Tories are "reaping what they have sown" with health care strike

EDMONTON - The strike that is currently crippling hospitals across the province is a clear example of the provincial government "reaping what it has sown," says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization. Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says that the Alberta government created the conditions for a labour dispute in the health care sector by enacting harsh labour laws that blatantly favour employers and by starving the health care system of badly needed funds. "By making it illegal for these workers to strike, the government has essentially created an environment in which employers hold all the cards. The regional health authorities have no incentive to bargain in good faith," says Cormack. "This problem has been compounded by budget cuts and chronic under-funding. People working in hospitals and nursing homes across the province are constantly be asked to worker harder while earning less. This kind of situation can only go on so long before the workers involved reach a breaking point." Under Alberta labour law, most provincial government workers - including the majority of health care workers currently on the picket line - are deemed "essential" and, therefore, denied the right-to-strike. Instead of strikes, disputes are sent to government-appointed arbitration panels which draft settlements that are binding on both the workers and the employer. "The problem with the arbitration process is that it tilts the field in favour of the employer and undermines the entire bargaining process," says Cormack. "The employers know the government appointees on the arbitration panels will rule in their favour - so they have no real incentive to bargain in good faith. That's why the regional health authorities are just starting to bargain now - the strike is finally forcing them to take the workers seriously." As a result of the arbitration process and the ban on strikes for public sector workers, Cormack says licensed practical nurses and other health care workers in Alberta have fallen far behind their counterparts in other provinces in terms of wages and benefits. But she says it doesn't have to be this way. "If the government really wants to settle this dispute quickly they should do two things," says Cormack. "In the short term, they should allocate more of the provincial government's huge budget surplus to health care so that the regional health authorities can afford to give their employees fair wage increases. In the longer term, what's needed are major changes to Alberta labour laws. Without the right to strike, employers will continue to ignore the legitimate demands of health care workers and these workers will continue to be paid far less than they deserve." For more information: Audrey Cormack, AFL President   @   (780) 499-6530 (cell)/483-3021 (wk)/428-9367 (hm)

WCB President Received 39% Pay Increase in 1999, AFL Highlights

The Alberta Federation of Labour revealed today that WCB President and CEO Mary Cameron received a 39% pay increase in 1999. Also, WCB sources inform the AFL that the Board of Directors approved another substantial pay increase for the year 2000. In 1999, Cameron earned a total of $355,699. This is up from $256,663 in 1998, her first year as CEO of WCB. "What message does it send to injured workers who are forced to go on welfare while awaiting just resolution of their claim to hear that the President made almost $400,000 last year?" asks AFL President Audrey Cormack. "It looks bad." Cormack also says that WCB sources informed the AFL that the Board recently approved another pay increase for Cameron to an undisclosed amount. "When will all this generosity make its way down to injured workers?" "It is a double standard," observes Cormack. "Injured worker benefits are capped at 90% of $48,600, yet there is apparently no ceiling for how high the CEO's salary can go." Cormack believes the huge salary jump is just the latest indicator that the WCB has forgotten why it exists. "At the moment, the WCB is an organization under a black cloud. Injured workers and employers have serious concerns about the operation of WCB in Alberta," says Audrey Cormack, President of the AFL. "The WCB has forgotten why they exist - to pay fair benefits to workers injured on the job." Cormack says she does not begrudge the WCB President from earning a reasonable salary for their job, but adds that almost $400,000 is excessive. In 1997, former WCB CEO John Cowell earned $366,287, plus received a $580,294 severance package. Cormack calls on Cameron to release the details of her contract with WCB, including any severance provisions and other perks. "This is a publicly owned organization, and to that end, it should operate with complete openness to the people who run it - the people of Alberta." Cormack concludes. For more information contact: Audrey M. Cormack, President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell) 483-3021 (wk)

Day of Mourning Is a Day to Remember and Make Change Happen

Friday April 28 will mark the 5th International Day of Mourning. Commemorated around the world, the Day of Mourning highlights the loss of thousands of workers every year to fatal accidents and occupational disease. In Alberta, Day of Mourning is expected to be the largest since its inception, with tens of thousands of workers participating in events around the province. "People should not have to live with the fear that they or their loved one may not arrive back home at the end of the work day," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We mark April 28 to remind our community that working shouldn't be a cause of death." "Day of Mourning is partly about remembrance and partly about making change happen," says Cormack. "We do not want the workers who we have lost at work to be forgotten. We want their memory to carry us forward to prevent anyone else from losing their life at work." Tens of thousands of workers in Alberta will be commemorating the day at their worksite with a minute of silence, black armbands, flags at half-mast or some other form of small ceremony. There will also be larger events open to the public in most centres around the province. "Very few people know that at least 2 workers in Alberta are killed at work every week. Around the world, a worker is killed every 30 seconds," says Cormack. "Last year 114 Alberta workers were killed. Each one of those workers had a family and friends who now mourn them. Their deaths were all preventable." Day of Mourning has its origins in Canada. It was first proclaimed in Parliament in 1986. Since then it has become an international event, with over 70 countries marking the day as the time to remember workers killed on the job."My hope is that Day of Mourning can act as the catalyst to change attitudes and policies around workplace safety, so that one day, no one has to die because they worked for a living." For more information contact: Audrey M. Cormack, President  at (780) 499-6530  (cell)

Double the Workplace Deaths, Half the Government Funding

On the eve of the 5th International Day of Mourning, the Alberta Federation of Labour released calculations showing that government funding for Occupational Health and Safety enforcement is a fraction what it was ten years ago. They also highlighted that the number of fatal accidents on the job has doubled since this time last year. As we commemorate another Day of Mourning, it saddens me to observe that workplace death in Alberta is the worst it has been in decades," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "This government is not taking the safety of workers in Alberta seriously." Cormack observes that there have been 19 fatal accidents on Alberta worksites so far in 2000. At this time last year, there were only 10. In recent years, worksite fatalities have been at record highs. During the past three years 339 workers were killed due to fatal accidents and occupational diseases. "I fear that the year 2000 will bring more worker deaths than ever. It is a tragic way to begin a new century," notes Cormack. Cormack states the cause of the increase in workplace deaths is the failure of the Alberta government to enforce health and safety laws. "There is no political will on the part of this government to make sure workers are safe. They would rather let employers police themselves." The AFL released calculations, based upon government figures, showing that during the past ten years, Occupational Health and Safety has been cut dramatically by the government. Ten years ago, the government spent $10.61 per worker (in 2000 dollars) on health and safety. This year, this amount is only $4.36. In ten years the government health and safety budget dropped from $12.2 million, to only $7.2 million currently. This amounts to a 42% budget cut in ten years. "When you factor in inflation and growth in the labour force, the Alberta government is spending a fraction of what it did in 1991," observes Cormack. "Less than $5 per worker is allocated to keeping workplaces safe and workers alive." An indication of the problems is that there is inadequate staff to handle the workload. There are 58 Health and Safety Officers to handle every workplace in the province. "The department has a policy of assigning two officers to investigate every fatality," observes Cormack. "With the current number of fatalities, almost every officer is investigating a fatality, leaving virtually nobody to do inspections or less serious investigations." "It should be no surprise to us that we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of worker deaths and other serious workplace accidents," concludes Cormack. Alberta Government Health and Safety Spending Per Worker (Year 2000$)   Source: Alberta Public Accounts, Government Estimates, Labour Force Statistics, Consumer Price Index Fiscal Year Occupational Healthand Safety Budget ($000s) 1990-91 $12,015 1991-92 $12,198 1992-93 $12,331 1993-94 $11,300 1994-95 $10,405 1995-96 $9,581 1996-97 $6,716 1997-98 $6,123 1998-99 $6,345 1999-00 $6,770 2000-01 $7,206 Source: Alberta Public Accounts, Government Estimates For more information call:Audrey M. Cormack, President @ (780)499-6530 (cell) 483-3021 (wk)Jason Foster, AFL      @483-3021

City Hall Ceremony Highlights Day of Mourning

Friday, April 28 will mark the fifth International Day of Mourning. Begun in Canada in the mid-1980s, the Day of Mourning is a day to remember those people killed at or because of work. One of the highlights of the day is an evening candle ceremony at Edmonton City Hall organized by the Alberta Federation of Labour, Edmonton and District Labour Council, Alberta Building Trades Council and the United Nurses of Alberta.Friday, April 28 - 7:00 pm to 8:30 pmCity Hall (1 Sir Winston Churchill Square) The event mixes cultural performances with speakers and a candle lighting to commemorate the Day of Mourning. Evocative visual images make up an important piece of the ceremony. Also, the City of Edmonton proclamation of the day will be presented. "Day of Mourning is partly about remembrance and partly about making change happen," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We do not want the workers who we have lost at work to be forgotten. We want their memory to carry us forward to prevent anyone else from losing their life at work." Tens of thousands of workers will be commemorating the day at their worksite with a minute of silence, black armbands, flags at half-mast or some other form of small ceremony. Day of Mourning has its origins in Canada. It was first proclaimed in Parliament in 1986. Since then it has become an international event, with over 70 countries marking the day as the time to remember workers killed on the job. In Alberta, more than 2 workers are killed every week. A worker is killed every 30 seconds around the world. The purpose of Day of Mourning is to find ways to bring those numbers down. For more information call: Audrey M. Cormack, President  @  (780) 499-6530 (cell)

AFL Calls for Boycott of Molson, Labatt in Northern Alberta

The Alberta Federation of Labour is endorsing a boycott of Molson and Labatt products for the duration of the labour dispute at Brewers Distributors Limited (BDL) in Edmonton. The AFL is asking Albertans to not purchase Labatt or Molson products in bars, restaurants or liquor stores throughout Northern Alberta. "We know that any Molson and Labatt beer purchased from Red Deer north will have been delivered by non-union replacement workers," says Audrey Cormack, President of the AFL. "We are asking Albertans to find other options until the workers at the Edmonton warehouse are back at work." "We need to send a message to Molson and Labatt," states Cormack. "Profits at the two breweries are hefty, yet they want their workers to suffer a huge 30% wage rollback." "We are urging Albertans to use their pocket books to let the two breweries know that this kind of greedy profit-taking is not acceptable. Maybe if their sales plummet, they will realize the need to treat workers fairly." The AFL will be sending a list of brands currently distributed by BDL to all of its members. The AFL currently represents 120,000 workers across Alberta.  The boycott does not apply to southern Alberta, where unionized workers at the Calgary warehouse are still at work. Distribution workers at BDL were locked out last week. The union is asking for wage increases to keep up with inflation. The employer is asking for 30% cuts in pay and other concessions. "I personally find the taste of Molson and Labatt is a bit sour these days due to their bully tactics against their workers," concludes Cormack. For more information call: Audrey M. Cormack, President  @  (780) 499-6530 (cell) /483-3021 (wk) 428-9367 (hm)

Action needed now to eliminate racism

EDMONTON - On the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, the president of Alberta's largest labour organization is calling on leaders from government, business and labour to join forces in the battle against intolerance. "Racism and discrimination continue to be serious problems in Alberta and across the country," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "Progress has been made - that's clear. But much more needs to be done in order to combat racism in the workplace and in the broader community." The United Nations has chosen March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism in memory of the infamous "Sharpeville Massacre." On this day in 1960, South African police fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville Township, killing sixty-nine people. Since then, March 21 has been set aside as a day to remember the suffering caused by racism and to celebrate successes in the battle for racial tolerance. Cormack says that much has been accomplished since 1960. For example, the brutal system of Apartheid that caused the Sharpeville massacre has been overthrown. And many countries, including Canada, have introduced laws aimed at discouraging discrimination. But Cormack says the battle against racism is far from over. "The brutal reality is that immigrants, first nations people and people of colour still face racism discrimination and intolerance on a daily basis. Systemic racism continues to exist in our schools, our courts, our communities, our workplaces and even in our unions. In fact a recent poll published in the Globe and Mail suggests that intolerance against immigrants is actually on the rise. This sends a clear message that more needs to be done in order to promote tolerance." Cormack says that unions have a long, proud history of working to overturn racist and discriminatory policies in government and in the workplace. As part of the the AFL's on-going commitment to ending racism and discrimination, she says she and other Alberta labour leaders will continue to: 1) speak out against racism in Canada and throughout the world, and 2) support anti-racism programs and legislation aimed at breaking down systemic barriers in all institutions. "We in the labour movement will continue to do all we can to make Canadian labour organizations more tolerant, more inclusive and more welcoming for people of colour. For example, we will be working with the Canadian Labour Congress to implement the recommendations of the CLC's recent Anti-Racism Task Force, which outlines an action plan for promoting tolerance in unions and the workplace," says Cormack. "But we can't eradicate racism alone. That's why we are challenging other groups and individuals to play a part. We challenge individuals to actively join the fight against racism. We challenge businesses to adopt anti-discrimination policies and sponsor educational programs to combat racism in the workplace. And we challenge governments to make the fight against racism in Canada and around the world a much higher priority. By working together, I am convinced we can promote tolerance and stamp out the black cancer of racism that has been eating away at our community and our workplaces." For more information call: Audrey M. Cormack, President  @  (780) 499-6530 (cell) /483-3021 (wk) 428-9367 (hm)

Tory marriage law sends "clear message of intolerance," says AFL

EDMONTON - The Alberta government's new marriage law sends a clear message of intolerance against gays and lesbians, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization. Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the Marriage Amendment Act violates the human rights of gay and lesbian couples by denying them equal treatment under the law. She also says the law promotes intolerance against gays and lesbians by suggesting that their relationships are somehow illegitimate and "unnatural." "Other governments in this country are moving forward in terms of recognizing the rights of gay and lesbian Canadians," says Cormack. "But, once again, the Alberta government is taking us back to a darker, less tolerant time. It's shocking to see a government using its power to promote intolerance against an identifiable group - but that's exactly what's happening with this law." The Marriage Amendment Act was debated and passed yesterday, despite strong objections from both opposition parties. The new law in effect bans gay and lesbian marriages and goes on to say that Alberta will make use of the constitution's notwithstanding clause if the federal government ever decides to allow such unions. Cormack says she finds the law "deeply disturbing" because it shows the Alberta government is willing to trample on the human rights of some of its citizens in order to pander to a vocal minority of ultra-conservative Albertans who feel threatened by "non-traditional" relationships. Cormack points out that the Alberta government's new marriage law flies in the face of recent Supreme Court decisions that guarantee protection under the law in cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. She also says the Alberta law runs counter to the spirit of a new law currently being considered by the federal government that will guarantee gay and lesbian couples access to the same kind of spousal benefits already available to heterosexual couples. "The government knows that the rules regarding marriage are under federal jurisdiction - and they know that this law will probably be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. But they've decided to go ahead with it anyway," says Cormack. "It's a cheap political stunt designed to pander to the lowest and most backward political instincts." For more information call:Audrey M. Cormack, President  @  (780) 499-6530 (cell) /483-3021 (wk) 428-9367 (hm)

AFL President to meet with Alan Rock to urge Action on Bill 11

EDMONTON - Alberta Federation of Labour President Audrey Cormack will be taking the fight against the Klein government's Private Hospitals Bill to Ottawa on Tuesday, March 7th. Cormack has a meeting with federal Health Minister Alan Rock to discuss the implications of Bill 11, introduced last week. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 7 at the Minister's Office in Tunney's Pasture Complex at 2:00 pm EST (12:00 Noon Alberta time). The meeting will take between 30 and 60 minutes. Cormack is available for media comment following the meeting. Ms. Cormack can be reached by cellular phone at (780) 499-6530. For more information call: Audrey Cormack, President     @     (780) 499-6530 (cell) Jason Foster, AFL @ (780) 483-3021

Government Will Pay Price for Private Hospital Bill, Says AFL

The Klein government will pay a big price from Albertans if it continues with its private health care bill, introduced in the Legislature today, says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "The introduction of Bill 11 shows the Klein government is not listening to Albertans," says Cormack. "Albertans are worried - very worried - about their health care system. They want it protected and have told the government so." "The government has responded by playing word games and weaving more lies about their real intentions," says Cormack. "Albertans don't want word games, they want Medicare protected from for-profit clinics." "Bill 11 undermines the very principles of Medicare." Cormack says that even the Tories know their bill is a bunch of pretend. "I don't care what you call it, a surgical facility or private clinic, this bill legalizes private, for-profit hospitals." Cormack predicts that if the government insists on forcing this bill on Albertans that Albertans will make them pay a big price for it. "Albertans won't put up with this bill. Any government that tries to undermine Medicare will hear loudly from Albertans. They will hear from us in the Legislature, on the streets and in the ballot box." "If the government has any sense, they will let the bill die a quick death." "It's not too late," concludes Cormack, "this bill can and will be stopped." For more information call: Audrey Cormack, President    @    (780) 499-6530 cell/ 483-3021 (wk)/ 428-9367 (hm)