Unions make plans to fight racism and discrimination

EDMONTON - A group of union leaders and activists from across Alberta with gather in Edmonton tomorrow to discuss strategies for combating racism, harassment and discrimination in the workplace and in the broader community.
The meeting is being held this weekend in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism - which falls each year on March 21st. On March 21, 1960, South African police fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville Township, killing sixty-nine people.

Since that time, the anniversary of the "Sharpeville Massacre" has become a rallying point for people involved in the struggle against racism - it's a time to remember all the suffering that has been caused by racism and to celebrate successes in the battle for racial tolerance.

At the AFL meeting, members of the federation's Workers of Colour and Aboriginal Workers caucus will discuss the role that unions can play in the battle against racism. In particular, participants will report on the progress made towards implementing recommendations from a conference on racism and human rights sponsored by the AFL last fall.

"We've come a long way since Sharpeville," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "But, unfortunately, racism and intolerance are still big problems, around the world and right here in Alberta. Just this month many Albertans were shocked when Conservative MLA Ivan Strang told New Democrat Raj Pannu to "go back to India."  "This was a clear example of the scope of the problem. That's why we are doing our part to foster tolerance in offices, shops and factories around the province."

Cormack says tomorrow's meeting will be an opportunity for activists to build on the steps that have already been taken by unions to educate their members about the damage caused by intolerance.

"The labour movement is taking the problems of racism and discrimination very seriously," says Cormack. "We see this meeting as just one more step in our continuing campaign to eradicte intolerance and promote a more welcoming environment at work, in our communities and within our unions. We are hopeful that the discussion we have this weekend will lay the groundwork for constructive change."
Members of the AFL Workers of Colour and Aboriginal Workers Caucus will be meeting in closed sessions from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, March 20. Participants in the meeting will be available to answer questions from the media between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. The meeting will be held in Rm 112 of the AUPE Building (10451-170 Street). Cormack can be reached for comment by phone.

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President:  483-302 (work) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)

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"Order Government Negotiators Back To Work" AFL Tells Prime Minister

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour urges him to order federal government negotiators back to the table with a "substantially more reasonable offer" for striking PSAC workers. Escalation of strike action by government employees prompted the AFL President to place pressure on the government.

"The government needs to make a move," says Audrey Cormack. "Federal employees have faced a decade of lay-offs and deficit-cutting. They have gone nine years without a pay increase."

"The government's excuses have evaporated with the deficit. The time has come to reward federal employees for their sacrifices."

Over 1,200 federal workers in Alberta, all members of PSAC, are escalating strike action around the province. Talks have broken down, despite efforts from union officials to keep them going. Picket lines are now up 24 hours a day in front of Canada Place in Edmonton. Prison workers are also expected to escalate their walk out in the next few days.
Cormack's letter hopes to be the first blast in that wake up call. "The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible and has the power to order his negotiators back to the table with a better offer."

"So far all he has ordered is more pepper spray," adds Cormack in reference to the pepper spraying of PSAC strikers last week in Ottawa.

Cormack also points out a glaring double standard in federal government employee relations.

"Senior managers recently received a 30% pay increase for their trouble. However, the men and women who actually do the work have to fight for pennies," notes Cormack. "It is an insult."

Because of the lack of wage increases, federal workers have fallen far behind their private sector counterparts. For example, a pipefitter working for the federal government now makes $8 to $10 an hour less than a private sector pipefitter. There are also gross discrepancies in wages from region to region.

"This is a strike about equity. Equity across regions. Equity across gender. Equity across sectors," adds Cormack. I think that is a fight worth supporting."

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AFL president available for comment after budget address

EDMONTON - Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, will be available to answer questions from reporters immediately following tomorrow's provincial budget address.

Provincial Treasurer Stockwell Day is scheduled to deliver the address starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 11. After the speech has been read, Cormack will meet with reporters in the Legislature's rotunda.

"This is an important budget and we're very interested in hearing what Mr. Day has to say," says Cormack. "Obviously health care is the first thing on everybody's minds. But we in the labour movement also have some strong feelings about other issues - like taxation and funding for education and infrastructure."

Reporters interested in talking with Cormack before the budget address or after she has left the Legislature should contact the AFL communications department to make arrangements.

For more information call:

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

Gil McGowan, Communications:  483-3021 (work)

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Women Still Marching Towards Equality into the New Millennium

EDMONTON - As women go marching on International Women's Day in 1999, the Alberta Federation of Labour will be joining them and reflecting on their progress over the past Century and the challenges they continue to face well into the next Century and the new millennium.

"Looking back over the past 100 years, women have made many gains.  But they did not come easy," said Audrey Cormack, AFL President "At the turn of the 20th Century, women in the industrially developing countries were entering paid employment in the textile, manufacturing and domestic service sectors.  However, their working conditions were horrid and their wages unacceptably low.  Women didn't have the right to vote and their call for "bread and roses" were virtually ignored.  It wasn't until they gathered collectively that their voices were heard.  And it was that collective voice that moved many women workers into unions," said Cormack.

Today, one in three Canadian working women belongs to a union, and the benefits to these women are considerable.  They earn 33% more than non-union women workers, they have more job protection, better health and dental benefits, pensions, paid maternity leave, sick leave, parental leave, flexible work time, workplace child care, and access to same-sex benefits to mention a few.  Gains won by the unionized workforce have also benefited women outside the union sector.

"However, in recent years, governments' drive toward privatization has resulted in cuts to well-paid employment for women.  The social services, health and education sectors were hardest hit resulting in mass layoffs for workers, most of whom were unionized women," said Cormack.

"The impact of privatization in the health sector alone weighs heavily on the shoulders of Canadian women who are the majority of those employed in those sectors, those who are the recipients of services and those providing care at home.  The outcome of privatization has left women bearing the responsibility of providing volunteer work in the community and unpaid care for those released early from hospitals," said Cormack.

"While there has been an increase in employment in the service sector, those benefiting from new jobs are faced with part-time, temporary or casual work with low wages and no benefits.  And this trend makes it difficult to organize these workers into unions, although not impossible," said Cormack, citing a recent victory in the unionization of McDonalds's employees in British Columbia, many of whom were young women.

"These trends, however, will not stop women from moving forward.  They will not be so easily relocated from the workplace back into the kitchen, nor will they be easily silenced.  It only gives them more reason to come together to talk, to share and to strategize," said Cormack, pointing to the World March for Women 2000.

Born out of two Canadian expereinces, the World March for Women 2000 will begin on March 8, 2000 and continue through to October 17, 2000 with actions taking place throughout the world.

Those experiences came out of the 1995 Women's March Against Poverty in Quebec, organized by the Federation des femmes de Quebec and the National Women's March Against Poverty in 1996 organized by the Canadian Labour Congress and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.  Many of the demands that women made in Quebec were achieved.  However, there is still much to be done in Canada and the rest of the world.

"The World March for Women 2000 will provide women with the opportunity to let the decision-makers of the world know that they will not back down and take less; that the road to equality begins with the recognition that women be active participants in the democratic, social and political process."

"The Alberta Federation of Labour has signed on as a participatory group to the World March and will be joining other organizations in Alberta in the next year to plan actions in this province, in Canada, and internationally.  We look forward to participating in this world-wide event and the challenges ahead," concluded Cormack.

For more information call:

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


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Union leaders join CBC workers on picket line

EDMONTON - Members of the Alberta Federation of Labour's Executive Council will join the picket line outside the CBC television building this afternoon to show support for striking technical, design and maintenance workers.

The AFL Council - which is meeting in Edmonton today and tomorrow - is composed of leaders representing unionized workers in both the public and private sectors. AFL president Audrey Cormack says the Council will be joining the picket line to demonstrate solidarity with the striking workers and to send a message to CBC management.

"These workers have been without a collective agreement since last June," says Cormack. "We think the time has definitely come for the employer to come back to the table and bargain in good faith. We also think managers should abandon any plans they might have regarding privatization. It just not something that Canadians want for their national broadcaster."


What:  AFL Executive Joins CBC Picket line
When:  4:30 p.m., Thursday, February 18, 1999
Where:  CBC-TV Building, 8861-75 Street, Edmonton

About 2,000 CBC workers - all members of the Communications, Energy, Workers union (CEP) - initiated legal strike action yesterday to back up demands for better wages and improved job security. Under the expired collective agreement, CBC technicians were making up to 30 per cent less than their counterparts in the private sector. Here in Edmonton, CBC technical staffers make about 15 per cent less than technicians working for CFRN, a privately owned television station.

Spokespeople for the union say that privatization is also a major issue in the dispute. They fear that CBC management has been dragging its heels in negotiations as part of a plan to privatize significant portions of the public broadcaster.

For more information call:

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

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Labour Leader Available to Comment on Throne Speech, Federal Budget

Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) will be available to comment on today's Speech from the Throne and to offer an Alberta perspective on the Federal Budget.

Immediately following the Throne Speech, Cormack will be present at the Legislature Rotunda. She will also be available by phone at 499-6530 (cell).

For further information contact:

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

Jason Foster, Executive Director  483-3021 (wk)

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Labour Minister Betrays Selection Committee

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) accused the Minister of Labour today of misleading the public in his announcement of the Labour Relations Board (LRB) appointments.

In his announcement yesterday of 17 appointments to the LRB, the Minister suggested that a selection committee brought names forward for nomination. However, one of the appointments did not come from the committee and was added later by the Minister himself.

From outside the committee list, the Minister appointed a very controversial figure, Mr. Stephen Kushner. Kushner is a central figure in the "Merit Shop" group of construction companies, who were set up in the 1980s specifically to avoid unionized workers of the construction industry.

"Stephen Kushner is wholly unfit to serve on the Labour Relations Board. He is utterly unacceptable to the labour movement," says Audrey Cormack, President of the AFL and member of the selection committee. "His bias is well-known and so deeply entrenched that it raises serious questions about his ability to serve in good faith on a bi-partite Board."

"Had Stephen Kushner's name come forward as a recommendation, I would have removed myself from the committee in protest," adds Cormack. "The Minister has misled Albertans about who put his name forward."

The LRB hears matters related to unionized workplaces and the collective bargaining process. "Someone with such an anti-union reputation should not be in a position of making decisions about unionized workplaces," says Cormack.

In his release, the Minister crowed that "for the first time in our history, appointments to the LRB have been made after a public competitive process". The release states that a selection committee made up of labour, business and government representatives "reviewed applications, conducted interviews and made recommendations to the Minister of Labour". Mr. Kushner was not recommended from this process.

Until this year, employers and labour provided names to the government to serve as their representatives on the Board. The new selection committee ended this tradition.

"I consider the Minister's actions a betrayal of the process and a blatant attempt to antagonize workers in Alberta," Cormack expresses. "He is attempting to legitimize Kushner's appointment by falsely hiding behind a supposedly open, transparent selection process."

"Kushner was never considered seriously or for any length of time by the committee," adds Cormack. "His obvious and historical bias made him an unacceptable candidate."

Cormack demands that the Minister rescind Stephen Kushner's appointment and select another employer representative from the list of committee recommendations.

For further information, contact:

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


Gil McGowan, AFL Communications Director 483-3021 (wk)

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Social Union marks "the beginning of the end," says AFL

EDMONTON - The so-called Social Union agreement that was signed yesterday by the Prime Minister and nine provincial premiers could mark the beginning of the end of Canada as we know it, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"The implications of this deal are profound and entirely negative," says Cormack. "Far from bringing this country together, it will almost certainly drive the provinces apart. It will also weaken national social programs like Medicare, which have made Canada the envy of the world."

Cormack says she has three major objections to the Social Union deal. First, she's opposed to the new approach that will be taken towards establishing national social programs.

Under the deal, the federal government will not be able to proceed with any major new cost-shared initiatives without the approval of a majority of provinces. Cormack believes this provision will make it virtually impossible to implement new national programs.

"Our premiers have a hard time agreeing on anything - so this is a recipe for inaction and gridlock," she says. "If rules like this were in place during the 1960s, the federal government would never have been able to introduce Medicare - because too many provincial governments were opposed. By signing this agreement, the federal government has basically erased all hope that we'll every have any new Canada-wide programs, like a Pharmacare plan or a national child care program. And that's a real shame."

Cormack says she is also opposed to the Social Union agreement because it strips the federal government of the power to enforce national standards in areas like health care. Under the deal, the federal government has given up its right to withhold transfer payments from provinces that violate federal law or regulations, like the Canada Health Act. Instead, disputes over jurisdiction and the proper administration of programs will be settled through a yet-to-be-defined mediation process.

"This provision is particularly significant for Albertans,"says Cormack. "It means that the Alberta government will now have more freedom to experiment with things like private, for-profit health care. The federal government will no longer be able to step in and unilaterally enforce the Canada Health Act. As a result, Albertans should brace themselves for more user fees, more contracting out and more private, for-profit health services."

The final reason Cormack is opposed to the Social Union deal has to do with the way it was negotiated. She says it's another example of politicians making important decisions without consulting the public.

"This is an agreement that has profound implications for the future of Canada - yet Canadians were never consulted," she says. "At least with the Charlottetown Accord, Canadians were given a chance to vote on the final product. This time around citizens have been entirely shut out."

Aside from her objections to the agreement itself, Cormack says the Social Union deal is a failure because it was not endorsed by the government of Quebec.

"This is the biggest irony of the whole process," she says. "One of the reasons the federal and provincial governments started negotiating the Social Union in the first place was to address some of Quebec's long-standing concerns. But Quebec is still on the outside looking in. All the old division between Quebec and the other provinces are still in place - so much for strengthening the Canadian union."

Cormack says she is calling on all Canadians to contact their elected officials in order to express opposition to the Social Union agreement.

"The bottom line is that this is a bad deal. It weakens the federal government and puts the future of Medicare in the hands of privatizers like Ralph Klein and Mike Harris. Canadians should see this agreement for what it is - and they should oppose it."

For more information call:

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

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Albertans pay a heavy price for UI

EDMONTON - Thousands of unemployed Albertans have been left without adequate means of support and hundreds of millions of dollars have been drained away from the Alberta economy - all as the result of radical changes made to the Unemployment Insurance system over the past ten years.

Those are just two of the findings contained in a study released earlier today by the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa. The study uses Statistics Canada data to paint a picture of the disturbing impact that changes to the UI system are having on individuals, communities and businesses across the country.

"All of us in the labour movement have been saying for years that the federal government has made bad decisions in the area of UI policy - particularly when they imposed brutal changes to the rules for UI eligibility in 1996," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "Now this study proves our point. Canadian workers and Canadian communities are paying a heavy price as a result of the so-called reforms."

On the national level, the CLC study shows that the changes to UI rules have dramatically reduced the support available for jobless workers. In 1997, only 36 percent of unemployed Canadians qualified for UI benefits - down from 74 percent in 1989.

The situation is even more serious in Alberta, where the percentage of unemployed workers receiving benefits dropped from 60 percent in 1989 to 27 percent in 1997. According to the CLC study, only Ontario has a lower eligibility rate (25 percent in 1997).

"The attack on working people started with the Mulroney government and has intensified under the Liberals," says Cormack. "Both governments made it more difficult for workers - especially women and young people - to qualify for the benefits they deserve. The result is that the UI system is no longer there for Canadians when they need it."

But unemployed Canadians aren't the only ones who have been hurt by the changes to the UI system, adds Cormack. She says the cuts to UI pay-outs have also caused a lot of pain for communities and businesses across the country.

The CLC study shows that an average of $660 million dollars has been drained away from the Alberta economy each year since 1993 as a result of the UI cuts - for a total of more than $3.3 billion. Between 1993 and 1997, most federal ridings in the province have lost at least $100 million - some as much as $200 million.

For example, the federal riding of Calgary Centre lost an average of $41.6 million a year in UI benefits between 1993 and 1997 - for a total of $208 million. About $39.4 million was lost from the local economy in Edmonton East during the same period - for a total of $197 million.

"We're not talking about faceless numbers here," says Cormack. "Every dollar that has been withdrawn from the UI system represents a dollar taken out of the pockets of unemployed Canadians. It's one less dollar they have to spend on their rent or providing for their families. It's also one less dollar to be spent at the corner grocery store or at the local mall. The personal and economic costs of the UI cuts have been truly staggering."

Cormack says the most tragic part of this story is that the UI cuts imposed by the Mulroney and Chretien governments were entirely unnecessary. Even during the darkest days of the last recession, the UI fund was not over-extended and there was no evidence of wide-spread abuse of the system.

To add insult to injury, Canadian workers are still paying roughly the same amount in UI premiums as they did earlier in the decade - even though it's much more difficult to collect benefits. The result is that a huge surplus has developed in the UI fund - more than $20 billion over the past five years.

Cormack says the time has come for the federal government to reassess its policies and use the UI fund for the purpose it was intended - to support unemployed workers, not as a slush fund to finance other government expenditures.

"It's clear now that the so-called UI "reforms" of the past ten years have been a disaster for workers, communities and business," says Cormack. "The time has come for the federal government to admit they made a serious mistake. The time has come for them to them to put the surplus dollars back into the UI system. The surplus should be used to restore the system - to make UI more accessible and more generous. Right now, too many people are being left out in the cold - and that's a situation that has to change."

For more information call:

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


Gil McGowan, AFL Communications:     483-3021 (wk)

*Note:  2-page backgrounder attached

AFL -- UI Backgrounder

Number of Regular UI Beneficiaries - Monthly Average (in thousands)

  1989   1990   1991   1992 1993   1994  1995  1996  1997 Decline from 1989  
 Canada   785  855  1,024   1,006   931 773   634   607  508    35%
 Alberta   59.2   56.2   67.3   69.3   63.4   52.7   43.9   38.1  25.5   57%

             Percentage of Unemployed Receiving UI

  1989   1990   1991   1992 1993   1994  1995  1996  1997
 Canada   74%   73%   68%  61%  56% 50%  45%  41%    36% 
 Alberta  60%   58%   58%  51%   45%   42%   38%   35%  27%
Percentage of Unemployed Receiving UI - Major Canadian Cities
   1989  1993  1997
 Halifax  70%  48%  29%
 Montreal  67%  61%   33%
 Ottawa  40%  39%  19%
 Toronto  43%    40%    24%
 Winnipeg  54%    36%    25%
 Regina  42%  34%  19%
 Saskatoon  50%  44%  23%
 Calgary  61%    41%    25% 
 Edmonton  49%    40%    25%
 Vancouver  63%  47%    26%
 Victoria  51%    40%    25%

Percentage of Unemployed Albertans Receiving UI - By Gender and Age Group


 1989  1990  1991  1992  1993  1994  1995  1996  1997
 Women  70%  69%   63%   58%   52%   47%   40%   37%   31%
 Men  77%  77%   72%  63%  59%   52%   47%   44%   39%
 Youth (15-24)  55%  51%  46%  38%  33%  27%  23%  21%  15%


Estimated Annual Loss in Benefits, Alberta Federal Ridings, 1993-1997 ($millions)

 Athabasca  $21 million
 Calgary Centre     $41.6 million
 Calgary East  $40.4 million
 Calgary Northeast  $37.6 million
 Calgary Nose Hill  $21.6 million
 Calgary Southeast    $19.9 million
 Calgary Southwest    $21 million
 Calgary West     $25.8 million
 Crowfoot     $15.3 million
 Edmonton East    $39.4 million
 Edmonton North    $26.7 million
 Edmonton Southeast    $26.7 million
 Edmonton Southwest  $19.9 million
 Edmonton Strathcona    $28.4 million
 Edmonton West    $36.6 million
 Elk Island     $22.1 million
 Lakeland     $26.1 million
 Lethbridge     $17.2 million
 Macleod     $19.9 million
 Medicine Hat     $14.1 million
 Peace River  $24 million
 Red Deer     $28.3 million
 St. Albert     $22.1 million
 Wetaskawin   $22.3 million
 Wild Rose     $18.9 million
 Yellowhead     $23.7 million
 Alberta Total:     $660.6 million


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Bill 37 poses serious threat to Medicare

EDMONTON - The provincial government's controversial Bill 37 poses a serious threat to the future of Medicare and should be scrapped, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.

That was the central message of the AFL's submission to the government's so-called "Blue-Ribbon" panel on Bill 37.

The panel was established late last fall in response to widespread public opposition to Bill 37. As part of the review process, the panel has agreed to consider submissions from a small number of interested organizations, including the AFL.

"By allowing for the possibility of private hospitals, Bill 37 is breaching a trust with Albertans," says the AFL brief, which was delivered to the panel Friday afternoon. "It is fundamentally altering how our public health care system operates. We realize these are strong words, but the magnitude of the shift should not be underestimated."

The AFL says Bill 37 is dangerous because it would pave the way for the establishment of "approved treatment facilities" - which would really be private, for-profit hospitals all but in name. The AFL's submission was also highly critical of sections of the Bill that give the Minister of Health sole authority to approve private, for-profit facilities.

"There is no process to direct the Minister or any limitations on the Minister's discretion," says the AFL brief. "The Act lays out no objective criteria for determining if a private health facility is endangering Medicare."

The most serious problem with the Bill, argues the AFL, is that it abandons one of the central principles that Medicare was built upon - namely that universal access to quality health care can only be guaranteed by maintaining public funding and public administration.

"For the first time, we have a piece of legislation that enshrines and formalizes a role for private health care delivery," says the AFL brief. "The new role for private health care is not just at the margins and with unregulated portions of the health system. Bill 37 places private health care at the centre of our health care system - acute care."

The AFL brief concludes by calling on the government to scrap Bill 37 altogether. What's needed instead, the AFL argues, is a complete ban on private, for-profit hospitals and an enhanced financial commitment to the public health care system.

"There is absolutely no doubt that Alberta's health care system is ailing," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "But more private, for-profit health care is not the answer. Bill 37 - and any other Bill like it - would weaken our health care system further. That's why it must be scrapped."

Copies of the AFL brief on Bill 37 can be obtained by calling the AFL office at (780)483-3021.

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: 483-3021 (work)     499-6530 (cell)    429-9367 (home)

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