"Who decides? We'll decide! Whose work? Our work!" was the cry heard across the downtown core yesterday.
Hundreds of Canada Post workers united with other labour unions to voice their frustration with recent back-to-work legislation put forward by the federal government.
"When the call for support is put out, others answer. An injury to one is an injury to all," said Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. "Free collective bargaining is a basic democratic right."
The United Nurses Association and the AUPE were among the groups backing the postal workers union. Approximately 1,200 people showed up to march down Jasper Avenue, literally stopping daytime traffic.
"We are outraged by the federal government's actions," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
Workers are upset they are not being allowed to negotiate any further, and union representatives described legislation proposed by Stephen Harper as heavy-handed.
Others were just excited to be a part of something of this magnitude.
"It's amazing to see all these people rallying together for this one purpose," said postal worker Zach Marke.
MetroNews, Wed Jun 22 2011
Edmonton postal workers rally against proposed back-to-work legislation: Other unions join voices to send message to federal government
EDMONTON - Solidarity was the message postal workers and labour unions took to the streets of Edmonton Tuesday after a rally at Canada Post's downtown plant.
"You are not alone. You're among brothers and sisters and we brought them here with us today," Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said to a crowd of approximately 1,200.
The AFL released a statement Tuesday afternoon criticizing the back-to-work legislation proposed by the federal government.
"We are outraged on behalf of all unionized Canadians, who now know that the federal government is willing to use its considerable power not to provide a level playing field for negotiations," the statement read. The statement referred to the proposed legislation as dangerous and unprecedented.
Other unions, such as the United Nurses Association and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, marched and chanted down Jasper Avenue in support of the postal workers.
"It's a turning point for everyone if we allow the federal government this type of power. Let the free collective bargaining run its course," said Guy Smith, president of the AUPE.
Workers say they are upset that they are being stripped of the right to negotiate and criticize the proposed legislation that offers less than Canada Post's last pitch to the union.
In the government's proposal, Canada Post workers will receive less of a wage increase than the increase offered in negotiations by Canada Post and set the length of the collective agreement to four years.
"They locked us out. We were rotating, which kept the mail moving, and we get penalized," said Brian Henderson, a Canada Post employee. "If they think they had an unhappy workforce before, just wait until we go back. We are not going to be a happy crowd."
Bev Ray, Edmonton's Canadian Union of Postal Workers president, said she would not speculate on what will happen if the legislation is passed, but that employees will follow orders from the national union.
"This is legislation that responds solely to the needs of the large corporation," Ray said. "It's some of the most restrictive legislation we've seen."
Canada Post spokeswoman Anick Losier said she would not comment on the back-to-work legislation, but that the corporation is hoping for a negotiated settlement quickly.
"We have a sense of urgency to find a resolution as soon as possible," she said. "We are trying to find common ground with our union."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 21 2011
Byline: Codi Wilson
Unions vow to fight Harper’s anti-worker agenda: Labour leaders from across Alberta condemn ‘one-sided’ back-to-work legislation
Alberta's labour leaders sent a strong message to the Harper government today, condemning the anti-worker agenda shown by back-to-work legislation in the Canada Post and Air Canada disputes.
"Rather than helping find a solution to disputes by acting as an independent umpire or counselor, this government has chosen to take sides and help the employers impose their will on working Canadians," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
He described the government's back-to-work legislation as heavy handed and one-sided attempts to undermine all working Canadians at the expense of employers.
Members of the AFL's executive committee, representing 145,000 private and public-sector workers from a range of unions, joined postal workers rallying at the Canada Post downtown plant at 9808 103A Avenue, Edmonton, today (Tuesday, June 21).
They issued a statement expressing their outrage at the attacks on workers.
"We are outraged on behalf of the members of CAW and CUPW whose rights and interests have been trampled upon," says the statement.
"We are outraged on behalf of all unionized Canadians who now know that the federal government is willing to use its considerable power not to provide a level playing field for negotiations, but to tip that playing field dramatically in favour of employers.
"Finally, we are outraged on behalf of all working Canadians – both union and non-union – because through its actions, the Harper government has made common cause with employers and employer groups that want to strip away and water down the hard-won wages and benefits that provide a foundation for Canada's increasingly precarious middle class."
The union leaders committed to exposing "the Harper government's new, unprecedented and dangerous approach to labour relations" and to fighting to protect the wages, benefits and conditions that help define and provide a foundation for the Canadian middle class," says the statement.
"From our perspective, the Harper agenda threatens the very fabric and foundations of the Canadian middle class. It parallels the attacks on public-sector unions in Wisconsin and other U.S. states, differing only in form, not substance – and it will not go unopposed in Alberta."
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CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888.
Read the full statement by the AFL executive committee here. (Link to statement).
Organized labour is accusing the Harper government of "Americanizing" collective bargaining.
The accusation came Tuesday during a noon hour rally outside Canada Post's downtown plant in Edmonton. It saw a couple hundred people from across the union spectrum support locked out postal workers. The unions are upset at what they describe as "heavy-handedness" in negotiations.
What's got them going is the government's back-to-work legislation which imposes lower wages than Canada Post's last offer when the rotating strikes began.
"The arbitrator that's going to be appointed is going to be looking at the final offer of Canada Post, the final offer of the union (and) he or she will pick one, and that's what's going to make up the collective agreement for the next four years," said Bev Ray, the Edmonton local president for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), whose members have been locked out since last Thursday.
Gil McGowan with the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) says, to have a wage roll back in legislation language is unprecedented.
"In this case, the government, I would argue," he said, "this is an American style approach."
Ray says, with the legislation now tabled for a couple of days, the hope is in the interim, talks will resume.
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says the settlement is in line with other federal unions.
iNews880am, Tues Jun 21 2011
Marching through Edmonton's core, hundreds of angry postal workers and union leaders shouted their message loud and clear.
"We're working united, we'll never be defeated!" workers shouted on Tuesday outside of the downtown Canada Post depot.
Wearing signs such as "Harper is stealing from the working class," representatives from 29 unions protested the proposed back-to-work federal legislation that would order employees back to work immediately — negotiation or not.
"We're going to be the first ones to feel this, but people have to realize this isn't just about CUPW, or Air Canada — this is about working people in this country having some power and some strength," said Bev Ray, president of Edmonton Canadian Union Postal Workers (CUPW).
"(We're) not going away, (we're) not backing down and while this government might impose this legislation — it's not over yet."
Canada Post and CUPW have been negotiating since the beginning of June after Canada Post wanted to start paying new workers less than established employees and change sick-leave mandates.
Postal workers have been on a nationwide lockout, leaving the country with no mail service since June 14.
But the new back-to-work bill — already imposed on Air Canada workers — could see employees returning to their positions despite a compromise on negotiations, a move Harper said is to protect the economy.
The bill legislates wage increases less than Canada Post's last offer of 1.9% in 2011 to 2013 and 2% in 2014. The bill mandates 1.75% in 2011, 1.5% in 2012 and 2% in 2013 and 2014.
In a statement, Denis Lemelin, CUPW national president, said that over a four-year period the bill would take $875.50 out of the pockets of an average full-time postal worker. Collectively, that is $35 million from postal workers and their families nationwide, he says.
"This is not just a fight for the post office, it's not just a fight for the people that work at Air Canada — this is a fight for the middle class and you're leading the way," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president.
"We are here today to tell you not only that you're not alone, but that we're incredibly proud of what you're doing."
Among the crowd was Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta who says "an attack on one is an attack on all."
Other unions at the rally included AUPE, United Nurses of Alberta, CUPE and dozens more.
CUPW worker Stephen Hargrade says the fight is no longer about the postal workers.
"It's all just about how much we're gonna give up," he said. "The federal government is basically saying, 'Good luck, keep your mouth shut and go to work.' "
A written statement on behalf of the AFL will be sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said McGowan. The statement condemns the federal government's actions calling the legislation "heavy handed" and a "one-sided attempt to undermine all working Canadians at the expense of employers."
The legislation has been tabled, while CUPW and Canada Post continue to negotiate.
Edmonton Sun, Tues Jun 21 2011
Byline: Jasmine Franklin
The newly seated Chicago Board of Education may have won the first battle with Chicago teachers this week when it rescinded a 4 percent pay raise, but it may also have ended a relatively peaceful era in labor relations and created a more pugnacious adversary.
The Chicago Teachers Union has absorbed a number of recent setbacks. On Monday, a sweeping education bill that reformed teacher tenure and limited teachers' ability to strike was signed into law. And on Wednesday, the board unanimously nullified raises that would have cost nearly $100 million.
Some teachers and observers say that backing the union into a corner on wages and other key issues could be the spark to reinvigorate the membership.
"If you act in a confrontational way, you're poking your finger in the eye of those teachers, and very typically you generate unintended negative consequences," said Robert Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Karen Lewis, president of the union, had a succinct reaction to the board's vote. "Thank you, because we'll be organizing all summer," she said Thursday. "It will be a very interesting, wonderful summer."
Teachers face crucial tasks. They need to rally their membership and public support to strengthen their leverage at the bargaining table. And they must decide whether to try to muster the votes to call the union's first strike since 1987 or choose a less confrontational tactic.
The union has already notified the board that it wants to reopen the section of the contract regarding salaries, something it has the right to do. That could lead to compromise solutions or to reopening the entire agreement for negotiations.
Andrew W. Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, recognized the role that the new legislation could play in the changing dynamic between the district and the union.
"It's unusual to carve out a group of teachers in a local and treat them, in state statute, very differently in terms of right to strike," Broy said. "You've got the kind of nuclear option of the strike, but what's short of that, I think, is the question."
The board's vote on raises came after it revealed that the CPS budget deficit — which it said is now $712 million — includes millions of dollars in previously undisclosed costs. Some teachers say they are open to cost-saving alternatives, like furlough days.
If the board and union reopen negotiations and those talks stall, the new state legislation dictates that the two enter a fact-finding process with a third-party arbitrator. Then 75 percent of the voting union membership would be required to authorize a strike. Many teachers say that threshold is attainable.
"We think there could be a possible strike," said Anna Moraitis, a 16-year veteran teacher who works at Sullivan High School. "At some point, enough is enough. We gotta draw the line somewhere. We feel like there's no stability anymore. If you can't honor a contract and an agreement, what leverage are you going to have in the future?"
The Chicago Teachers Union has long been a powerful and combative institution, with strikes virtually a perennial threat. There were five teachers' strikes in the 1980s alone. But there has been relative labor peace since Richard M. Daley, then the mayor, took control of the schools in 1995. The rescinded raises were specified for the last year of the current five-year contract.
"The union is weak, and it used to be strong," said Sherrily Bivens, a teacher for 27 years, currently at Agassiz Elementary School. "People paid us attention. It's a joke now."
"We have to come out and show that we're a viable institution," Bivens added.
The union cannot strike over some issues, but it can over wages. Asked if a strike is possible, Lewis said: "Yes, yes and yes again. This action that the board took, and quite frankly I'm surprised that they took it, could easily be a catalyst for a strike."
Bruno said the best alternative to a strike would be a strategic, methodical campaign to create a counternarrative to the board's stance. "The challenge will be for the teachers to talk more broadly so that it's not merely a conversation about 4 percent," he said.
Chicago Public Schools "could be creating the seeds for a much better informed and much better prepared bargaining agent than the city's ever experienced," he said. The new union leadership, which took over last year, is much more active than past leaders in organizing and building relationships with parents and community organizations, he added. That could help move public opinion in their favor.
Over the past two months, CPS has developed a public relations campaign, rolling out a listening tour with its new chief executive, Jean-Claude Brizard, announcing $75 million in cuts for the central office and outlining a deep budget deficit. Public officials across the country have called for wage and work force cuts and even changes in collective bargaining rights to address budget problems.
"People can argue with details about the numbers, but clearly, at this juncture of our budgetary cycle, we are facing an extraordinary budget gap," said David Vitale, president of the Board of Education. "We can't hamstring ourselves by saying we can reasonably expect to pay you those raises."
Lewis doesn't accept that message. "Paying teacher salaries did not take us to financial Armageddon," she said.
Nationally, teachers have been made scapegoats, said Randall Bates, a retired teacher. Teachers need a new strategy to re-establish themselves as professionals, he said, rather than just accepting the definition of a management-worker relationship.
"We have to regain the trust of the public; the public employs us," said Bates, who worked in city schools for 30 years. "We should go forward to earn that trust. We have to become leaders of educational reforms."
Lori Zaimi, 33, a union member and the coordinator of technology services at Murray Elementary School in Hyde Park, said the union had been ramping up efforts to galvanize teachers and make them aware of potential threats to their contract.
Others, like Nancy Besser, a teacher at Monroe Elementary in the Logan Square neighborhood, said there was little time to talk about union issues because she had to remain focused on her work, educating children.
"To tell you the truth, all the teachers here are just busy with what we have to do," Besser said before the vote. "The job is very demanding, and the last thing we're doing is sitting around talking about what's going to happen to our raises."
But Mark Paye, an English teacher and union delegate at Roberto Clemente high school, said that attaining a 75 percent strike-authorization vote would not be difficult given the impact the rescinded raises could have on people's lives.
"Unfortunately, people sometimes don't step into action or get active until they feel it in their pocketbooks," Paye said. "I think this would fire people up more."
Paye said he welcomed the test faced by the Chicago Teachers Union and by public employees nationwide.
"I think we're going to have a wake-up call," he said. "I think people in the country do look toward Chicago, and they're going to be looking here to learn from our successes and our mistakes."
Chicago News Cooperative, Fri Jun 17 2011
NDP labour critic Yvon Godin is not alone in his assessment of a bleak future for unionized workers.
"This is only the beginning — no matter what," the New Brunswick MP, former miner and Steelworkers' negotiator told the Toronto Star. He was referring to labour disputes with Air Canada and Canada Post that have involved Parliament in the early days of the Conservatives' first majority mandate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper "has made it clear he's only here for the big employers," Godin said from Ottawa before leaving for this weekend's NDP national convention in Vancouver. "It's a message to all workers that they don't matter anymore . . . Do we really want a return to the Dirty Thirties (and a Depression)?"
The result, he argues, will be an unsettling future of labour unrest.
The Conservative government acted swiftly in both disputes. After Canada Post locked out postal workers involved in rotating strikes on June 15, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt announced back-to-work legislation within hours. It will be tabled in the Commons Monday.
The government planned similar legislation for striking Air Canada customer service and sales staff. However, the issue became moot when the company and the Canadian Auto Workers' union reached a settlement — with talks continuing on the dispute over pensions.
Union members and labour analysts fear this government has tougher measures in store, including concern about the Conservative party's recent resolution calling for better protection for replacement workers. As well, they point out a potential for "poison pills" hidden in back-to-work legislation for postal workers, such as the worst-case scenario of curtailment of the right to strike for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
Liberal Leader Bob Rae said his party will study the legislation carefully when it is introduced Monday. He says Harper's "authoritarian, command-and-control approach clearly puts the government on one side in labour disputes — management's side. It's going to make future bargaining more difficult."
In the Commons, Harper said government actions are necessary to prevent "significant damage to the Canadian economy. The government has not taken a stand on the issues."
Carla Lipsig-Mummé, founding director of the Centre for Research on Work and Society at York University, says she's concerned about the potential for further federal legislation that restricts workers' rights.
"I worry considerably because the government has shown itself to be so hostile to unions . . . It indicates this government is ready to go to lengths we have never seen in Canada to essentially threaten unions.
"It's a green light to companies — 'You can behave as badly as you want and we will support you.'"
An internationally recognized expert on workplace issues, Lipsig-Mummé said she saw no reason to legislate against postal workers when its union offered to accept the existing contract and continue negotiations in order to keep the mail moving. She called the government's actions "unconscionable and unwise."
CUPW president Denis Lemelin said the message in rotating strikes, including to small businesses, was that "we'll keep the mail moving. There will be delays but you will receive your mail."
Lemelin said in an interview the union is fighting Canada Post's efforts to treat new hires differently, both in wages, pension and other benefits. "What kind of society do we want to create? One in which there are still good jobs or one in which we try to create cheap labour at any cost?"
The June 15 lockout of postal workers happened so rapidly, some CUPW insiders suggest Canada Post laid a trap for the union.
"That's absolutely untrue," said Jon Hamilton, general manager for communications at Canada Post. "If you look at what has been happening in the rotating strikes, the revenue loss to Canada Post has been $100 million . . . We could not continue to live with that kind of national uncertainty."
Lipsig-Mummé doesn't buy the argument the Canadian public, hit by job losses, layoffs and reduced wages and benefits, has little sympathy for labour disputes.
"There is a fairly ingrained sense of fairness among Canadians," she said. "(The government's actions) are not the way we work in Canada . . . Here is a government that wishes to signal it will be tough on unions that undercut the Canadian economy but in neither case (Air Canada and Canada Post) can they show real damage to the economy."
Toronto Star, Fri Jun 17 2011
Byline: Linda Diebel
Canada Post's decision to lock out its unionized workers Tuesday night was more of a shock to local union president Doris Salmaso, than was Wednesday's announcement by the federal government that it plans to introduce back-to-work legislation.
Salmaso, who represents some 100 Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) in the Medicine Hat-Brooks area, said Wednesday that her national union had already talked about the possibility of the federal government intervening to end the labour dispute with Canada Post.
"I was surprised at the lockout announced Tuesday night," she told the News in an interview Wednesday. "I thought they'd (Canada Post) at least let us deliver the stacks of mail that were packed up inside our processing building."
According to Salmaso, there was a lot more mail stacked up here and elsewhere in the country than what Canada Post has been admitting too.
With the lockout, Salmaso — along with her fellow union workers — are now only getting a cheque for $175 a week from CUPW. All benefits, as well, as far as she's been informed, along with their regular pay from Canada Post, have been terminated.
It also means that depending on the length of the present lockout and what legislation the federal government brings in to force both party's to negotiate in good faith, many union members may have to refinance their mortgages, and find alternate arrangements to pay a wide-range of things from food to medications, she added.
On Wednesday, union workers spent the day picketing outside the Canada Post Medicine Hat Processing Centre on Kipling Street, and at the company's Canada Post Office on First Street SE.
The present strike by CUPW is the first in 14 years.
Among a number of things on the table are that union negotiators have asked for a wage bump of 3.2 per cent in the first year, followed by 2.75 per cent in the subsequent years of a four-year contract.
Canada Post has offered a 1.9 per cent increase a year, with wages starting at $18 an hour for new employees and increases capped at $26 for new and existing employees.
Employees also receive a benefit pension plan and up to seven weeks vacation.
Negotiations have been going on for seven months.
As postal workers walked their picket lines Wednesday, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) threw its weight behind them.
"The Canadian Union of Postal Workers has made great proposals to take Canada Post profits and invest them in better service, but these have been rejected by the employer," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
"CUPW has also proposed ways to increase profits, such as offering banking services like many post offices in countries around the world, but these ideas have also been dismissed."
The City of Medicine Hat Wednesday announced that it had made a number of arrangements to ensure continued customer service and business operations during the current disruption in postal service.
Medicine Hat News, Thurs Jun 16 2011
Abuse of foreign workers must be stopped, says labour group: Alberta government action needed in light of new criminal charges, says AFL
News of criminal charges being laid in relation to welders and machinists from Poland and Ukraine working in Alberta is more evidence of widespread violation of employment laws and the abuse of foreign workers, says the province's largest labour group.
"It has been clear for some time that the processes used to bring foreign workers to Alberta aren't working," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers. "Foreign workers are vulnerable because they fear deportation and are not always aware of their rights. The Alberta government must not stand idly by while workers are being abused, and while laws are being violated."
Charges laid by the RCMP today allege that foreign workers were told they faced fines of $25,000 and deportation if they breached their contracts, and that up to nine workers had to share three-bedroom apartments. They were allegedly told they could work legally after six months and bring their families to Canada.
The workers were also allegedly contracted out to several northern Alberta businesses which were charged a much higher hourly rate for the services of each foreign worker than was paid to the workers. It is alleged that the recruiters profited by more than $1,000,000 from April 2006 to September 2006 by sub-contracting the foreign workers to various companies.
Last year, the NDP revealed government documents that showed 74 per cent of Alberta businesses hiring temporary foreign workers that were subject to inspection had violated the labour code.
"The brokers who bring in foreign workers must be subject to far more monitoring and inspection by the Employment and Immigration ministry. There must also be a much greater willingness to prosecute brokers and employers who violate the province's labour code. Sadly, there are very few prosecutions because, it seems, this government lacks the will power to take action against violators," says McGowan.
"The TFW program in particular is rife with abuse. Workers are charged thousands of dollars in illegal fees, often live in homes owned by employers or agencies who charge outrageous rents, are told to work long hours while being denied fair rates of pay - but are afraid to complain because their employer can lay them off and have them deported."
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CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, is in Calgary and will be available for interviews until 3 p.m. He can be reached at780-218-9888.
The AFL-CIO today applauded the U.S. Department of Labor's decision to accept its complaint regarding the government of Bahrain's failure to live up to its trade agreement commitments with respect to workers' rights.
The complaint, filed April 21 with the Office of Trade and Labor Affairs, documents the Bahrain government's repression of peaceful protests and attacks on the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU). Click here to read the complaint.
For two months, the union movement around the world and in the United States has called on the government of Bahrain to halt its all-out attack against workers. In retaliation for peaceful protests and as part of the Bahraini government's overall crack down on dissent, more than 1,700 workers have been summarily dismissed from their jobs, frequently in contravention of Bahrain's labor laws.
"The egregious attacks on workers must end, and the Bahraini government's systematic discrimination against and dismantling of unions must be reversed. These actions directly violate the letter and the spirit of the trade agreement," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
Workers must be reinstated to their jobs and the elected union leadership must be allowed to function without fear of reprisals. Failure by the United States to intervene to support workers and their democratic institutions would make a mockery of the labor protections included in the free trade agreement.
AFL-CIO Now Blog, Thurs Jun 16 2011