Injunction against drug testing upheld by Court of Queen's Bench
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is calling a ruling that protects workers in the oil sands from non-consensual drug testing a win for human rights.
In a decision on Wednesday, Nov. 28, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Myra Bielby, spoke for the majority opinion and called Suncor's plans for drug testing 'a significant breach of worker's rights,' while upholding an injunction that will prohibit the company from testing employees without cause.
"Employers like drug testing programs because they give the impression that something decisive is being done about safety," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "But these programs don't improve safety. Employers know that, so it's little more than very expensive public relations."
Lawyers for Suncor sought to overturn the injunction so the energy company could move ahead with a random drug testing program that was halted by a Court of Queen's Bench injunction until an arbitration board can deal with a grievance filed by Communications Energy and Paperworkers Local 707, the union that represents 3,400 workers at Suncor's oil sands operations.
"Imposing a regime of random drug testing on an entire workforce is an unwarranted invasion of privacy," McGowan said. "It's invasive, it's demeaning, and it says to workers 'none of you can be trusted.'"
The union has agreed to certain types of drug testing in its collective agreement, including pre-employment screening and with-cause drug testing. As a partner in workplace safety, both CEP 707 and the AFL are in favour of programs that would prevent accidents. There is no evidence, however, that random drug testing makes workplaces safer.
"The evidence suggests that random drug testing can actually make things worse by encouraging people to move from soft drugs, like marijuana that stay in your system for up to a month, to hard drugs like cocaine and crystal meth that are metabolized much more quickly," McGowan said.
This is the second appeal of the injunction that Suncor has lost. In October, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that random drug and alcohol testing could not take place until after the Labour Board rules on CEP 707's objections to the program.
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.
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:26PM EST
EDMONTON -- Alberta's top court has dismissed an appeal by Suncor Energy over its plan to randomly test thousands of its oilsands workers for drugs and alcohol.
Last October, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union won an injunction against the testing and a judge ordered the matter be settled by arbitration.
Suncor (TSX:SU) took the matter to the Alberta Court of Appeal, where two of three judges on a panel agreed to dismiss the case on Wednesday.
A Suncor oilsands mine facility seen from the air near Fort McMurray, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. (Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A Suncor oilsands mine facility seen from the air near Fort McMurray, Alta., Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. (Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Justice Jean Cote spoke for the majority opinion and called Suncor's plans for drug testing "a significant breach of worker's rights" while upholding an injunction that will prohibit the company from testing employees without cause.
The union had argued random testing is an affront to basic human rights, and the Alberta Federation of Labour called the court decision a victory.
"Employers like drug testing programs because they give the impression that something decisive is being done about safety," Federation president Gil McGowan said in a news release.
"But these programs don't improve safety. Employers know that, so it's little more than very expensive public relations."
Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal (Suh-nay) (SEE-tahl) said Wednesday night that the oilsands giant is disappointed in the court's ruling.
"We know alcohol and drugs are a pressing safety concern at our Wood Buffalo sites and we will present evidence to support this during the arbitration process."
She said three of the seven workers who died while on the job at Suncor's site since 2000 were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.
"Our view is one fatality is too many."
She said it is too early to say if Suncor will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Suncor is obligated to provide a safe work site for all of their employees, contractors and visitors and the company is doing what it feels is necessary to fulfil that commitment, Seetal said.
"Random testing is one component of an already comprehensive program that includes other testing, training, educational initiatives and support for those who need assistance. The goal of that program is to make sure our folks go home safely at the end of their shifts."
The union has agreed to certain types of drug testing in its collective agreement, including pre-employment screening and with-cause drug testing, and says there is no evidence that random drug testing makes workplaces safer.
A similar case involving the same union and Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. in New Brunswick is to go before the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 7.
CTV News, Wednesday, Nov 28 2012
The court said in the decision that the plan would seriously breach workers' rights.
The Alberta Federation of Labour calls the decision a big victory, saying that random testing doesn't always improve safety.
There is no information on whether or not Suncor will try to go the Supreme Court to appeal the ruling.
CTV News Calgary, Nov 29 2012
EDMONTON - Labour group not convinced change on the way for Temporary Foreign Worker Program
The Alberta Federation of Labour thinks the same people they say messed up the Temporary Foreign Worker program, can't be trusted to fix it.
Last week, the Harper government announced a review of the program. This after critics called foul on a BC mining firm for bringing in 200 Chinese workers to do jobs Canadians were qualified for.
AFL President Gil McGowan says the Harper Government "created a monster" when it relaxed requirements for companies to prove foreign workers were needed.
"They no longer have to keep records of Canadians that have applied." he says. "They no longer have to explain why the Canadians were not picked. All they have to do is post an on-line ad, and they don't have to demonstrate that Canadians have actually applied or not."
McGowan adds that the program has expanded to cover menial labour and other jobs.
And, he says, because workers are sent home after four years, the program has created an exploited, disposable workforce. (ms)
iNews NOW, Sunday, November 11, 2012
Byline: Brenton Driedger
Alberta Federation of Labour skeptical of TFW program review
Tories created this monster, can’t be trusted to tame it
Edmonton - Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program is broken and despite their promise of a review the Federal Conservatives are unlikely to fix it, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
On Thursday, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced that the program would be reviewed, due to criticism over the decision to grant permits to more than 200 Chinese nationals to work in a northeast B.C. coal project.
“If they want to find the source of the problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the Harper Conservatives just need to look in the mirror,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “They created this monster by removing any checks and balances from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and by rubberstamping every application.”
Fuelled by exaggerated labour shortage claims, Alberta employers have made more aggressive use of the TFW program than employers in any other province. There are currently more than 60,000 Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta, giving the province the biggest TFW population in Canada as a proportion of the labour force. More than 50,000 additional TFW applications from Alberta employers were approved in 2011.
In a letter to the Human Resources Minister, McGowan expressed skepticism about how the federal government intends to re-examine the TFW program. The last time the Tories held hearings about the program, the hearings were held behind closed doors and had no public consultation.
“Another set of secretive meetings with business leaders will not be sufficient. This review cannot be conducted in the same manner,” McGowan said. “They have spent the last five years creating this problem by whittling away at safeguards. I have no confidence in their ability to fix it.”
After the last set of hearings in April, the federal government removed safeguards that had been designed to prevent abuse of the TFW program. Under the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) process, which was introduced earlier this year, employers can bring in workers under the TFW program and pay them 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage rates in the region.
“Previously, employers would have needed to show that they had made an effort to recruit workers from within Canada. Not anymore,” McGowan said, noting that the changes had been made behind closed doors, with no input from the public or real labour unions. “We have a system where it’s cheap and easy for an employer to exploit this program. Is it any surprise there are problems?”
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan will be available to media to speak about this issue outside of MP Laurie Hawn’s office at 1:30 p.m. today, Friday, Nov. 9.
Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour President
at 780-218-9888 (cell) or 780-483-3021 (office)
Friday, November 9, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.
Outside the constituency office of Laurie Hawn, MP (11156 – 142nd Street, Edmonton)
For Backgrounder click here.
BROOKS, Alta. — Alberta's labour movement wants a public inquiry into what went wrong at XL Foods' beef plant in Brooks.
It was closed after E. coli contamination was found in meat processed more than a month ago.
"Confidence in the Alberta beef brand has been shaken, confidence in our industry has been shaken, our customers, especially in our largest market in the United States, wonder if they can trust our product," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"That has profound long-term implications for the health of this industry and all the jobs it creates," he said at an Oct. 18 news conference in Brooks.
AFI and the United Food and Commercial Workers said food inspection should be transferred from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to Health Canada because it is a public health matter.
The inquiry should also determine if the agency can do its job properly as the federal government further cuts its budget by more than $50 million.
JBS USA has agreed to manage the plant, and the union is confident it can work with the new company.
"We are hopeful JBS will come in here with an open mind and do what is best for the workers and the industry," said local 401 UFCW president Doug O'Halloran, who represents 2,200 employees at the XL plant in Brooks.
"They've got to make a dollar. We know that, but it can't be at the risk of food safety," he said in an interview.
"XL has not done a good job. Nilsson brothers, I believe, didn't know 50 percent of what was going on in that plant or else they couldn't allow these things to happen," he said in reference to company owners Brian and Lee Nilsson.
He claims upper management dismissed concerns from food inspectors, and O'Halloran said those people should be removed once JBS is installed.
Food safety training and upgrades on hazard analysis critical control points was done, but skills need to be upgraded regularly, he added.
"There is never enough training and never enough food safety training in these plants. The priority is production, the priority is getting as many cattle processed as you can, it is not on quality," O'Halloran said.
The CFIA said a change in management or ownership would not influence its decision to reopen the plant.
"This development will not affect our assessment. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's top priority is consumer safety so this facility's operating licence will not be renewed until we are completely satisfied that this plant can produce safe food," said Paul Mayers, associate vice-president for CFIA programs.
The union expressed doubt about the competency of CFIA inspectors, but Mayers said XL staff should have come forward if they had solid evidence. No one did, he added.
"I would like to assure all Canadians our inspectors are professional and do their job diligently. Our job is food safety," said Mayers.
"We remain open to working with any staff to improve food safety. This is why we have reached out to the union several times," he said.
Officials from JBS USA met with XL staff Oct. 22, and industrial relations staff met with the union Oct. 23.
JBS said it would honour the current labour contract, which expires at the end of 2013.
About 2,200 people received layoff notices last week, but JBS indicated they would all be called back to work.
Western Producer, Friday Oct 26 2012
Byline: Barbara Duckworth
The Left should remember what the Right has known for years
How ironic that the Right seems more aware than the Left of the crucial importance of unions to progressive politics. In the past, when conservatives were less aggressive, this didn't matter so much. Now, in the age of Stephen Harper and the Tea Party, the stakes are much higher.
In the USA and here in Canada under Harper (and, of course, under Brad Wall in former social democratic homeland Saskatchewan), new laws are sapping the strength and even the existence of unions, too often with little public outcry.
In Parliament, a bill is due for debate and possibly a vote this fall that could cripple unions of all sizes with expensive and nosy paperwork. National Post columnist John Ivison, no fan of the labour movement, wrote that Bill C-377 (Public Financial Disclosure for Labour Organizations) "could shatter the union business model forever."
More worrisome still are recent threats by Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilevre to punish the Public Service Alliance of Canada for supporting the Parti-Québecois in Quebec's provincial election by ending automatic union membership in federal workplaces under what's known as the "Rand Formula." Although the majority of workplaces are provincially regulated, this could mark the beginning of the end of Rand and drastically weaken federal public service unions.
Regardless of whether we belong to unions or work in organized sectors, these moves threaten all Canadians, yet, to date, public response has been muted. Why are these moves such a threat?
Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics
"Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan reminded in an interview following SGN's weekend conference on labour's image. "Labour is powerful. That's the reason they've targeted us, they've put the bullseye on us because they recognize we have power at the bargaining table, we have power in our communities, we have political power, and that power can be used against them. They want to undermine that power. They want to take apart civil society so they can change Canada."
Rand has been the National Citizen's Coalition's target since it was formed, under Harper and other CEOs. Conservative activists recognized then as now that unions have a regular source of income through member dues, unlike any other progressive organizations. And unions use their influence and theie money to support and promote a range of progressive causes and activists. SGNews is one of a long list of progressive projects supported very significantly by the labour movement.
Without public services, public service workers, union members, Rand, and dues — and a great many progressive projects, and the advocates who work for them, are at risk.
Since the 1980s under Reagan, US Republicans have worked to "de-fund the Left," going after advocacy groups, university student councils, progressive lawyers and legal clinics, charities, and, of course, unions.
The Harperites understand the importance of this directive better than any conservatives in Canada before them. When they had a minority government, they worked systematically to eliminate funding for any of the issues they don't like, such as feminism, environment, and social justice. Now they have a majority, they are gunning for big game — unions — and only widespread public outrage can stop them.
At SGN's workshop, speakers from the world of advertising discussed the art and science of branding and images and showed how unions could apply their knowledge through careful research and by focussing their creative efforts . The group heard that over the years, the union image has been steadily corroded by attacks that often go unanswered from right-wing interests.
"We're facing a government that's more like the Tea Party Right," said McGowan. They have a political plan, they have a communications plan, and they're targeting us. If we're going to be successful in fighting back, we have to have conversations like we had today... We have an obligation to get our act together, protect the labour movement, and also, in doing so, protect broader civil society," McGowan told us.
Conference participant David Climenhaga, of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), has similar concerns. "We need to respond instantly to the barrage of anti-union propoganda that we're hearing from organizations that have been set up and intelligently run in order to attack not just unions but progressive policies and the rights of working people," he told Straight Goods News. "All the time, we cede the room to them by letting them make powerful statements that are simply based on unsound research, politically motivated research, and that are in many cases outright false. They become the truth because we don't bother speaking back to them."
As a result of the constant barrage, union support has slipped and needs to be bolstered. Janice Peterson, another workshop participant from the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), told Straight Goods News unions need to face some troubling realities. "Not only do we have a problem with public image, but we also have a huge problem with our own members. We not only have to sell ourselves to the public, we have to sell ourselves to our own members."
It's not too late for the labour movement to rebuild its image, was the message of speaker after speaker at SGN's workshop. Doing so, however, will require hard work, open minds, a lot of listening and research, and making key people in every organization responsible for a focus on improving the reputation and image of their union and unions in general.
"I loved Terry O'Reilly's presentation on rebuilding our message and repositioning ourselves," Francine Filion, of the Canadian Teachers' Federation said. "It can be done. There is a solution."
There has to be a solution, because without strong unions, every progressive cause will be hobbled.
Straight Goods News, Monday Sept 24 2012
Byline: Isa Theilheimer
Re: "Voluntary safety rules for farms ineffective, experts say," Sept. 18.
It is hard to describe how disheartening, how damaging, how dreadful it must be for farm workers and their families to read the harsh words spoken recently by Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson.
Imagine you are a child who has lost a parent in a farm accident, or a parent who has lost a child. Then imagine being told that applying the same health and safety laws to farm work sites that apply to all other work sites in the province is a "burden" or too "complicated" for farm operations.
From the biggest cities to the smallest hamlets, Albertans know that we must do all we can to make our workplaces safe. It is especially important on farms, where heavy industrial equipment mixes with vulnerable workers, often migrants and sometimes children.
Simple attempts to save lives cannot be callously dismissed as complicated or brushed off as burden-some.
The evidence from experts is perfectly clear.
Education alone will not save lives on our farms.
Occupational health and safety regulations must be applied.
These regulations aren't too complicated or too much of a burden for any other employers.
Are those who refuse to implement these rules really saying that Alberta farm operations are so backward that they can't do what other employers do, or what farms in other provinces do?
Alberta can and must do better. It's time to move past this dangerous 19th-century approach to farming.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Calgary Herald, Thursday Sept 20 2012