Massive budget surplus proves deep cuts were unnecessary

EDMONTON - News that the Alberta government is sitting on yet another massive budget surplus proves that Premier Ralph Klein and members of the ruling Conservative party greatly exaggerated the extent of the Alberta's "debt crisis," says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"During the elections of 1993 and 1997, the Tories whipped up fears that Alberta was about to hit a so-called debt wall. They used these fears to sell voters on a radical plan of budget cuts and public-sector down-sizing," says Audrey Cormack.

"But within one year of taking power, the Klein government was recording multi-million-dollar surpluses. In fact, if the surplus tops $1 billion this year as expected, the cumulative surplus for the past five years will be more than $8.3 billion. What this tells me is that the government could have balanced its books and paid off substantial portions of the province's debt without resorting to such deep cuts in areas like health care, education and municipal services."

Cormack says Albertans are still reeling from the massive and poorly planned cuts imposed by the Tories between 1993 and 1997 - and she firmly rejects the argument that the cuts were necessary to balance the books.

"If you look at the numbers, it's clear that cuts in government services played only a secondary role in building the surplus. The lion's share of the government's current wealth has come from increased resource royalties and increased tax revenue generated by the growing economy," says Cormack. "Premier Klein and Stockwell Day like to take all the credit, but the truth is that, to a large extent, the deficits of the early 90s and the surpluses of recent years were both a product of the business cycle. As a result, the deficit would have disappeared even if nothing had been done to reduce spending levels."

Cormack say the big danger now is that the government will use the huge surplus as an excuse to move ahead even more quickly with its plans for sweeping tax cuts - contrary to the wishes of most Albertans and even many people in the business community.

"Albertans want the surplus spent on things like education, health care and fixing our crumbling infrastructure," she says. "That message has come across loud and clear in opinion polls and in public forums like the Growth Summit. Even business leaders have agreed that re-investment in people, services and infrastructure should be a higher priority than tax cuts."

Cormack says the government's plan for a flat provincial income tax is particularly dangerous. She says it would provide disproportionate advantages to the wealthy and rob the government of billions of dollars in revenue it needs to fund core public services.

The flat tax plan is so obviously flawed, that it was almost unanimously p anned by business, municipal and labour leaders attending last Fall's Alberta Congress Board conference, she adds.

"Alberta is clearly still a wealthy province," says Cormack. "But the government seems intent on using its huge surpluses as an excuse to keep our public services impoverished. What Alberta needs is more investment in core services like education and health care - not tax cuts that benefit the wealthy."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President:  (780) 483-3021(work)
(780) 499-6530 (cell)
(780) 428-9367(home)

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LRB decision proves that Alberta labour laws are seriously flawed

EDMONTON - The decision to prohibit Alberta nurses from holding a vote on the latest contract offer from their employers proves that Alberta's labour laws are seriously flawed, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"There is something seriously wrong with a law that makes criminals out of people who are simply trying to defend their rights in the workplace," says Audrey Cormack, president of Alberta's largest union organization.

"Nurses and other health care workers in this province have been pushed to the brink by budget cuts and under-staffing. Now they face the prospect of being branded as criminals for having the audacity to fight for a better health care system. What's really criminal here is the way the nurses are being treated by the regional health authorities and the provincial government."

Cormack says Alberta's labour laws impose more restrictions on the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively than any other province.

"In a democracy, workers should not be forced to work against their will by threats of violence, fines or imprisonment," she says. "But that's exactly what's happening in this case and in the case of all other public sector workers who are denied the right to strike. They are being denied a fundamental democratic freedom."

Cormack says the health authorities and the provincial government are using Alberta's labour law to avoid addressing the serious issues that nurses have brought to the table - like concerns over under-staffing, declining morale and inadequate compensation.

"The experience of the 1988 nurses strike proves that you can't find solutions by imposing injunctions and levying fines," says Cormack. "This kind of unnecessarily aggressive approach to bargaining won't stop a strike and it certainly won't do anything to address the crisis in our health care system."

In the short term, Cormack says the solution to the problem lies with the provincial government. She says more money has to be given to the regional health authorities so they can hire more nurses and increase their compensation. In the long term, Cormack says something has to be done with Alberta's labour laws.

"The labour laws in this province are backward and punitive. Far too many workers are being denied the right to strike - which is a fundamental democratic right recognized by the United Nations. Our leaders are going to have to acknowledge that criminalizing strike activity does nothing to solve problems in the workplace."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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Concerns of working people ignored in reorganization scheme

EDMONTON - Working people in Alberta are being short-changed by a plan announced earlier today to re-organize government departments, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Audrey Cormack says Premier Klein's plan to establish a new Human Resources and Employment department is "a slap in the face for working people."

"The Premier can go on as much as he likes about stream-lining government and preparing Albertans for the new millennium," says Cormack. "But the bottom line is that the concerns of working people are going to get lost in the shuffle within this new super-department."

According to the plan unveiled by Klein this afternoon, the new Human Resources and Employment department will take responsibility for issues previously handled by the Labour department, the Family and Social Services Department and the Career Development branch of the Economic Development department.

Cormack says the new "super department" will put labour programs in the awkward position of having to compete for resources with programs from the family and social services side of the department.

"There are more than one and half million Albertans who work for a living," says Cormack. "Workplace issues like health and safety and the administration of the Labour Code and the Employment Standards Code are so important that they clearly deserve to be handled in their own separate department."

Cormack says the only rationale given by the Premier to justify the re-organization is that it meshes with the government's promises about putting a higher priority on education and training. But Cormack says there is a lot more to labour issues than training.

"We in the labour movement support efforts to improve training for Albertans - in fact, we've been urging the government to invest more in education and apprenticeships for years," says Cormack.

"But the labour department isn't just about preparing people for work. It's also about promoting health and safety. It's about making sure workers know their rights. It's about protecting those rights in the workplace. And it's about making sure employers know and uphold the law. We're afraid that these issues are not going to get the attention they deserve in the new department."

For more information call:

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

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AFL expresses concern about new Human Resources minister

EDMONTON - The president of Alberta's largest workers' organization has some serious concerns about the man who has been appointed minister of the new Human Resources and Employment department.

AFL president Audrey Cormack says a number of "red flags" were raised when she reviewed Clint Dunford's record as an MLA and former Minister of Advanced Education.

"As the new Human Resources minister, Mr. Dunford is now responsible for upholding the rights and interests of Albertans in the workplace," says Cormack. "But based on his track record, I'm not entirely sure that he's the best person for the job."

Cormack says her concerns are based on a number of controversial statements and policy positions taken by Dunford over the past few years. Cormack's list of concerns include the following:

  • In November 1997, Dunford said he would like to see the government abolish the minimum wage. He was quoted as saying that wages should be established by the market with no government-guaranteed minimum. "Eventually, labour is going to find its own level based on supply and demand," he told a reporter from the Edmonton Journal.
  • In an in-depth interview on the Alberta economy published in the Edmonton Journal in January 1998, Dunford suggested that too many working people take advantage of good economic times to bid up their wages and benefits. Ignoring his earlier arguments about letting the market decide wages, he heaped scorn on workers who capitalize on market conditions to improve their income.
  • In April 1998, Dunford was one of several cabinet ministers who supported a plan to raise salaries for deputy ministers and other top provincial bureaucrats by up to $38,000 per year. Dunford's support for huge salary increases for senior bureaucrats came at the same time that the government was negotiating much more meager wage increases with rank-and-file public sector workers.
  • Throughout his tenure as Advanced Education minister, Dunford allowed tuition fees to rise dramatically at universities, colleges and technical schools throughout the province. As recently as this winter, he was quoted as saying that tuition increases are inevitable.

"I am deeply troubled by some of the positions that Mr. Dunford has taken over the years," says Cormack. "How can workers be confident that their interests are being taken care of by a minister who says the minimum wage should be abolished and that workers should not be allowed to share in the success of their employers during good economic times?"

Despite her concerns about Dunford's controversial remarks and policy positions, Cormack says she is willing to work with the new minister in order to protect the interests and uphold the rights of working Albertans.

"Our big concern is that workplace issues like health and safety and the enforcement of the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Code are going to get lost in the shuffle now that the Labour department has basically been merged with the Family and Social Services department," says Cormack. "We will be watching the new minister and reminding him of the importance of these functions. And we will work with him to make sure that the rights of Albertans in the workplace are not ignored."

For more information call:

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

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Day of Mourning Commemorates Workers Killed At Work

On Wednesday, April 28, Alberta workers will be marking the 4th International Day of Mourning in their worksites and at special ceremonies.

The Alberta Federation of Labour, in conjunction with the Edmonton and District Labour Council and the Alberta Building Trades Council, are organizing a ceremony to mark the day:

Wednesday, April 28 - 7:00 pm at City Hall

The event mixes cultural performances with speakers and a candle lighting to commemorate Day of Mourning. Strong visual images make up an important piece of the ceremony. A representative of the City will read out the official proclamation.

"Around the world, a worker is killed every 30 seconds," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "Here in Alberta, we lose two workers every week to workplace accidents or occupational disease. And that is just the official statistics. The real numbers are likely much higher."

"Even a single death is not tolerable in this day and age," says Cormack. "We need to make the public aware of the scourge of work-related death so we can work together to wipe it out." Raising the profile of the issue is why the International Day of Mourning was created. Across Alberta, tens of thousands of workers will be marking the day at their local worksite. Many workplaces will respect a minute of silence. Others will wear black armbands, or hold a short lunch hour event, or fly flags at half-mast.

"Interest in Day of Mourning is growing," says Cormack. "More Alberta workers are participating this year than ever before." Day of Mourning actually began in Canada, first proclaimed by Parliament in 1986. It became the International Day of Mourning in 1996 and is now commemorated in over 70 countries worldwide.

"This day is as much about a commitment to safer workplaces as it is about remembering those who were killed. We want this day to remind everyone of the need for safe workplaces." Cormack concludes.

For further information contact:

Audrey Cormack, President         @     499-6530 (cell)
Jason Foster, Executive Director  @    483-3021 (work)

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AFL Announces New Environment Policy for 21st Century

To mark this year's Earth Day, the Alberta Federation of Labour is announcing a new Environment Policy for Alberta's labour movement. The policy is intended to guide unions in making decisions about Alberta's environment.

The policy was ratified at the AFL's biennial convention in Calgary last week. The policy paper passed with resounding support from delegates.

"The labour movement is looking forward. We know that environmental change must happen, and we need to be a constructive part of the discussion," says Audrey Cormack, AFL President.

The policy outlines a distinctly labour perspective on environmental issues. "We must end the false jobs vs. environment debate and turn it into a jobs and environment discussion," says Cormack.

Among other initiatives, the policy paper calls for a new type of decision-making process for environmental issues, one that includes government, business and labour working as equals. The key, says the policy, is to look at the long term and make decisions well in advance of economic change.

"Working people pay the highest price when the wrong decisions are made. We pay with our jobs and with the environment in our communities," highlights Cormack. "We need to be a part of the decisions that get made to ensure we can create a healthy environment and good jobs."

Over the years, the AFL has done its part in promoting environmental awareness and encouraging members to become more environmentally sensitive in their activities. It will become even more active in the future to ensure the voice of working people is heard.

Other highlights from the policy include calling for a "just transition" fund to help workers displaced by environmental change and demanding increased government enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. It also calls on the AFL to encourage unions to "bargain for the environment".

"The message for Albertans is clear. All of us have to take a leadership role in protecting the environment. The labour movement has heard the message," concludes Cormack.

For more information call:

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

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AFL wraps up successful convention

CALGARY - Unions in Alberta are prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century, said Audrey Cormack president of the Alberta Federation of Labour as the AFL wrapped up its biennial convention in Calgary today.

"In the dog-eat-dog global economy of the next century, workers here in Alberta and around the world are going to need unions more than ever," said Cormack.

"Protecting the interests of working people from attacks by conservative governments and unscrupulous business people has never been easy. But based on the energy and commitment that was demonstrated at our convention this week, I'm convinced that unions in Alberta are up to the challenge."

More than 350 union members representing dozens of unions from across the province attended the AFL convention - which is the last of the 20th century.

Over the course of the four-day gathering, convention delegates dealt with a wide range of issues - everything from workplace health and safety to funding for schools and from basic worker rights to privatization in the health care system.

Among other things, the AFL committed itself to continue its fight against government cutbacks and the spread of private, for-profit hospitals. Delegates also pledged to support workers currently on strike against Dynamic Furniture in Calgary; Georgia Pacific in Edmonton; and Bell Canada in Ontario and Quebec.

Delegates also passed a strongly worded resolution condemning the Saskatchewan government for attempting to legislate striking nurses back to work.

The convention concluded this afternoon with elections in which Cormack and AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel were each acclaimed for another term. Delegates also debated and passed a statement of workers� rights and principles.

"The Alberta labour movement is strong and united," said Cormack. "We are ready, willing and able to do what we do best - and that's to fight for the interests of working people."

For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, AFL President:    (780) 499-6530 (cell)
 Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:   (780) 910-1137 (cell)

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AFL Convention Wraps up Tomorrow

CALGARY - The biennial convention of the Alberta Federation of Labour wraps up in Calgary tomorrow afternoon.

Elections for Executive Officers and members of the AFL Executive Council will take place at 11:00 a.m. Closing ceremonies will begin at 12:30 p.m. and the convention will adjourn at 1:00 p.m.

The AFL convention is being held at the Calgary Westin Hotel, located at 320 - 4th Avenue, SW in Calgary.

Reporters are asked to register at the convention office. No one will be allowed on the convention floor without proper credentials.

For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, AFL President:    (780) 499-6530 (cell)

 Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:   (780) 910-1137

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Convention Delegates join picket line outside Dynamic Furniture

CALGARY - Hundreds of delegates attending the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention in Calgary will be joining striking workers on the picket line outside Dynamic Furniture (5300 - 6th Avenue, SE) today at 4:00 p.m.

Workers at Dynamic Furniture have been on strike for nearly a year in an effort to win a first contract. "These workers have been terribly mistreated by their employer," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "We felt it was important to show support for them in their struggle."

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:    (780) 499-6530 (cell)

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:   (780) 910-1137 (cell)

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Delegates to explore the role of unions in protecting Medicare

CALGARY - The Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention continues in Calgary tomorrow.

Highlights from the convention agenda for Saturday, April 18 include the following:

  • A panel of labour leaders will discuss the role that workers and unions can play in protecting Canada's system of public health care. The panel will be made up of: Dianne Wyntjes, Alberta Director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); Pauline Worsfold, Vice President of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA); Kathleen Connor, President of the National Federation of Nurses Unions (NFNU), and Dianne Mair, Provincial Executive Board Member of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). The panel discussion will start at 10:00 a.m. and continue until 11:15 a.m.
  • Barbara Sarria Aparicio, Secretary Treasurer of the Cuban national communications union, will discussion the concerns of workers in Latin America. Ms. Aparicio will address the convention at 2:45 p.m.

The AFL convention is being held at the Calgary Westin Hotel, which is located at 320-4th Ave. S.W. in Calgary.

All speeches and presentations will be made in the hotel's main ballroom unless otherwise stated. Reporters are asked to report to the convention registration office before preceding to the hall. No one will be allowed on the convention floor without the proper credentials.

For more information call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:  (403) 508-5129 (office) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)

Audrey Cormack, AFL President:   (780) 499-6530 (cell)


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