As members of the provincial government caucus prepare to gather in Calgary tomorrow for a meeting that could decide the fate of the so-called "Third Way", the Alberta Federation of Labour is urging unions across the province to put the issue of private health insurance on the bargaining table.
In a letter sent to more than 350 unions and union locals around the province, AFL president Gil McGowan says one of the best ways to stop the government from proceeding with the Third Way is to remind employers in both the public and private sectors about the high costs associated with any move towards an increased reliance on private health insurance.
"We need to let both the government and employers know that whatever services they take away from our members by 'shrinking the Medicare umbrella� we will fight to get back at the bargaining table," wrote McGowan. "The higher costs associated with this will end up being a major new financial burden for employers in both the public and private sectors."
In addition to his letter, McGowan has also met personally with a number of major union presidents who have agreed to raise the issue of private health insurance with their employers - including unions representing city workers and public school employees in both Calgary and Edmonton.
"By allowing patients to 'buy their way to the front of the line� for certain services and by allowing doctors to work in both the public and for-profit systems, the Third Way will essentially create a market for private insurance in Alberta where there was none before," says McGowan.
"The best way to avoid making health insurance a crippling issue like it is for employers in the U.S. is to stop the Third Way - at least its most controversial sections. This is definitely an area where unions can make common cause with employers - because the Third Way threatens our members� access to health care and it threatens the bottom lines of employers."
To help illustrate just how big an advantage Medicare gives Canadian employers - and how much Alberta employers could lose if the provincial government proceeds with the Third Way - McGowan provided unions with a number of telling statistics.
For example, he pointed out that the average cost for health benefits in Canada is currently about $930 US per employee per year - compared to more than $10,000 US per year for American workers with families.
He also pointed to the example of contracts negotiated by construction unions on both sides of the border. In Alberta, for example, employers who work with the Ironworkers pay extended health benefits of $1.50 Cdn per hour per employee - compared to $7.15 Cdn in Phoenix; $7.38 Cdn in San Francisco; $7.29 Cdn in Minneapolis; and $10.89 Cdn in Buffalo, NY.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President (780) 915-4599 (cell) or (780) 483-3021 (office)