinces, workers will see $10.00 per hour on their paycheques. In Nunavut, the minimum wage is $11.00. About 26,000 Alberta workers earn the minimum wage of $9.75.
“We have the strongest economy, and the greatest demand for workers in Canada. As a province we can afford to pay workers fairly, but we aren’t.” McGowan said. “Why is it that the province that has the greatest wealth is the stingiest with some of its most disadvantaged citizens?”
Since 2011, Alberta’s minimum wage has tied to an average of changes to Alberta’s annual average weekly earnings and changes to the Consumer Price Index in Alberta. Changes to minimum wage occur September 1 of each year and are announced with three months’ notice.
“Indexing the minimum wage to inflation makes sense,” McGowan said. “But it does no good to make cost-of-living adjustments if you’re starting from a wage that is simply too low. A terrible wage that keeps up with inflation will remain a terrible wage.”
Some workers in Alberta – those who serve alcohol and may have their income supplemented by tips – are subject to an even lower minimum wage of $9.05 an hour. Some restaurants have taken advantage of this system to pay their serving staff the reduced rate even if they almost never serve alcohol, and absolutely never get tips.
“This separate minimum wage, which was introduced last year, is a loophole that some employers are exploiting,” McGowan said. “There are workers in Alberta paid almost a full dollar less per hour than any other workers in Canada. The Premier needs to address this problem.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Labour Day, working Albertans have a lot to be thankful for.
We have the highest wages, the best job prospects and the highest standard of living in Canada.
So, it's entirely appropriate for Albertans to be smiling as they fire up their barbecues for the last long weekend of the summer: life here in the land of oil is pretty good.
But before we get too comfortable, it's important to recognize that not everyone is pleased with how well ordinary working people are doing.
In fact, recently disclosed documents show that some of our country's most influential CEOs and business lobbyists are asking the federal Conservative government to help them suppress wages.
This revelation comes from a Department of Finance briefing note that summarizes the proceedings of an economic policy retreat organized by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
The retreat was held last summer and attended by a long list of business leaders and representatives from right-wing think-tanks - all eager to advise members of the Harper government on how they should take advantage of their long-sought-after majority.
The assembled business audience told the finance minister that Canadian workers are overpriced and that Canada could only become truly competitive if governments and businesses addressed the "wage differential in labour markets between countries."
In order to drive down wages, participants advocated the introduction of American-style anti-union labour laws.
For good measure, they also called for deep cuts to public services and the introduction of two-tier health care - while at the same time asking for more corporate tax cuts.
There are at least three reasons why working Canadians should be concerned about this meeting.
First, there is no evidence that the federal government challenged the notion that Canadians are overpaid.
This is troubling because, after adjusting for inflation, wages for average Canadian workers have stagnated over the past 30 years. In fact, the share of national economy going to wages for Canada's middle class has been dropping, while the share being gobbled up by corporate profits and incomes for the wealthy has been increasing.
Even here in prosperous Alberta, nearly a quarter of all working people earn $15 per hour or less. And the average hourly wage earned by permanent, full-time workers is $27. That's the best in the country, but barely enough to afford a decent home in either Calgary or Edmonton.
If there is a problem with wages, it's not that Canadians are overpaid - it's that a growing number are not paid enough to maintain to a secure, middle-class lifestyle.
Second, working Canadians should be concerned, because the wage-suppression wish list outlined by business leaders last summer has quietly, but clearly, become a central part the federal government's agenda.
How else can we interpret the Harper government's decision to allow employers to use more temporary foreign workers and to pay them as much as 15 per cent less than Canadians?
Or rule changes that force many unemployed Canadians to take any available work after six weeks on EI, even if it pays up to 30 per cent less than their previous job?
There's also the Harper government's decision to raise the retirement age to 67 (which is obviously designed to force older workers of modest means to keep toiling away in lower-wage jobs) and their ongoing attacks on unions and collective bargaining (which are designed to undermine the ability of workers to have a say in their own wages and conditions of work).
Taken together, these policy initiatives amount to what is essentially a low wage strategy.
The third reason why working people should be concerned about Flaherty's previously secret meeting with business leaders is that it is not an isolated case.
The truth is that representatives from groups like the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Merit Contractor's Association (representing non-union construction companies) have dramatically ramped up their lobbying efforts in Ottawa and provincial capitals over the past year.
With the most ideologically conservative prime minister in Canadian history holding the reins of a majority government, they see this as their political moment.
Unfortunately for working Canadians, these lobbyists have been disturbingly effective. In addition to influencing the federal government, they've won allies at the provincial level.
For example, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Tom Hudak, leader of Ontario's official Opposition, have both been advocating U.S.-style union-busting laws.
Some people may shrug and say "who needs unions anyway?"
But as Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said, unions - as imperfect as they may be - are the only counterbalance we have to unbridled corporate power. They also provide one of the only mechanisms we have for ensuring the more equitable distribution of income necessary for the creation of a vibrant middle class.
So as working Albertans enjoy the Labour Day long weekend, it's important for them to understand that a battle of world views is raging around them.
Will the low-wage advocates who attended Finance Minister Flaherty's private policy summit win the day? Or will Canadians reassert their traditional preference for a more progressive approach - characterized by fair taxation, investment in quality education and infra-structure, and policies that see unions as vital partners in the economy?
For the sake of Canada's middle class, let's hope that the high-road vision prevails. Because if it doesn't, more of us may end up flip-ping burgers at McDonald's on Labour Day instead of flipping burgers at the lake.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Calgary Herald, Monday September 3 2012
Op-Ed, Gil McGowan
This Labour Day, working Albertans have a lot to be thankful for. We have the highest wages, the best job prospects and the highest standard of living in Canada.
Life here in the land of oil is pretty good.
But before we get too comfortable, it's important to recognize that not everyone is pleased with how well working people are doing.
In fact, recently disclosed documents show that some of our country's most influential chief executives are asking the federal Conservative government to help them suppress wages.
This revelation comes from a Department of Finance briefing note that summarizes an economic policy retreat organized by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last summer.
The retreat was attended by a long list of business leaders and representatives from right-wing think-tanks - all eager to advise members of the Harper Conservatives on how they should use their majority in Parliament.
The business audience told Flaherty that Canadian workers are overpriced and that Canada could only become truly competitive if the government addressed the "wage differential in labour markets between countries."
In order to drive down wages, participants pushed for American-style anti-union labour laws. They also called for deep cuts to public services and two-tiered health care - while asking for even more corporate tax cuts.
There are reasons why working Canadians should be concerned about this meeting.
First, there is no evidence that the government challenged the notion that Canadians are overpaid.
This is troubling because, after adjusting for inflation, wages for average Canadian workers have stagnated over the past 30 years, while corporate profits and incomes for the wealthy have increased. Even here in prosperous Alberta, nearly a quarter of all working people earn $15 an hour or less, not nearly enough for a decent home in Edmonton or Calgary.
Second, Canadians should be concerned because the wage suppression wish list outlined by business leaders has quietly, but clearly, become a central part the federal government's low-wage agenda. How else can we interpret the Harper government's decision to allow employers to use more temporary foreign workers and to pay them as much as 15 per cent less than Canadians?
Or rule changes that force many unemployed Canadians to take any available work even if it pays up to 30 per cent less than their previous job?
There's also the Harper government's decision to raise the retirement age to 67 and its ongoing attacks on unions designed to undermine the ability of workers to have a say in their own wages and working conditions.
Finally, working people should be concerned that Flaherty's secret meeting with business leaders is not an isolated case. The truth is that business leaders and groups like Merit Contractors (representing non-union construction companies) have ramped up their lobbying across Canada. With the most ideologically conservative prime minister in Canadian history leading a majority government, they see this as their political moment.
Some people may shrug and say "who needs unions anyway?"
But as Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has said, unions are the only counterbalance we have to unbridled corporate power. They provide one of the only mechanisms we have to build and maintain a vibrant middle class.
So as working Albertans enjoy the Labour Day long weekend, it's important for them to understand that a battle rages around them.
Will the low-wage advocates who attended Flaherty's private policy summit win the day?
Or will Canadians reassert a traditional, progressive approach - fair taxation, investment in quality education and infrastructure, and policies that see unions as vital partners in the economy?
For the sake of Canada's middle class, let's hope that the high road vision prevails. Because if it doesn't, more of us may end up flipping burgers at McDonald's on Labour Day instead of flipping burgers at the lake.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour
The Edmonton Journal, Mon Sept 3 2012
Byline: Gil McGowan