2015 Prentice blames Albertans. Unions respond with campaign unmasking the true culprit: the PC government itself

Instead of cutting services, we need to end sweetheart deals for corporations and the wealthy, says Better Way Alberta campaign

 

Edmonton – In response to comments from Premier Jim Prentice blaming Albertans for the province’s budget woes, a coalition of major unions is launching a $500,000 province-wide campaign aimed at saving public services from deep cuts by urging the provincial government to fix its broken revenue system.

 

“Who created the current budget mess? It’s time for Premier Prentice and the Tories to look in the mirror,” says Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan.

 

“We’re not facing a budget crunch because of anything individual Albertans did. The real problem is that successive PC governments have blown holes in the revenue base we need to fund education, health care and other services that Albertans rely on.

 

“The premier wants to impose a reckless nine-per-cent budget cut. Cuts of that magnitude will devastate public services that are already stretched to the breaking point…and they won’t address the root causes.  The real solution is to reverse years and years of irresponsible tax and royalty giveaways to profitable corporations and the wealthy.”

 

The Better Way Alberta campaign’s home is www.betterwayalberta.ca. On the site, Albertans can explore the various ways in which the provincial government has destroyed the revenue system, and given away billions of dollars to big corporations and to very wealthy individuals.

 

“The premier is trying to blame the looming deficit on nurses, teachers, janitors, secretaries—the people who work hard every day for the citizens of the province—when the problem was really caused by irresponsible tax and royalty giveaways.” McGowan said. “He’s trying to spin a tale that the province isn’t frugal enough, when the truth is that Alberta is in the middle of the pack when it comes to how much it spends on public services. We spend a little more per person than Nova Scotia, and a little less than New Brunswick.”

 

The province-wide campaign will consist of a central website and petition; a radio and online advertising campaign; a direct-mail campaign to every household in Alberta; and a door-to-door campaign in which canvassers will have face-to-face conversations with Albertans about the Better Way Alberta campaign. The coalition is also considering townhall meetings and rallies.

 

“Poll after poll shows that Albertans understand there is a better way to approach revenues,” McGowan said. “They’re willing to look at how this province pays for services. But successive premiers have done nothing but cut. To his credit, Premier Prentice has said he’s willing to talk about revenues and ‘put everything on the table.’ But if he’s serious about that, why has he ruled out increasing royalties and taxes on corporations and the wealthy? It sounds like the more of the same from an un-reformed Tory: perks for their friends and pain for everyone else.”

 

According to the government’s own numbers, Alberta could increase the amount it gets from taxes by $11.6 billion a year and still have the lowest taxes in Canada. Most of that $11.6 billion that is going uncollected by Alberta’s inequitable tax code is being left in the pockets of the province’s richest individuals and most profitable corporations.

 

“If we’re all in this together, as Premier Prentice says, why should corporations and the wealthy get a free pass?” McGowan said. “And why should ordinary Albertans pay for the mistakes of politicians again?”

 

If the Prentice government imposes a nine per cent cut, Alberta will end up spending less on public services than much poorer provinces, even as its population continues to boom. Albertans will have to deal with larger class sizes, more over-crowded hospitals and even longer waits for new infrastructure.  Economists also agree that government cuts will likely tip the whole economy into recession.

 

“Oil prices go up and down. Albertans know that, and their government should know that by now,” McGowan said. “But every time there’s a slight downturn, government takes aim at public servants, rather than planning for the long term, budgeting better, and fixing the holes in the province’s revenue system.”

 

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail orokne@afl.org

 

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Prentice's "Labour strategy": nothing but an attack on workers

Instead of blaming public-sector wages, should look in the mirror

 

Edmonton –Premier Jim Prentice needs to stop taking unprovoked potshots at Alberta’s public workers.

At a speech to the Edmonton Rotary Club on Monday, March 2, the Premier said his new “labour strategy” will look to other provinces like British Columbia for direction on top-down negotiation mandates. The announcement came in his address that unfairly blamed Alberta’s budget woes on public-sector workers for the government’s unwillingness to fix Alberta’s finances.

“To demonize public-sector workers is inappropriate, it’s unfair, and it doesn’t actually address the situation as it is. This problem is a revenue problem,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said outside the premier’s press conference. “The solution is not to set unfair, command and control restrictions on negotiations before coming to the table. The solution is not to demonize public-sector workers who provide important services. The real solution is to fix the holes that the government created in our revenue system.”  

The premier unveiled plans to enact changes to the government’s approach to bargaining with public-sector unions. Prentice suggested that they will adopt a ‘co-ordinated approach’ to negotiations, which will likely be modeled on the approach taken in British Columbia with top-down “mandates” set by the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat.

“What we’re talking about here is a dramatic centralization of responsibilities for bargaining with public-sector workers — and it’s going to be centralized in the hands of the premier. That’s what they do in B.C.” McGowan said. “Frankly it hasn’t been a very productive model — It’s been in place in B.C. for the past 10 years — and ever since it was introduced, it has led to a poisoning of the labour relations atmosphere.”

Over the past 20 years, successive Conservative premiers have undermined the province’s finances with tax giveaways and corporate handouts. Today, Alberta is the lowest-taxed province in Canada — if our tax rates were equivalent to any other province, the government would collect $11-billion more each year, and have no deficit regardless of the price of oil.

“Even in the good old days — you remember, seven or eight months ago — we had a government that couldn’t balance the budget and struggled to pay for middle-of-the-road services because they had given away revenue that we need to pay for those services,” McGowan said.

The Premier has suggested that there will be up to a nine per cent cut in government spending across the board in the next budget. This will mean billions of dollars less each year for the front-line services on which Albertans rely, without addressing the underlying problem with the province’s budget.

“The flat tax, which was a gift to the wealthy; slashing our corporate taxes from 15 to 10 per cent; introducing the penny on the dollar royalty for oil sands — these are the things that have deprived our government of the revenue they need to pay for public services,” McGowan said. “The solution is simple and clear: Prentice needs to repair the holes previous PC governments blew in Alberta’s revenue regime.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail orokne@afl.org

 

 

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Temporary Administrative Position

Alberta Federation of Labour

Temporary Office Administrator

Convention Support

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is looking for a well-organized and highly motivated person to join our administrative team in Edmonton as a temporary, full-time Office Administrator for a minimum of 4 weeks commencing mid-March, 2015.

The AFL is Alberta’s largest union advocacy organization, representing about 165,000 workers from 29 unions in both the public and private sectors.

We are hiring a temporary staff person to assist with the increased workload associated with our upcoming Convention. The successful candidate will work closely with the President, the Secretary-Treasurer and members of the AFL staff.

Specific duties would include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Answering phones and managing the reception desk
  • Typing and formatting documents
  • Helping to organize meetings, workshops and convention
  • Providing clerical support at convention
  • Maintaining the filing system and all contact lists
  • Providing clerical and administrative support to the AFL Officers, Executive Staff, Executive Council and Committees

Applicants should have a high degree of competence in office practices and be proficient in Microsoft office.

We are looking for candidates that have the ability to work in a fast paced and ever changing environment. The best applicants will be well organized and adaptable and have convention or related experience.  Applicants must have excellent communication skills and an overall positive outlook.  A successful candidate will not only be a team player but will also have the ability to work well alone, without direct supervision. Familiarity with the goals and objectives of the labour movement would also be considered an asset.

Normal office hours are 8:30am to 4:30pm, with a short day on Friday. There will be expected overtime. The candidate will be required to work in Calgary for the week of our convention. Accommodation and out of town expenses are covered by the employer as per the Collective Agreement.

Wages and working conditions are in accordance with the collective agreement between the Canadian Office and Professional Employees union (COPE 458) and the AFL.

This posting will remain open until an appropriate person is found. Resumes with cover letter should be e-mailed to Siobhan Vipond, Secretary Treasurer at svipond@afl.org. Only candidates being considered for an interview will be contacted.

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Statement of solidarity to workers of Wisconsin from the Alberta Federation of Labour

Edmonton – Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the State Legislature of Wisconsin fast-tracking right-to-work legislation:

“The Alberta Federation of Labour stands proudly with workers in Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker’s attack on working families.

“This week the labour movement in Wisconsin is making every effort to stop the Governor’s mean-spirited and unnecessary labour law, which is being fast tracked through their state legislature right now.

“Right-to-work legislation is an effort to lower wages, undercut the rights of workers, and further fracture the power of the labour movement in the state.

“We know that the fight in Wisconsin today may be a fight coming to workers across North America tomorrow. Workers and the labour movement are showing us how important it is to come together to fight a great threat that will fundamentally hurt working people.

“Now more than ever we need to find our collective voice—in Wisconsin, across America, and right here in Alberta. Without ongoing solidarity and mobilization of our collective power, workers will pay the price.

“Today, Wisconsin is a wake-up call, and we at the Alberta Federation of Labour are ready to meet the challenge whenever it may come.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Prentice cuts will move Alberta to 8th place among provinces in terms of public spending

Cuts would weaken public services and deliver a significant blow to the provincial economy

Edmonton – Proposed nine per cent cuts to government spending will drop Alberta to near the back of the pack among Canadian provinces in terms of per-capita spending on public services.

If the cuts proposed yesterday by Premier Jim Prentice are enacted, Alberta will move down to eighth-place amongst Canada’s ten provinces in terms of per-capita spending on health care, education and other public services. At present, the province is in sixth place.

“Premier Prentice’s plan to lop nine per cent off the province’s spending on public services is wildly irresponsible,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “What the so-called Klein revolution taught us is that deep cuts don’t end recessions, they make them deeper and longer.”

According to figures published by the Royal Bank of Canada, Alberta currently spends about $9,786 per person on public services, slightly less than the average for other provinces. If the proposed cuts are enacted, this would be reduced to $8,905, ahead of only Ontario and Quebec, whose more urbanized populations allow them to deliver services more cheaply.

“Obviously, the declining price of oil is a big concern. But the effect of low-priced oil on the provincial budget has been magnified by irresponsible choices made by successive PC governments. Specifically, things like the flat tax, corporate tax cuts and royalty cuts have blown a hole in the revenue base that we need to fund important public services like education and health care,” McGowan said. “The solution is to fix the holes, not sacrifice the services that our growing population needs.”

The RBC figures also show that no other province spends less on public services as a proportion of its economy than Alberta. In Alberta, the government spends only 11.3 percent of the provincial economy on public services, while the Canadian average is 18.7 percent. The next-lowest spending province is Saskatchewan, where they use 16.1 percent of their economy to fund public services.

“Premier Prentice wants to leave the impression that we have no choice but to cut spending, even on core services like health care and education,” McGowan said. “But the truth is that we have many options. If we collected revenue at a rate that was closer to the national average we’d be able to weather this storm more easily. The Tories themselves admit that we could raise taxes by $11 billion a year and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in the country. And it’s important to remember that we still have no debt. The point is that cuts are not the only alternative.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Proposed budget cuts would drop Alberta to near the back of the pack

Cuts would weaken public services and deliver a significant blow to the provincial economy

Edmonton – Proposed nine per cent cuts to government spending will drop Alberta to near the back of the pack among Canadian provinces in terms of per-capita spending on public services.

If the cuts proposed yesterday by Premier Jim Prentice are enacted, Alberta will move down to eighth-place amongst Canada’s ten provinces in terms of per-capita spending on health care, education and other public services. At present, the province is in sixth place.

“Premier Prentice’s plan to lop nine per cent off the province’s spending on public services is wildly irresponsible,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “What the so-called Klein revolution taught us is that deep cuts don’t end recessions, they make them deeper and longer.”

According to figures published by the Royal Bank of Canada, Alberta currently spends about $9,786 per person on public services, slightly less than the average for other provinces. If the proposed cuts are enacted, this would be reduced to $8,905, ahead of only Ontario and Quebec, whose more urbanized populations allow them to deliver services more cheaply.

“Obviously, the declining price of oil is a big concern. But the effect of low-priced oil on the provincial budget has been magnified by irresponsible choices made by successive PC governments. Specifically, things like the flat tax, corporate tax cuts and royalty cuts have blown a hole in the revenue base that we need to fund important public services like education and health care,” McGowan said. “The solution is to fix the holes, not sacrifice the services that our growing population needs.”

The RBC figures also show that no other province spends less on public services as a proportion of its economy than Alberta. In Alberta, the government spends only 11.3 percent of the provincial economy on public services, while the Canadian average is 18.7 percent. The next-lowest spending province is Saskatchewan, where they use 16.1 percent of their economy to fund public services.

“Premier Prentice wants to leave the impression that we have no choice but to cut spending, even on core services like health care and education,” McGowan said. “But the truth is that we have many options. If we collected revenue at a rate that was closer to the national average we’d be able to weather this storm more easily. The Tories themselves admit that we could raise taxes by $11 billion a year and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in the country. And it’s important to remember that we still have no debt. The point is that cuts are not the only alternative.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Prentice budget cuts will deepen recession

Reckless PC spending cuts will make oil downturn worse for Albertans

Edmonton – The nine per cent budget cuts proposed by finance minister Robin Campbell and Premier Jim Prentice will plunge Alberta into a downward economic spiral, harm Albertans who rely on public services, and further threaten to push Alberta toward recession.

On Wednesday, February 11, the finance minister joined Premier Jim Prentice in a press conference updating Albertans on their plan to tackle government deficits caused by low oil prices and an irresponsible tax system. In the conference, the premier cited the languishing price of oil as a pretext for austerity measures and spending cuts.

“Jim Prentice has an opportunity here to show some leadership and political courage. Today’s press conference is an indication that he isn’t going to take that opportunity. This is terrible news for all Albertans,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “The premier knows that we’re facing a possible recessionary period – and every credible economist will tell you that slashing spending at this time will only deepen that recession.”

Despite the Premier saying he has heard that Albertans want a measured and reasoned response to the current fiscal reality, the PC government announced up to a nine per cent cut in government spending across the board. This will mean billions of dollars less each year for the front-line services on which Albertans rely, without addressing the underlying problem that the province’s budgets are too dependent on fluctuating resource revenues.

“When you cut spending this drastically, you put people out of work. When you put more people out of work, they stop spending. And when that many people stop spending, the economy grinds to a halt,” McGowan said. “Unless Premier Prentice can step up and provide leadership on royalties and taxes, Alberta could be heading for some very dark times.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org


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Harper government offers TFW loopholes to low-wage employers

“Cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” move on TFWP breaks promise to Canadians  by extending work permits and “fiddling” with caps

Edmonton – The Harper government has caved in to pressure from low-wage employers who want to hold on to exploitable temporary foreign workers for a longer period of time.

In a document sent to employers last week, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who have already applied for permanent residency under the Alberta government’s provincial nominee program may be allowed to stay. There are 10,000 workers on the waiting list for residency, but because of the specifics of the Express Entry program, it is unlikely that many of them will meet the criteria for permanent residency.

“This is yet another example of the Harper government telling Canadians one thing and then turning around and doing something else to employers,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is a deal that was cooked up behind closed doors with the federal government, the Alberta government and low-wage employers. It flies in the face of the promises that were made to Canadians.”

Kenney said in his letter that businesses will be allowed to exempt current low-wage guest workers from caps on the percentage of a workforce that can be made up of TFWs. Under reforms announced last June employers in Alberta were supposed to reduce the number of TFWs they have on staff to a maximum of 30 per cent of their workforces this year, 20 per cent next year, and 10 per cent the following year.

“Last June, the Harper Government promised to limit the number of TFWs that low-wage employers could use. But now, they’ve quietly broken their promise and changed the rules.” McGowan said.

McGowan said this new plan from the Harper government is particularly “cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” because they have tried to dress it up as an act of kindness to the thousands of TFWs who face the prospect of deportation as soon as April 1.

“The sad truth is that most of the low-skill TFWs in question will never qualify for permanent residency under the federal government’s Express Entry program because it has a point system that gives preference to workers with high skills and high levels of education,” McGowan said.

“So this isn’t an act of kindness towards anxious TFWs; it’s all about making it possible for low-wage employers to hold on to more easily exploitable TFWs for another year. To put it another way, they’re giving their friends in the low-wage service sector what they’ve been asking for and they’re giving TFWs false hope. They’ve framed their scheme in the convoluted way they have because they knew Canadians would be up in arms if they knew that this is really about letting low-wage employers hold on to TFWs for a longer period of time.”

The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.

“Canada is a country that has been built by immigration. But the TFWP is not immigration, it’s exploitation. That’s why we’ve called on the government to phase the program out. It’s also why we’ve called on them to grant citizenship to the TFWs who are already in the country. The reason these workers were distorting the labour market was because they were essentially serfs, not citizens,” McGowan said. “But now the Harper Conservatives have done the opposite on both counts. They’re letting employers keep their Temporary Foreign Workers for a longer period of time and they’re blocking paths to citizenship that could eliminate the underclass of exploitable guest workers that has been distorting the Canadian labour market. It’s shameful.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.orgp


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Ironworkers protest against jobs being given to TFWs instead of qualified local tradespeople

Edmonton – Workers in Edmonton took to the street on Thursday to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.

Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs).

In protest, workers rallied at noon on Thursday at the corner of 104th Street and 104th Avenue in Edmonton, across the street from the arena’s location. The workers carried signs reading “Built for Edmonton, Built By Edmonton,” and “Where’s The Home-Ice Advantage.”

“Denying an application to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) should have been an easy call when there are 300 workers qualified and ready to do the work just blocks away,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “It should have been an easy stop. Have the TFWP regulators pulled their goalie?”

Since the contract was awarded, and the applications were submitted, Ironworkers Local 720 has lobbied the city, the contractor and the federal government asking for the jobs to be made available to qualified Canadian workers, and for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program permits to be revoked. These requests have been rebuffed.

“This is the sort of project that ironworkers love to work on – It’s going to be a beautiful building. And in thirty years, local workers who had a part in it will point to it and tell their kids ‘I built that.’ We have literally hundreds of qualified tradespeople who are eager to do this job,” Ironworkers Local 720 business agent George Papineau said. “And most of these workers are local Edmontonians. They’re the sort of folks who haven’t given up on the Oilers season yet – which is why it’s so galling that the company building the new home of the Oilers has turned its back on them.”

Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build. Since the project was first proposed, it has been plagued by concerns that the economic benefits would not go to residents of the city.

“Who is this arena for? Edmontonians were sold this project – and it was approved by the narrowest of margins – based on an argument that it would be good for the city. Is it good for the city for our tax dollars to go to American workers with no investment in the community? Is it good for the city that hundreds of Edmonton ironworkers are watching from the sidelines?” Edmonton and District Labour Council president Bruce Fafard said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan speaks to demonstrators outside of Edmonton’s arena project.

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Workers call for home-ice advantage

Protest against jobs given to TFWs instead of qualified local tradespeople

EDMONTON – Workers in Edmonton are taking to the street to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.

Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers.

“The guys who are supposed to stop the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from putting Canadians out of work have failed in their duty. How did these applications even make it past the blue-line?” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is the biggest own goal Edmonton hockey has seen since Steve Smith.”

Who:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)
George Papineau, Business Agent, Ironworkers Local 720
Bruce Fafard, President, Edmonton & District Labour Council (EDLC)

When:
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., Thursday, January 15, 2015

Where:
Muster point at the corner of 104 Avenue and 104 Street, downtown Edmonton

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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