EDMONTON - In a show of unity, nurses, teachers and labour groups joined Monday to condemn "Klein-style cuts" they say are coming to public services in Thursday's provincial budget.
Premier Alison Redford was elected for her "progressive" Conservative agenda, but she is betraying those promises with a "slash and burn" budget rather than moving ahead with tax reforms to cover the deficit, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. told a news conference.
"The (budget) will be Klein light and this is not what Albertans thought they were getting when they voted for Alison Redford as opposed to the Wildrose party,'' McGowan said.
Five of the biggest public sector unions — the Alberta Teachers' Association, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees — also released polling data showing that most people do not want to see public service cuts and instead favour some kind of tax reform — higher royalties or a return to progressive income tax — to reduce the red ink in the budget.
A deficit of $4 billion is expected at the end of this fiscal year as energy revenues plunged by an estimated $6 billion due to low bitumen prices.
The unions also took aim at the comments from conservative lobby groups like the Fraser Institute that Alberta has the highest per capita spending of all provinces and that spending is out of control.
Alberta is the middle of the pack, spending about $10,623 per person while Newfoundland is at the top with spending of $12,029 per person, and Ontario and Quebec are lowest at $9,359 and $8,800 respectively, McGowan said. The AFL research is based on provincial budget documents across the country.
Alberta also has the second lowest number of government workers per capita, he. Ontario has the lowest and Prince Edward Island has the highest number of civil servants per capita.
"So we are wealthy like Saudi Arabia and spending like New Brunswick," McGowan said.
Late last month, Redford announced a three-year wage freeze for managers in the civil service and plans to cut their ranks by 10 per cent — more than 400 jobs — as she struggles to rein in spending.
For education, even a freeze in funding would amount to a cut because 12,000 more students are expected to enter the school system this year and have to be accommodated, ATA vice-president Mark Ramsankar said.
"Redford promised stable, long-term funding and full day kindergarten, but it's not clear either of those promises will be delivered," Ramsankar said.
The union, which is currently in bargaining, also fears the province will axe the professional development fund.
Former premier Ralph Klein used a strategy of creating a climate of crisis around government deficits and unions vowed not to succumb to that again.
"My message to Redford is don't panic," said Heather Smith, president of UNA. "This is a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and you are prescribing the wrong treatment."
"Albertans believed they were not electing a Wildrose-policy government. If that's what they are going to get, I've heard many are wondering if should vote for them."
UNA's contract ends at the end of March. AUPE also begins bargaining this spring.
The poll done by Environics Research Group in February shows that 72 per cent of Albertans favour going back to progressive income tax, and 78 per cent supported increasing taxes paid by corporations and high income earners.
In the poll, 71 per cent agreed with the statement that Albertans are not getting their fair share of royalty revenue — though the number fell to 64 per cent in Calgary Calgary.
The poll of 1,014 people is accurate to plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
McGowan said Redford is blaming the "bitumen bubble" though the real problem is the government does not raise enough revenue to pay for services.
"Redford should fix the revenue hole. That's what she was elected to do. If it is not betrayal (of promises), it is close to betrayal."
The Edmonton Journal, Monday, Mar. 04, 2013
Byline: Sheila Pratt
Days ahead of the provincial budget, Alberta's largest unions are calling on Premier Alison Redford to avoid Ralph Klein-like cuts to the public service in a bid to balance the books.
Speaking jointly in Edmonton Monday, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil McGowan said Ms. Redford's warnings of "tough choices" in Thursday's budget – which is expected to cut some services, abandon other earlier promises of increases and still deliver a deficit – amounts to "something close to a betrayal" for a premier who campaigned on preserving services and social programs.
"There's absolutely no doubt we're disappointed with Alison Redford, and frankly we think most Albertans should be disappointed as well," Mr. McGowan said, adding the premier's "promises and reassurances are starting to ring hollow."
Mr. McGowan was joined Monday by leaders from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA). Altogether, they represent over 160,000 public employees in the province.
Under Mr. Klein, who famously slashed public services two decades ago to balance Alberta's budget, union uproar would hardly be surprising. But Ms. Redford has relied on union support in both her campaign for her party's leadership and last year's provincial election. She's since had to backtrack on funding promises and has been locked in bitter contract battles with doctors and teachers.
Debt-free Alberta is poised to table what's expected to be its sixth consecutive deficit budget on Thursday, despite a strong economy, steady growth and low unemployment. In explaining Alberta's inability to balance its budget during a boom, Ms. Redford has pointed to what she's called a "bitumen bubble," referring to the "differential" between global benchmark oil prices and the lower price Alberta's oil sands bitumen fetches. The differential customarily fluctuates, but has widened lately.
Ms. Redford has said the "bitumen bubble" crisis was unforeseen, though industry had warned about it for years and the province's past budget documents predicted the discount would be, in fact, larger than it is now. The labour leaders, as such, dismissed the "bubble" as a misnomer.
"I think that's part of the whole game, to create that sense of panic," said AUPE President Guy Smith, adding: "Those of us who were around in the Klein years, the early 90s, are beginning to smell it in the air again a little bit."
Even if funding for a program holds steady, it's a de facto cut in the fast-growing province, ATA vice-president Mark Ramsankar said. Without previously promised education increases of 2 per cent, which are now in doubt, "we'll see 12,000 students wedged into classrooms [next year] with no funding or services to support them," he said.
Ms. Redford has said Alberta needs to totally overhaul its fiscal formula, but has been vague in how she plans to do that. "I think we have the opportunity to change the parameters of the discussion about what the future of this province looks like," she said in a speech last week.
That means cuts, tax hikes, borrowing or some combination thereof. Ms. Redford already plans to take on billions in debt to pay for infrastructure, but has ruled out borrowing for operating expenses. The province has frozen salaries of its managers and said it will cut about 10 per cent of those positions over three years. Raising taxes in this particular budget, she has said, "is taking the easy way out."
But Albertans have little appetite for cuts, according to an Environics Research Group poll commissioned by the AFL and released Monday. Of 1,014 respondents, 73 per cent saw no need for public service cuts.
Instead, to make ends meet, 77 per cent favoured higher taxes for corporations and the rich, while 72 per cent feel Alberta should reintroduce a progressive income tax, where the rate increases for higher earners, and that the province should hike oil royalties.
Alberta is the only province without a provincial sales tax, and the poll shows little appetite for that to change: 82 per cent were somewhat or strongly oppose introducing a PST. The poll is considered accurate within 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
All told, it means voters aren't buying into the crisis the Redford government is trying to raise the alarm on, argued Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the HSAA, which represents a total of 23,000 health care workers. "Albertans aren't buying it. Albertans are saying we should be able to afford this," she said.
Ms. Redford won a majority in last year's spring election by steering her party to the centre and fending off the right-wing Wildrose Party, which she argued would hurt Alberta by cutting spending on social programs and infrastructure. Now she finds herself considering similar moves.
"Albertans who elected this government believed they were not electing a Wildrose policy government," UNA President Heather Smith said. "In fact, I've heard people say, if what we're going to get is Wildrose policy, maybe we should have just voted for them, right? [Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservatives] weren't elected to do the kinds of slash-and-burn to social programs," that labour leaders now fear.
The legislature is scheduled to resume its session on Tuesday, with the budget coming two days later. Ms. Redford's government has signalled it will split the budget into an operational plan, capital plan and spending plan. It will borrow for capital project to avoid what the premier calls a "social infrastructure deficit," or a shortage of schools and hospitals as new residents flock to her province.
The Globe and Mail, Monday, Mar. 04, 2013
Byline: Josh Wingrove
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, desperate to cut costs amid a ballooning deficit, is angering the very labour groups she coveted for support during her leadership bid and last year's election.
The province's teachers on Tuesday joined a growing number of groups expressing frustration with Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservative government, dismissing the latest contract offer by the province as a "thinly veiled threat" to roll back salaries and reduce staff.
"Teachers do not respond well to ultimatums," said Carol Henderson, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, which represents the province's 42,000 teachers.
She said the offer, which includes wage freezes, fails to address workloads adequately. She called it "unacceptable" and urged teachers to go back to the bargaining table with Alberta's 62 school boards to find labour peace at the local, rather than provincial, level.
The Tory government is scrutinizing teachers, doctors and civil servants as it prepares to release a very tight 2013-14 budget on March 7. Facing a deficit of $3.5-billion to $4-billion this fiscal year – about four times bigger than projected – the government is looking to pinch every penny it can.
In its third-quarter update last week, the province announced a three-year salary freeze for public-sector managers starting April 1 to save about $54-million. The government also said it would cut the number of managers by 10 per cent over the same period.
Alberta Health Services, which manages health care, told its staff to brace for austerity. The University of Calgary has said enrolment at its medical school would be limited to 155 spots, down from 170, because it expects the budget to slash funding. The fast-growing province already has a shortage of physicians and is stuck in long-running labour talks with doctors.
"It seems like the Redford government is preparing to pick an unnecessary fight," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "If there's any province in Canada that can afford quality public services, it's Alberta. The sky is not falling."
Mr. McGowan said Ms. Redford appears to have forgotten the new constituency – teachers, nurses and public sector workers – that propelled her to a massive majority last April, and warned of labour strife if the province doesn't sort out its revenue problem.
"If they think they can return to Klein-style cuts or rollbacks, then they've got another thing coming," he said.
This month, Alberta Medical Association president Michael Giuffre, who represents about 10,000 physicians, issued a letter accusing Ms. Redford of making "inaccurate and misleading" public comments about the province's doctors. He highlighted a particularly touchy topic: pay.
Dr. Giuffre wrote that doctors are paid 14 per cent more than the national average – not 29 per cent, as the government suggested – and noted that salary also covers the costs of running an office in a province where space and staffing are expensive.
"The tenor of your comments vilifies Alberta's physicians and creates an environment that will poison efforts to recruit and retain doctors in the future," he wrote.
He also said funding cuts will have "serious and negative" impact on health care.
"Some medical practices in Alberta will no longer be viable; offices will close and patients will be without care," he added.
Negotiations with doctors are continuing with a facilitator after almost two years, but there's no deadline for a deal. Health Minister Fred Horne enraged doctors in November when he attempted to force a contract that included an overall raise, cost-of-living adjustments over three years, as well as a lump-sum payment of 2.5 per cent of the previous year's billings that would run through 2016. He revoked the offer to head back to the bargaining table.
"There was an end of February deadline, and then that was extended to as soon as possible once the budget comes out," said Bart Johnson, a spokesman from Mr. Horne's office.
Last week, Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson offered the teachers and school boards a four-year contract with a wage freeze for the first three years, followed by a 2 per cent hike in the final year. He also dangled cash incentives, including 1 per cent of their salary in each of last two years of the deal if an agreement is reached by the end of February.
Otherwise, he warned of the "possibility of salary rollbacks" and expressed his desire to "minimize as much as possible reductions in teaching staff."
The ATA had offered a four-year deal with salary increases at 0, 0, 1 and 3 per cent, and provisions around working conditions, but Mr. Johnson rejected it. On Tuesday, he said he was disappointed the teachers turned down his latest offer, which he said would ensure labour and cost stability.
Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, said the minister's recent offer has "some merit" as well as "some concerns," but her organization recommended boards ratify it. The previous five-year deal with the teachers and boards ended last August.
The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013
Byline: Dawn Walton
Issue: Information picket in support of United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) strikers.
Action Requested: Affiliates are urged to attend an information picket at Alberta Health Services headquarters.
When:Friday, January 4th, 2013 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Alberta Health Services at 10030 – 107 Street, Edmonton
Affiliates are encouraged to join the striking workers at the picket line.
Devonshire Care Centre, 1808 Rabbit Hill Road, Edmonton
Weekday afternoons between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Supporters are urged to participate to keep up the morale of the strikers and show the employer that support and determination remains strong.
Nurses as the Devonshire Care Centre went on strike on Monday, December 31st seeking wages and benefits that are closer to provincial standards. The nurses at Local 417 are paid about $9 less per hour than registered nurses elsewhere in the province. These nurses have been in negotiations for more than a year seeking their first collective agreement.
The President of the Alberta Federation of Labour is offering some free financial advice to the Redford government as it wrestles with rising red ink.
AFL boss Gil McGowan says the governing Tories only have themselves to blame for the financial mess the province is in.
McGowan tells 660News, Alberta is among the richest jurisdictions in the world and there is no excuse for the government to be running a deficit.
He says it's time Alberta imported something from south of the border, namely the current fiscal cliff discussions.
McGowan is calling for an increase to tax rates especially for corporations and for the government to increase it's take from the sale of resources.
The AFL fears the Redford government will do what previous government's have done to erase the red ink, freeze employee wages while gutting programs and services.
On Wednesday Alberta's finance minister admitted the government might not be able to fulfill it's promise to balance the 2013 operating budget.
660 News, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2012
About 200 workers from the UFCW Local 1118 are on the picket line outside of the Lilydale Foods Inc plant, which processes Turkeys near Yellowhead.
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasure of the Alberta Federation of Labour tells iNews880 the workers make much less than employees working at a Chicken processing plant and turkeys are much bigger.
"They're actually making less than other workers processing poultry," explains Furlong. "They are quite different processes, but in the Lilydale turkey processing plant the work is harder because these birds are much larger."
Despite the timeline of events, Furlong says the workers remain optimistic.
"These workers have been steadfast in their desire to get a collective agreement and they aren't being paid the same as workers in other parts of the province and they should be," explains Furlong. "They need a settlement that will give them a decent living."
Furlong says workers also want a guaranteed 36-hour work week.
"They're going to insist these workers have to vote again on an offer they rejected eight weeks ago," explains Furlong. "We were having a rally today to show these workers that the rest of the labour movement actually supports their right to make this decision and to take strike action if they can't get a decent contract."
The workers will vote Tuesday on an offer they rejected 8 weeks ago, but Furlong says if they can't get a decent contract the workers will be taking more strike action.
The workers remain on the picket line outside of the plant.
iNews880, Mon 2012 Oct 15
Byline: Travis Dossier
The Left should remember what the Right has known for years
How ironic that the Right seems more aware than the Left of the crucial importance of unions to progressive politics. In the past, when conservatives were less aggressive, this didn't matter so much. Now, in the age of Stephen Harper and the Tea Party, the stakes are much higher.
In the USA and here in Canada under Harper (and, of course, under Brad Wall in former social democratic homeland Saskatchewan), new laws are sapping the strength and even the existence of unions, too often with little public outcry.
In Parliament, a bill is due for debate and possibly a vote this fall that could cripple unions of all sizes with expensive and nosy paperwork. National Post columnist John Ivison, no fan of the labour movement, wrote that Bill C-377 (Public Financial Disclosure for Labour Organizations) "could shatter the union business model forever."
More worrisome still are recent threats by Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilevre to punish the Public Service Alliance of Canada for supporting the Parti-Québecois in Quebec's provincial election by ending automatic union membership in federal workplaces under what's known as the "Rand Formula." Although the majority of workplaces are provincially regulated, this could mark the beginning of the end of Rand and drastically weaken federal public service unions.
Regardless of whether we belong to unions or work in organized sectors, these moves threaten all Canadians, yet, to date, public response has been muted. Why are these moves such a threat?
Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics
"Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan reminded in an interview following SGN's weekend conference on labour's image. "Labour is powerful. That's the reason they've targeted us, they've put the bullseye on us because they recognize we have power at the bargaining table, we have power in our communities, we have political power, and that power can be used against them. They want to undermine that power. They want to take apart civil society so they can change Canada."
Rand has been the National Citizen's Coalition's target since it was formed, under Harper and other CEOs. Conservative activists recognized then as now that unions have a regular source of income through member dues, unlike any other progressive organizations. And unions use their influence and theie money to support and promote a range of progressive causes and activists. SGNews is one of a long list of progressive projects supported very significantly by the labour movement.
Without public services, public service workers, union members, Rand, and dues — and a great many progressive projects, and the advocates who work for them, are at risk.
Since the 1980s under Reagan, US Republicans have worked to "de-fund the Left," going after advocacy groups, university student councils, progressive lawyers and legal clinics, charities, and, of course, unions.
The Harperites understand the importance of this directive better than any conservatives in Canada before them. When they had a minority government, they worked systematically to eliminate funding for any of the issues they don't like, such as feminism, environment, and social justice. Now they have a majority, they are gunning for big game — unions — and only widespread public outrage can stop them.
At SGN's workshop, speakers from the world of advertising discussed the art and science of branding and images and showed how unions could apply their knowledge through careful research and by focussing their creative efforts . The group heard that over the years, the union image has been steadily corroded by attacks that often go unanswered from right-wing interests.
"We're facing a government that's more like the Tea Party Right," said McGowan. They have a political plan, they have a communications plan, and they're targeting us. If we're going to be successful in fighting back, we have to have conversations like we had today... We have an obligation to get our act together, protect the labour movement, and also, in doing so, protect broader civil society," McGowan told us.
Conference participant David Climenhaga, of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), has similar concerns. "We need to respond instantly to the barrage of anti-union propoganda that we're hearing from organizations that have been set up and intelligently run in order to attack not just unions but progressive policies and the rights of working people," he told Straight Goods News. "All the time, we cede the room to them by letting them make powerful statements that are simply based on unsound research, politically motivated research, and that are in many cases outright false. They become the truth because we don't bother speaking back to them."
As a result of the constant barrage, union support has slipped and needs to be bolstered. Janice Peterson, another workshop participant from the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), told Straight Goods News unions need to face some troubling realities. "Not only do we have a problem with public image, but we also have a huge problem with our own members. We not only have to sell ourselves to the public, we have to sell ourselves to our own members."
It's not too late for the labour movement to rebuild its image, was the message of speaker after speaker at SGN's workshop. Doing so, however, will require hard work, open minds, a lot of listening and research, and making key people in every organization responsible for a focus on improving the reputation and image of their union and unions in general.
"I loved Terry O'Reilly's presentation on rebuilding our message and repositioning ourselves," Francine Filion, of the Canadian Teachers' Federation said. "It can be done. There is a solution."
There has to be a solution, because without strong unions, every progressive cause will be hobbled.
Straight Goods News, Monday Sept 24 2012
Byline: Isa Theilheimer
RALLY for CEP 52A Edmonton Catholic Support staff
Friday, September 21, 2012 at 10:30 AM
Edmonton Catholic Support Staff are well into their second week of their strike. Friday's rally will draw on supporters from Edmonton unions. David Coles, National President of CEP will be joining the picket line and will address both strikers and the media.
Affiliates are urged to join the picket line at 10:30 AM on Friday in a strong show of solidarity. Please arrange to meet with your banners and flags at the Catholic School Board District's head office at 9807 – 106 Street, Edmonton.
The local is also asking affiliates to alert CEP52A President Wilma Ellenberg at 780.945-1394 if they have any casual work for members who are on strike. This would be temporary work in addition to the work they do on the picket lines.
When: Friday, September 21st at 10:30 AM
Where: The Edmonton Catholic day and until Edmonton Catholic Schools support staff goes back to work.
This the first strike for the local, and issues on the table include: wages, cuts to work hours and what the local is calling "job erosion" (more work, fewer staff with fewer hours to do said work).
The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) will consider withdrawing from the world's largest trade union confederation and joining another organization, when the union gathers this week for two separate conferences in Vancouver and Burnaby.
"We will be discussing our membership in the International Trade Union Confederation (UTIC) at our annual convention this year," said CLAC executive director Dick Heinen.
"The World Organization of Workers' Congress is a response to our suspension from the ITUC. It's an international affiliation of labour unions that shares our values and we feel more comfortable dealing with."
CLAC is holding its national stewards conference and national union convention on Sept. 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver.
The event will also provide CLAC with an opportunity to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
In addition to this conference and convention in Vancouver, CLAC is also the Canadian host for the World Organization of Workers' (WOW) Congress being held concurrently at the Executive Inn in Burnaby.
At the request of the Canadian Labour Council (CLC), CLAC's membership in the ITUC was suspended in September 2011.
CLC President Ken Georgetti has accused CLAC of publishing policies and being involved in activities that undermine the conditions of workers in Canada and hinder the organizing activities of CLC affiliated unions.
In response, Heinen said the request by the CLC to suspend CLAC's membership in the ITUC was based on a number of false allegations.
"Georgetti orchestrated an anti-CLAC drive to have us expelled and he came up with a bunch of allegations at a kangaroo court, where a decision had already been made," he said.
"We have not had a reasonable hearing with the general council or the executive of the ITUC. They did not read our defence and they haven't acknowledged whether or not there is a process for reexamination of the decision. "
Heinen said the allegations being made by Georgetti are similar to what the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is saying on their website, TheTruthAboutCLAC.ca.
For example, the AFL claims CLAC is a company union, which accepts invitations by employers to enter into voluntary recognition agreements.
The result is the negotiation of collective agreements that are inferior compared to those obtained by traditional unions and undermines their organizing efforts.
According to Heinen, the truth is that CLAC probably has a higher percentage of certification than any union in the building trades.
"I think within the minds of the ideological trade unions to be a company union is a bad thing," he said.
"We think it is okay to co-operate with a company to grow the business,' he said.
"This is recognition of a legitimate partnership with employers, which is also the stated goal of the Alberta Building Trades."
Heinen said CLAC is an alternative to the adversarial relationship of traditional trade unions with employers.
For this reason, CLAC has a more co-operative approach to labour-management relations.
He said Georgetti is in a clear conflict of interest because he sits as vice-president on the ITUC's executive board.
The ITUC was formed in 2006 in a merger between the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions with the World Confederation of Labour (WCL).
As a member of the WCL, CLAC automatically became a member of the ITUC.
"We decided to join, even though we were hesitant with the ideology of the ITUC," said Heinen.
"We believe in a partnership approach and the ITUC is too militant. The group of unions that decided not to join the ITUC formed WOW."
CLAC is experiencing fierce competition from traditional trade unions as it expands in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"CLAC has been involved in the construction industry since the old days of the union and we have certainly had an important presence, especially with specific crafts in the 1960s and 1970s," said Heinen.
"We currently have about 50 per cent of our business in construction and we intend to grow that side."
Established on Feb. 20, 1952 by Dutch immigrants, CLAC is based on the European model of Christian labour unions, which stress the principles of social justice and charity as taught in the Bible.
WOW is the new name of the former World Federation of Clerical Workers (WFCW) founded in September 1921 in Luxemburg.
WOW was founded as a Social Christian trade union and finds inspiration in the spiritual belief that man and universe were created by God.
The ITUC is the world's largest labour union confederation representing 175 million workers in 155 countries.
Journal of Commerce, Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Support staff at Edmonton Catholic have overwhelmingly rejected the offer made by their employers, the Edmonton Catholic School Board. The employer refuses to negotiate the second year of wages on a two-year contract and instead wants to put into place a wage re-opener provision. Not only was staff firmly in favour of rejecting the deal, but 91% of those eligible to vote showed up to make their voice heard. This is the first time the local has been on strike and a show of support is essential today.
Affiliates are urged to join the picket line at noon today in a show of solidarity. Please arrange to meet at the picket line at noon at the district's head office at 9807 – 106 Street.
September 13 at noon (9807 – 106 Street, Edmonton)Support staff at Edmonton Catholic has overwhelmingly rejected the offer; please support them on the picket line
This is the local's first strike and workers are fighting to ensure better support for all students, including those with exceptional learning needs. Support staff have had their hours decline while workload has steadily increased leaving them in an impossible bind where students can't be given the time and attention they need. Please support this picket and show solidarity with the education workers that ensure our schools work.