The Alberta Federation of Labour today applauded the union at Lakeside for reaching a tentative agreement with Lakeside Packers in Brooks, but pledged to continue to pressure the government for first contract arbitration laws.
"The fact that Tyson Foods and Lakeside management actually agreed to terms with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 401 demonstrates how much public support the workers at Lakeside had won," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "If this settlement is ratified, it will be a giant first step toward justice for the Lakeside workers and it will also provide some much-needed assurance of dependability for Alberta's cattle industry."
"But we have to put all of this in perspective," says McGowan. "The really frustrating thing is that this is a strike that didn't have to happen in the first place. All the picket line clashes, all the tension, all the economic damage could have been avoided if Alberta had first contract arbitration like other provinces."
"So, while we're all relieved that a settlement is in sight," says McGowan, "this whole situation has highlighted the fact that we have a real problem with labour laws in this province. By allowing employers to simply refuse to bargain with duly and democratically elected unions, our laws actually provoke the kind of confrontation that we've seen in Lakeside."
McGowan warns that future crises are inevitable without government action. "The sad truth is that under our labour laws there are no real consequences for companies who bargain in bad faith, says McGowan. "So if something is not done to change the law, we're going to see more Lakesides in the future. It's not a question of 'if,' it's a question of 'when'."
McGowan insists that Albertans cannot let the provincial government off the hook on their promise to look at first contract arbitration laws for Alberta and promises that labour intends to keep the pressure on the government. "This issue can not simply be allowed to disappear until we are in the middle of the next labour relations crisis," says McGowan.
McGowan suggests that for today, however, the UFCW and the labour movement can take the time recognize they have won an historic victory. "UFCW and the Lakeside workers have made a breakthrough today that paves the way for a better future for them and their families," concluded McGowan. "If ever there was a group of people who need the kind of protection that a union contract can bring, this is it. They stood up to one of the U.S.'s biggest corporate heavyweights, and they got them to agree to a contract. My hat is off to them."
For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915-4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)