Yesterday's decision by the Labour Relations Board (LRB) to strike down the section of the Labour Relations Code banning secondary picketing is an important victory for workers and for freedom of expression, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL was commenting on the ruling released that deems section 82 of the Labour Relations Code as contravening the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and therefore inoperative.
The LRB decision affects the ongoing strike between Brewers Distributers Limited (BDL) and CAW Local 285 members. The union was asking for permission to picket the MTE Logistix warehouse, which is contracted to distribute all Molson and Labatt beer. Originally, the LRB had denied workers the right to secondary picket at the warehouse. They are now allowed to picket the location.
"This is a watershed decision," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "The Labour Relations Board has, for once, stood up for workers' right to picket."
"We have said for years that Alberta's ban on secondary picketing is too broad and infringes on the right to free expression. And today we have been confirmed by the Board."
The LRB decided that section 82 is "overbroad" and "goes beyond the protection of bystanders to the conflict and erects an absolute prohibition on expression through picketing..." It says this sweeping ban is not justified under the Charter of Rights. It goes on to say the section shields "ally employers" from the consequences of participating in a labour dispute.
"In Alberta, employers have an unfair advantage because the law shields them from playing fair," says Cormack. "BDL and other employers have used the law to unfairly avoid bargaining in good faith with workers. Maybe this decision will mark a new trend to more fairness."
Cormack called on the government to accept the decision and not appeal to the courts. "They should acknowledge this decision and re-write section 82 so it complies with the Charter."
"When the striking CAW members start picketing the MTE warehouse, I'll be with them. It is a hard-won victory that I hope will help them get a good settlement."
For further information contact:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/ 499-6530 cell/ 428-9367 hm
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)
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)
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)
The lock-out of Calgary Catholic School Teachers which began this morning is the inevitable result of years of provincial cutbacks to education says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Years of budget cutbacks to our education system has created exhausted, stressed and overworked teachers," says Cormack. "Every school year, they are being asked to teach bigger classes, to supervise more activities, to coordinate a greater range of programming. There comes a point where there is no more blood in the stone. "Teachers are saying "enough!", and rightly so."
Shortly before the lock out, negotiations were making progress. The remaining issues surround the definition, use and remuneration for "non-teaching responsibilities". Cormack states that these issues are about stress and workload, which need to be addressed.
Cormack also strongly criticizes the School Board for deciding to go ahead with the lock-out. "The teachers do not want to disrupt the students' education. Their approach has been to minimize the dispute's effect on the students. Obviously the Board doesn't have a similar commitment."
Cormack warns the provincial government not to meddle in the dispute by invoking a "disputes inquiry board". The government used such a board in the Calgary public teachers' strike last spring to quash the strike. They have already threatened to use it in the Catholic schools' dispute. A disputes inquiry board imposes a 30-day delay on any strike or lockout while a minister-appointed board examines the issues.
"While the lock-out may be unfortunate, the solution is not to end it with an arbitrary government edict," says Cormack. "It is a sledgehammer that crashes down on the principle of free collective bargaining."
"It does not address the issues in dispute," adds Cormack, "it simply pushes the problem 30 days into the future."
"We wouldn't be in this situation had the government six years ago recognized that education is an investment, not a burden," concludes Cormack.
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - Nurses in Alberta deserve the heartfelt thanks and congratulations of all Albertans for their strong stand in defense of quality health care - both at the bargaining table and away from it, says a spokesman for the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"All Albertans owe the nurses and their union, the United Nurses of Alberta, a great debt of gratitude," said AFL Secretary Treasurer Les Steel after learning that the nurses had ratified their latest collective agreement with health care boards and the operators of long-term care facilities around the province.
"The latest contract negotiations were just part of the nurses' on-going battle to defend the quality and accessibility of health services in Alberta," said Steel. "At no time were the nurses only thinking of themselves. Right from the beginning, their major goal was to preserve and protect the quality of care in Alberta's health care system.
"That's why they called for the hiring of new staff - so we could ease the critical staff shortages affecting hospitals and other health facilities across the province. And that's why they called for salary increases - so we could attract the nurses we need to make the system work effectively."
Steel says that the nurses have been at the forefront of the campaign to protect Medicare in Alberta ever since the Klein government started it's budget slashing campaign in 1993 - a campaign that resulted in the closure of almost half the hospital beds in Edmonton and Calgary and which threw literally thousands of health care workers out of work.
"I think the Alberta health care system would be in even worse shape than it is if it wasn't for the actions taken by the nurses and other health care workers. These workers have led the fight against under-funding and under-staffing. What little re-investment in health care that there has been is, to a large extent, the result of the work done by UNA and other health care workers and unions."
Steel admits that the latest collective agreement is not everything the nurses wanted. But he said several important steps have been taken in the right direction - especially when it comes to things like scheduling, wages and workload.
"The struggle continues," said Steel. "Over the next few years, there will be more battles - over things like funding, adequate staffing levels and the spread of private, for-profit health care. As usual, the nurses will be at the forefront - along with all the other health care unions in this province."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer: 483-3021 (W) or 499-4135 (Cell)
EDMONTON - Workers at the Georgia-Pacific Wallboard plant in Northeast Edmonton are back at work today after voting to accept a new collective agreement which offers pay increases and no concessions or job losses. The deal comes after a six and a half month strike by members of Boilermakers Union Local D-513.
"The company retreated on all of its major concession demands," said Jeff Wood, President of Local D-513.
"This represents an important victory not only for the workers at Georgia-Pacific, but it is also an important symbolic victory for all workers," said Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "A small group of 50 workers took on a huge American corporation with U.S.-style bargaining tactics and won. Their solidarity and sense of fairness saw them through."
Georgia-Pacific forced the strike last December by locking workers out and demanding a series of concessions, which would have led to longer lay-off periods for workers and significant reductions in overtime pay and health benefits.
There were no major concessions in the deal that was accepted in a membership vote last week. The deal included wage increases and improvements to some benefits. "The workers came out of this with a fair deal and they didn't have to take any concessions. The company backed off," said Wood.
Georgia-Pacific is the largest building products manufacturer in North America. Based in Atlanta, they brought their style of management to Edmonton when they bought the plant a couple years ago. Throughout the strike, they refused to bargain directly and insisted their position was non-negotiable. "The workers proved them wrong," said Steel.
In addition to defeating the concession demands, the union successfully negotiated job protection and solid severance arrangements. It was revealed during negotiations that the
company plans to open a new "super-plant" three years from now. It will be located either in southern B.C. or southern Alberta. The union won a guarantee of union certification at the new plant as well as first-pick at jobs at the new plant.
"I believe the company's real agenda in this strike was to bust the union and set up a new non-union super-plant. The company forgot that Alberta workers are not defeated that easily," said Steel. "The Boilermakers members stood firm and the company's agenda failed."
"We said all along we just wanted to get back to work. Now we are back and we are very happy about it. We won an important victory," said Wood.
"I think employers should take note of this settlement. It is a message to employers that Alberta workers will defend our rights to the very end," concluded Steel.
For more information call:
Jeff Wood, President, Boilermakers Local D-513:
945-9328 (Cell - before 2 pm) or 462-7254 (Home - for messages)
Les Steel, AFL Secretary-Treasurer:
483-3021 (W) or 499-4135 (Cell)
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)
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)
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."