AFL throws its support behind campaign for national childcare program

EDMONTON - If Jean Chretien's Liberals really want to do something significant to mark National Child Day on Saturday, they should live up to their promises and establish a comprehensive national childcare program, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Audrey Cormack says the AFL - the largest union organization in the province - will be throwing its support behind a campaign calling for a new national strategy on families and children. The campaign is sponsored by the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) and supported by dozens of unions, churches and community groups.

"Unions across this country have been working hard to negotiate better child care provisions for their members - it is fast becoming one of our top priorities," says Cormack. "But we can never win these kinds of benefits for all unionized workers, let alone the millions of Canadians who don't belong to unions. That's why we feel so strongly about the need for a national childcare program. All working families in Canada should have access to high quality care for their children."

Cormack's announcement of support for the national childcare campaign coincides with National Child Day. In 1993, the federal government designated November 20 as National Child Day to commemorate two historic United Nations events: the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1959 and the adoption of the more comprehensive Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989.

"I can think of no better way for the Liberals to mark the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child than by committing themselves to a new national strategy on children and families," says Cormack. "Now that the federal government is recording multi-billion dollar surpluses it's time for the Liberals to live up to the promises they made about national child care when they were in Opposition."

Cormack says the need for a national childcare program is being felt particularly keenly by parents in Alberta, where the provincial government recently eliminated all operating allowances for daycare facilities. The Conservative government has also restricted full daycare subsidies to families earning less than $24,000 per year (net income) and single parents earning less than

$20,000 per year (net income). These changes have forced up the cost of daycare and caused tremendous hardship for many working families - especially those in middle-income brackets, says Cormack.

"Access to high-quality child care and early childhood education is extremely important for children, parents and society as a whole," she says. "But here in Alberta, quality child care is being priced out of reach for many working families. The need for federal action in this area has never been clearer."

Cormack says the AFL will support the national childcare campaign by lobbying politicians, participating in rallies and forums and educating union members and the general public.

"In the end it boils down to political will. We at the AFL will do everything we can to remind the federal government of their responsibility to children and families. We will also remind politicians and the public of the many benefits that would come with a national childcare program. It's a win-win proposition."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President     @     499-6530(cell)/483-3021(wk)/428-9367(hm)

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Klein misleading Albertans about the future of health care

EDMONTON - Premier Ralph Klein wasn't fooling anyone this evening when he attempted to portray himself as a defender of Medicare during a ten-minute, publicly-funded television spot, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Ralph spent a lot of time talking about his commitment to public health care and the Canada Health Act. And he tried hard to reassure Albertans about the future of Medicare," says Cormack. "But this government's actions over the past few years speak louder than the Premier's words. The Tories have gutted what was once one of the best health care systems in the world - and the Premier's new privatization plan is just going to make a bad situation worse. It's a plan that is deeply flawed and dangerous."

Cormack was particularly critical of Klein's comments on private, for-profit health care. In his address, Klein said his government will introduce legislation in the spring that will allow regional health authorities to hire private, for-profit health companies to provide core medical services. The Premier said the legislation will give RHAs more "choices" for dealing with problems like bed shortages and long waiting lists.

"The Premier talked about choices," says Cormack. "The problem is that he ignored the most obvious choice - and that's the option involving re-investment in the public system. As it stands right now, there are literally thousands and thousands of hospital beds sitting idle in public hospitals because of chronic under-funding. Why should taxpayers' money be spent on private hospitals when resources that already are in place in the public system are not being fully utilized?"

Cormack says that if Klein was really interested in reducing waiting lists he would open more hospital beds and hire more nurses, doctors and other medical staff. She also said she finds it hard to understand why the Alberta government would want to copy a public-private health care model that has failed so miserably in other countries.

"Ralph made it sound like he's the first politician on the planet to think of a health care model based on the idea of private delivery of public services," says Cormack. "The truth is that this model is not new. It has been tried before - and it has failed before."

The most recent example of a government experimenting with private delivery of public health services comes from Australia, says Cormack. In the Australian state of New South Wales, a conservative government contracted out a significant portion of it's health care services to private companies - only to discover that the private health companies cost more and delivered a substantially lower quality of care than the public sector.

Cormack says that the Premier's privatization plan is particularly dangerous because it will act as a "foot-in-the-door" for major health care corporations - especially large and aggressive private firms from the United States who will be guaranteed access under the terms of NAFTA.

"Anyone who believes that these large, profit-hungry corporations will be content with a small piece of the pie is being extremely naive," says Cormack. "That's the real danger of the Premier's new health care plan: it will allow private health care companies to establish deep roots in Alberta. Over time, they will chip away at foundations of Medicare. Eventually, our entire system of public health care will be undermined."

Cormack says that Premier Klein's address should be seen as a "call-to-arms" for all Canadians who believe in Medicare.

"On two separate occasions now, Medicare supporters have been able to beat back legislation designed to pave the way for private hospitals," says Cormack. "But this time Premier Klein is taking charge of the campaign himself. That means this is the final showdown. Albertans who believe in Medicare are going to have to speak out even more forcefully than ever. We simply cannot afford to let this government proceed with this privatization plan. It would be the beginning of the end for public health care in this province."

For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, President     @     499-6530(cell)/483-3022(wk)/428-9367(hm)

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Tories giving away oil and gas at "bargain basement prices," says AFL

Deep cuts to health care, education and other services would have not been necessary if Klein had been a better steward of Alberta's petroleum resources

EDMONTON - Premier Ralph Klein owes Albertans an explanation about why his government has failed to collect appropriate levels of royalties from the province's booming oil and gas sector, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the province could be collecting billions of dollars more each year in royalties, taxes and other fees - money that could be used to improve health care, education and other cash-strapped public services.

"Premier Klein likes to portray himself as a smooth operator and a tough bargainer," says Cormack. "But it looks like he's been a real push-over when it comes to negotiating royalty rates with big oil and gas companies. His government has been giving away our collectively-owned petroleum resources at bargain basement prices."

Cormack's comments were made in response to a study released yesterday by the Parkland Institute, a public policy think-tank at the University of Alberta. The study shows that the Klein government collects royalties at a much lower rate than other resource-rich jurisdictions and at a lower rate than previous Alberta governments.

"What this study shows is that deep budget cuts weren't the only option open to the government in the mid 90s," says Cormack. "It's clear now that the government's so-called debt problem could also have been solved with a more aggressive approach to the collection of resource revenues. If Albertans had known they were getting such a small return from their resources - especially when compared to the returns enjoyed by citizens living in other resource-rich jurisdictions - they probably would have been even more opposed to deep cuts to important public services like health care and education."

Cormack rejects the government's argument that low royalty rates are necessary to encourage new investment, especially in the oilsands. She points out that the government's royalty holidays are available to all tar sands projects, not just the new ones. She also dismisses the argument that lower royalties are justified by the higher costs of oilsands production. The Parkland study shows that - thanks to new technologies - the production costs are now lower in the oilsands than in conventional oil. The study also show that places like Norway and Alaska - where most of the oil is offshore - also faced higher production costs. Despite these higher costs, these jurisdictions still manage to collect significantly higher royalties than Alberta.

"It sounds like Klein and his ministers have been duped by the energy industry - they've bought the sales pitch hook line and sinker," says Cormack. "The truth is that the same companies that are involved in major oilsands projects here in Alberta - companies like Shell and Exxon - are also investing billions in Alaska and Norway. The governments in those jurisdictions have been much more aggressive in getting a bigger share of the pie for the public - but this has not driven away investment."

Cormack says the bottom line is that the Klein government has failed in its role as steward of Alberta's natural resources.

"The government is letting Albertans down," she says. "The Premier says Albertans will get their 'pound of flesh' when the new oilsands projects have been finished and paid for - maybe fifteen years from now. But it the meantime billions and billions of barrels of oil will be pumped out of the ground with very little return for the public. And once that oil is gone, it's gone for good. That means money that could have been used for health care, education and other services is also gone for good."

For more information call:

Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 499-6530(cell)/483-3021(wk)/428-9367(hm)

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Conrad Black out to break union, says AFL

The antics of the Calgary Herald this past weekend demonstrate that Southam newspaper magnate Conrad Black is not interested in finding a mutually-acceptable agreement, but out to bust the newly-certified unions, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"From the beginning, Conrad Black has made it clear he has no intention of accepting the democratic decision of his workers," says Audrey Cormack. "In classic southern-U.S. style, he is out to bust the union rather than negotiate a fair deal."

Cormack points to the lock-out of Herald employees this past Sunday as evidence that the Southam paper has no intentions of bargaining fairly. The workers were sent home two days before they were in a legal strike position. Southam has already begun using replacement workers.

"Conrad Black is not in the habit of giving his workers two days off with pay," observes Cormack. "Sending his workers home had one goal and one goal only. To clear the plant out so he can start bringing in replacement workers."

"In any other province, this act of provocation would have been met with severe penalties from the Labour Relations Board," adds Cormack. Cormack criticized the Alberta Labour Relations Board for its poor decision on the legality of the lock-out. "The Board decision flies in the face of common sense."

The Alberta Federation of Labour is throwing its support behind the striking workers, members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Graphic Communications International Union. These unions were recently certified and are attempting to negotiate their first agreement.

"This is a fight about the fundamental democratic right to join a union. These workers followed the rules and decided they wanted union representation. Southam has an obligation to respect that decision," Cormack concludes.

For further information, contact:

Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 499-6530(cell)/483-3021(wk)/428-9367(hm)

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Liberals must resist pressure from business and Reform Party to recklessly slash taxes

EDMONTON - Members of the federal government are allowing themselves to be unduly swayed by pressure from the Reform Party and other advocates of radical tax cuts - and ordinary Canadians will pay the price, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Finance Minister Paul Martin tells us that there needs to be a broad public debate among Canadians about what should be done with budgetary surpluses," says Cormack. "But based on his remarks yesterday, it appears that the debate is already over - and Preston Manning and the National Post won."

Cormack's comments were made in the wake of a speech delivered by Martin yesterday afternoon to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. In the speech, Martin promised that tax cuts would become one of the government's main priorities over the next few years. No promises were made about increased funding for Medicare or other important government services.

The speech was a great disappointment for advocates of public health care and supporters of other programs and services aimed at improving the lives of middle and low-income families, says Cormack. She also says the federal government is missing an important opportunity to fix damage to public services and infrastructure caused by years of brutal budget cuts.

"The foundations of important public programs like Medicare have been seriously weakened by years of under-funding," says Cormack. "Canadians want to see these programs protected and strengthened - but that's not going to happen unless the government makes a more substantial financial commitment."

Cormack says the country's biggest threat now comes not from debt or inflation, but from people in conservative business, media and political circles who are calling for deep tax cuts. Cormack says such cuts will rob the government of the revenue needed to properly fund public services.

"If the government wants to maintain the quality and accessibility of public services like Medicare then it is imperative that they resist pressure from the Preston Mannings and Conrad Blacks of the world," says Cormack. "Reckless and irresponsible tax cuts may help wealthy individuals and corporations pad their bank accounts - but, for the vast majority of Canadians, these kinds of cuts will do much more harm than good."

Instead of yielding to pressure from right-wing ideologues, Cormack says the federal Liberals should listen to the majority of working Canadians who want more attention paid to public programs and services. In particular, she says surplus funds should be used to shore up Medicare; to repair and expand the country's crumbling infrastructure; to increase access to UI benefits for the unemployed; and to finance new initiatives like a national daycare system and a nation-wide Pharmacare plan.

Reforms need to be made to Canada's tax system, Cormack admitted, but she says they should be aimed exclusively at low and middle-income earners - not high-flying CEOs and managers. An increase in the basic personal exemption; the introduction of more progressive tax brackets; or the full indexation of tax brackets to inflation are the only kinds of changes that could be justified, she says.

"Paul Martin and the federal Liberals are playing a dangerous game," concludes Cormack. "Reckless and poorly-planned tax cuts could spell the end for Medicare and other public programs that have helped define Canada as a nation. Let's just hope the Liberals come to their sense before they follow Preston Manning and Conrad Black off a cliff."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @483-3021(wk)/499-6530(cell)428-9367(hm)

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Cormack applauds federal pay equity settlement: urges Alberta to follow federal lead

EDMONTON - The federal government has finally acted in an appropriate manner in its pay equity dispute with its own employees, says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Cormack says the agreement announced today between the Public Service Alliance and the Treasury Board will finally provide some justice for the 200,000 current and former employees who have been consistently underpaid in the past.

"I applaud the Federal government for deciding to finally abide by the original Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision," says Cormack. "Any further judicial appeals against the decision would have been grossly unfair to these women  - and a total waste of taxpayers money."

However, it is the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) that deserves all of the credit for this victory for working people, according to Cormack. "The PSAC has been fighting this battle for the past fifteen years - and they deserve heartfelt thanks from working women, trade unionists and social justice advocates across Canada," says Cormack.

Women workers under federal jurisdiction in the private sector should now expect some action to address their pay inequities, according to Cormack. "Now that the federal government has finally set a standard, I believe that private sector employers under federal jurisdiction must act promptly to meet those same standards with their own employees," says Cormack.

The labour leader also believes that this settlement should convince the Alberta government to reconsider its opposition to pay equity.

"The Alberta government has consistently refused to address the inequity of its own pay structures," says Cormack. "But, they are now clearly lagging behind the mainstream of Canadian society in the area of women's pay. I urge them to take this settlement as a sign that it is time to correct their own unjust treatment of women workers - and to pass pay equity legislation that will create fairness for women working for other private and public employees in Alberta."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President:   780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-499-6530 (cell) / 780-428-9367 (hm)

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Cormack urges federal government to "stop dragging its feet on pay equity"

EDMONTON - The time has come for the federal government to stop dragging its feet on the issue of pay equity for public employees, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Cormack says a decision handed down this afternoon by the Federal Court reinforces the need for sweeping changes in the way the federal government pays its employees. It also underscores the need to compensate thousands of employees for years of discriminatory pay practices.

In a written judgement, Justice J. Evans of the Federal Court rejected a federal government appeal of a landmark pay-equity decision made last year by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

In July 1998, the Tribunal ruled that the federal government had, for years, been underpaying thousands of employees working in female-dominated job classifications. To remedy the situation, the Tribunal ordered the government to give 13 years of back pay to almost 200,000 current and former employees - most of whom are women.

"These women have waited long enough for fairness," said Cormack, pointing out that the complaint that started the whole debate on pay equity was originally filed with the Human Rights Tribunal in 1985. "Fourteen years is a long time. Now that the Federal Court has upheld the Tribunal's decision, the government should do the right thing and give these workers what they are owed."

Cormack acknowledged that the government could still appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. But she said further appeals would benefit no one.

"There is absolutely no doubt that the Human Rights Tribunal's decision was the right one - both morally and legally - so any appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court would simply be a further waste of taxpayers money," said Cormack. "With this in mind, we are calling on the federal government to procedure with the implementation of the Tribunal's decision without further delay. People like Prime Minister Chretien and Treasury Board President Lucienne Robillard should remember that old saying: 'justice delayed is justice denied.' In this case, we think that justice has already been denied for too long."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President:   780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-499-6530 (cell) / 780-428-9367 (hm)

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Is government set to drop "atom bomb" on provincial public service?

EDMONTON - The provincial government's recently announced plan to establish a so-called Corporate Services Centre and outsource certain administrative functions is much more serious than it appears at first blush, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the government is deliberately trying to downplay the significance of the privatization plan announced by Premier Klein yesterday - but she says it has the potential to act like an "atom bomb" dropped on the provincial public service.

"Based on the information we've been able to gather from conversations with government officials, it seems clear to us that this proposal involves much more than a small cosmetic change," says Cormack. "What they're talking about is privatizing a large portion of the day-to-day operations of all government departments. This has radical implications both in terms of jobs and the quality of public services."

According to government media statements, many of the so-called "transactional elements" of the government's day-to-day operations will be centralized in a new agency called the Alberta Corporate Services Centre. Once this has been done, many (and possibly most) of these services will be outsourced to the private sector, said government spokesperson Peter Tadman in a telephone conversation with the AFL. Tadman defined "transactional" services as all those services that don't involve policy-making or strategic planning.

"By Tadman's definition, more than 75 or 80 percent of the jobs in the provincial public service are transactional in nature," says Cormack. "That means that thousands of jobs could be effected. This could be the biggest privatization initiative that the Alberta government has ever embarked upon."

Premier Klein has said that the introduction of the Corporate Services Centre could reduce administration costs by up to 20 per cent, but Cormack wonders if that is the government's real motivation. She also says the government's deliberately vague media statements have left the public with more questions than answers.

"Is this really about saving money or are they simply attempting to use outsourcing as a way to get rid of pesky public sector unions?" asked Cormack. "How many jobs are going be affected? And where did the idea for these changes come from? This kind of initiative was never mentioned at the Growth Summit - and it's not something that Albertans have been lobbying for. The public deserve answers for these kind of questions."

Cormack scoffed at reassurances from Premier Klein that most of the affected employees would find new employment with private sector contractors.

"This is the Alberta government's favourite dirty trick," says Cormack. "First they privatize a service and then they hire all the original employees back to work for the private contractor. The workers are sitting in the same desk and doing the same job - but they are paid less and they loose their pensions and benefits. This is a shameful way to save money and it's a shameful way to treat employees - especially at a time when the government is recording huge surpluses."

Cormack says that Albertans should be concerned about any plan that involves funneling huge amounts of tax-payer dollars to for-profit corporations who are, by their very nature, unaccountable to the public.

"Ralph Klein and members of his government have spent a lot of time saying that they're no longer in the business of business. With this plan, it sounds like they're trying to get out of the business of government as well. They seem willing to hand the keys of government over to their unelected cronies in the private sector. It's a frightening prospect - and I think it's time for Albertans to say 'enough is enough'."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President     @ 483-3021 (wk) /499-6530 (cell) / 428-9367 (hm)


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AFL Reminds College of Physicians Of Its Duty to the Public Interest

The AFL is reminding the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons that it has an overarching responsibility to the public when considering proposed guidelines allowing overnight stays in health facilities.

The Council of the College is meeting on Friday to decide whether to implement guidelines for "long stay non-hospital surgical facilities" which would allow procedures requiring overnight stay to be performed in private, for-profit facilities.

"The College's primary duty is to ensure the public interest is protected in matters relating to doctors and health facilities," says Audrey Cormack, President of the AFL. "If they approve the proposed guidelines, it will permit private, for-profit hospitals in Alberta, which are clearly not in the public interest."

Cormack points out that time after time, the Alberta public has loudly proclaimed its opposition to private, for-profit hospitals. "Whether it be Bill 37, or College guidelines, Albertans have been clear - they don't want for-profit hospitals."

"I don't care what you call it, if it does overnight stays, it is a hospital," says Cormack. "Finding some bureaucratic title doesn't change its functions."

"The future of Medicare is an inherently political matter and the College should not be meddling in politics," adds Cormack.

Cormack also takes aim at the Health Minister for trying to blame opponents of Bill 37 for the situation. "If the minister is so concerned about Medicare, why doesn't he just pass a law banning private, for-profit hospitals? That would solve the problem in one stroke."

Cormack states that the Minister is trying to get the College to do his dirty work. "The College shouldn't be bullied by the Health Minister into making a bad decision. Instead they should be listening to the concerns of Albertans," adds Cormack.

The legislation governing the College stipulates that as a body it must protect the public interest when fulfilling its mandate. Allowing private, for-profit hospitals undermines the fabric of Medicare and establishes a path toward two-tier health care. International studies have demonstrated that two-tier health care and private, for-profit hospitals provide less adequate care for the majority of the population.

"Friday's decision is not about boring technical guidelines. It is fundamentally about whether our health system is here to benefit the public interest or just the interest of a private few with connections and capital." Cormack concluded.

For more information call:

Audery Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)

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Latest minimum wage increase offers little cause for celebration

EDMONTON - Starting October 1, Albertans earning the minimum wage will see a slight boost in their earnings - but the increase offers little cause for real celebration, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

"Alberta may no longer have the lowest minimum wage in the country," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "But it's still not nearly enough to make ends meet. The sad truth is that our minimum wage is still a poverty wage."

Alberta's minimum wage has been increased in three stage over the past year - from $5.00 to $5.40 per hour on October 1, 1998; from $5.40 to $5.65 on April 1, 1999; and finally from $5.65 to $5.90 on October 1, 1999.

As a result of the changes, Alberta has moved ahead of the four Maritime Provinces in terms of provincial minimum wage levels. But Alberta still lags far behind B.C., Quebec and Ontario where the minimum wages are $7.15, $6.90 and $6.85 respectively.

Cormack points out that Alberta's new minimum wage is still not high enough to keep low-wage workers out of poverty. According to Statistics Canada, an individual living in Edmonton or Calgary would have to earn about $17,500 per year in order to live above the poverty line.

"Even with the latest increase, minimum wage earners working full-time and year round would only earn about 70 per cent of the amount necessary to stay out of poverty," says Cormack. "There is something seriously wrong with this picture. The minimum wage should be high enough to allow people to live with dignity."

Another major problem with the Klein government's approach to the minimum wage is that they have failed to put in place any mechanisms to adjust the wage for inflation, says Cormack.

She points out that between 1977 and 1997; the real value of Alberta's minimum wage dropped by more than 40 per cent. This was the direct result of the government's refusal to introduce regular increases that compensated for inflation, she says.

"One time increases to the minimum wage will not solve the problem," says Cormack. "What we really need is a system that makes regular adjustments for inflation. This is crucial because a wage that keeps people out of poverty today may not be enough to keep them out of poverty in the future. If the government doesn't recognize this problem and institute some kind of system for regular adjustments, then we're going to be right back where we started five or ten years from now."

For more information call:

Audery Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)

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