Air Canada back-to-work legislation slammed by Alberta labour leader: AFL also fears for future of Canada Post at hands of federal Tories
Using legislation to force employees back to work will not bring labour peace or prosperity to Air Canada, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The only way to secure a good long-term future for any employer in a dispute with its workers – whether it's Air Canada or Canada Post – is for the two parties to reach a deal together," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers.
"Using back-to-work legislation removes the incentive for the employer to come to the table and negotiate. With the hands of the workers tied, the employer can impose an unjust and unpopular deal that fails to address the issues that led to the dispute," says McGowan.
"This is simply a recipe for more problems down the road. We all know that corporations work best when management and employees work together. It was the willingness of Air Canada employees, including the members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 2002, to work with management and make sacrifices that helped the airline survive the recession. Instead of interfering in negotiations, the federal government should be staying neutral and helping both sides reach a deal they can live with, now that the airline is doing better," he says.
"After less than 24 hours of strike action by customer service and reservations agents - and with no flights being cancelled and little disruption reported - the government's claim that there is a threat to the national economy lacks even a shred of credibility."
Meanwhile, McGowan said he was "profoundly disappointed" that Canada Post had forced a nationwide lockout of members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
"The mail was getting through, even if delayed as a result of rotating strikes. The union is still willing to negotiate. Forcing a nationwide stoppage is a reckless move," says McGowan.
"This makes no sense – unless the federal Tories have a different endgame in mind for Canada Post. We fear that the Conservative-appointed managers at the corporation are not trying to save Canada Post, but are trying to destroy it, in order to justify the privatization of our public postal service," he says.
"Privatization of the postal service will mean two things for Canadians – poorer services and higher prices. It will mean one thing for the corporate friends of the federal Tories – a chance to profit at the expense of citizens."
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MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
EDMONTON - After a day in which 326 Edmonton teaching positions were likely lost, school boards say they desperately need consistent funding.
Both Edmonton school boards passed versions of their budgets Tuesday that include severe cuts. Now, boards across Alberta say they need five years of sustained funding to escape the roller-coaster of finances that stunts long-term planning.
"It's critically important that the government provide predictable and sustained funding," said public board chair Dave Colburn. "We absolutely have to find a new funding model."
Debbie Engel, chair of the Catholic board, agreed with Colburn that five years of predictable funding would be ideal. "With three years, we could do a good job of planning for the future, but could do a better job with five."
Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, said schools are at the mercy of oil prices and a boom-and-bust economy. The last few years of recession have been particularly bad. New programs fail because funding is pulled after the first year.
Hansen said a five-year plan, similar to funding for Alberta Health Services, would make education "more than a line item in the budget."
Tuesday night, the public board passed a budget that Colburn called "heartbreaking."
Within the $851 million budget, 345 full-time jobs will be cut, including 229 teaching positions.
The budget will use $21.5 million in reserve funding, which leaves no surplus for the public board by the time the next school year ends.
In 2009, the board's surplus fund, used for any unpredictable expenses in a school year, was $52 million. Now it's gone.
"The trend over the past three years has been disturbing," Colburn said. "It raises serious questions about the adequacy of funding from the province."
The budget signals a loss of nearly any flexibility as principals become teachers and lose time for professional development.
All 62 school boards in Alberta are reporting a net loss this year, Hansen said.
Earlier Tuesday, the Edmonton Catholic board passed a draft budget that will cost it 97 teaching positions in the next school year, as well as 63 support staff and 24 custodial positions.
Currently, the Catholic district has 1,848 full-time teaching positions. The public district has roughly 4,000.
Earlier this year, the province increased the overall education budget, but only enough to cover the promised 4.5-per-cent wage increase for teachers. It cut back many of its other programs, particularly the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement and English Language Learning program.
That led to a $9.6-million shortfall for the Catholic board. Its draft budget reflects a $1.8-million operating deficit, which leaves the district with a surplus of $2.4 million, half of what the surplus was three years ago.
Both boards have said class sizes will be affected because they have a growing number of students and fewer teachers.
Education Minister Dave Hancock said the potential number of teachers cut was higher than he expected, but he was "not overly" concerned.
Hancock said changes in class sizes will likely not affect education.
While Colburn agrees there are differing views on how class sizes affect education, he said the number of students per teacher is always a priority concern for parents.
The Catholic board's draft budget, which is scheduled for an approval vote on June 28, is $353 million.
Decisions about which schools will lose teachers won't be made until enrolment numbers are known in the fall.
The Alberta Federation of Labour and other groups held a town-hall meeting in Calgary Wednesday night to address public sector cuts, especially cuts to education. A similar meeting will be held in Edmonton on June 23.
Edmonton Journal, Wed Jun 15 2011
Byline: Ryan Cormier
By December, 116 long-term care residents will be transferred from Mackenzie Place to the privately-owned Points West Living facility, as well as the new Grande Prairie Care Centre, set to open at the end of this year.
Since opening in May to serve seniors as well as mental health, dementia and palliative care patients, Points West has taken in 51 residents from Mackenzie Place.
Paula Anderson is a Grande Prairie resident and vice-president of the provincial lobbying group, Friends of Medicare. She said a close friend's husband suffers from dementia, and is among the Mackenzie Place residents who have already been moved.
Anderson spoke of her concerns to media at a Friends of Medicare appearance at the QEII Thursday.
"With patients in this situation, moving them is an upheaval in their lives, and we know that a lot of the people who have been transferred and moved from one facility to another don't do well – it can shorten life expectancy," she said.
"What I'm hearing is that there's a lot of minimum wage people being hired over at Points West. What kind of training do they bring to it compared to trained nursing staff that are very well versed in dementia patients and long-term care patients?"
"We're seeing a disturbing trend across the province of moving patients out of public long-term care facilities and into private centres," added Friends of Medicare director David Eggen of Edmonton.
"In the midst of doing that, we fear that we are losing economic efficiency for our health care."
Mary Dahr works as a technologist in the QEII's microbiology lab, and has seen concern among the Mackenzie Place staff over the transition.
"They're not only concerned for their livelihood, but they're concerned for the patients there," she said. "The families of the patients at Mackenzie Place were told that 90% of the caregivers from Mackenzie Place would be at the new facility, and that in fact is not happening."
But the province's health provider states that the move is an improvement to seniors care in Grande Prairie.
"Alberta Health Services are working to increase choices for seniors and others across the province," said Deb Guerette of AHS communications in Grande Prairie, adding that Points West Living has already taken in 32 local seniors who were previously without long-term care.
"In Grande Prairie, when the two new facilities open, there will be 91 new spaces for supportive living and continuing care residents that we have not had before. It also creates a much more modern and homelike environment for residents."
Guerette admits that Mackenzie Place staff will lose their jobs with the transition, but said that the new facilities will offer opportunity for them.
"Staff have the option of seeking a new position within AHS, or with working with one of the facility partners," she said.
"We have hired qualified staff from Grande Prairie, including staff from Mackenzie Place, and continue to look for more staff including from Mackenzie Place," said Doug Mills, manager of company that runs Points West, Connecting Care. "They are at similar wages and their seniority was recognized."
Friends of Medicare members expressed concern Thursday that the privately-run Points West Living will not uphold the same standards as the hospital's long-term care centre, but Alberta Health is assuring the public that services will not degenerate and that the fees Mackenzie Place resident's families pay will not increase.
"The private partners operate under the same standards and have for some 50 years in Alberta," Guerette said. "Whether the provider is public or voluntary or private they're all required to comply with the same standards."
Alberta Daily Herald Tribune, Sat Jun 10 2011
Byline: Eric Plummer
People such as Premier Ed Stelmach and Education Minister Dave Hancock want Albertans to believe that these are tough times.
They want us to believe that the recession has left them with no choice but to trim budgets and cut funding, even for vital services like education.
But ordinary Albertans know in their hearts and their guts that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
They see mega projects ramping up, they see glitzy office towers rising, they see the economy springing back to life -and they wonder: Why?
Why, amid such plenty, should we be laying off teachers and other education workers?
Why should we be under-funding our universities, colleges and technical schools?
Why should we be cutting services for the needy and the disabled?
The truth is: There is no good reason.
Facts are sometimes inconvenient for politicians. They get in the way of the stories they tell voters and tell themselves.
But when we're talking about our schools and our hospitals, about services for our kids, our grandparents and the most vulnerable members of our society, then we can't afford to ignore the facts.
What do the facts tell us? They tell us that Alberta is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions, not only in Canada, but in the entire world.
They tell us that we have no public debt and that we have billions tucked away for rainy days in the Sustainability Fund.
They tell us that, on a per-person basis, our provincial economy is 75 per cent larger than the Canadian average; that corporate profits in the province have increased by more than 400 per cent over the past decade; and that tens of billions of dollars in investment continue to pour into the oilsands each year.
These are not tough times. We are a province that can think big and dream big. We are certainly a province that can afford to provide adequate, stable long-term funding for core services, including education.
There is another part of the government story that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. That's the part where they say we have a spending problem -that costs are out of control for public services. But, once again, the facts tell a different story.
The truth is that Alberta's per-person spending on public services is bang on the national average.
The truth is that overall spending on public services has barely kept up with our province's robust population growth.
The truth is that, as a share of our province's overall economic pie, spending on public services has actually gone down over the last 20 years -and not just by a little bit.
All of this raises the question: If we can afford our services (which, clearly, we can) and if spending is under control (which, clearly, it is) why, then, is the Stelmach government still recording deficits?
This is the real question Albertans need to be asking themselves and their politicians, especially during the Tory leadership race and in the run-up to the next election.
The answer is clear. The reason our cupboard is bare is because our provincial government has decided to make it bare.
Successive governments in Alberta have deliberately stopped collecting a reasonable and responsible share of our province's economic pie to fund the public services that Albertans need. Years and years of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts have left us with an inadequate and unreliable revenue base.
Alberta is like a rich guy with a big hole in his pocket. He keeps shoving the money in, but his pockets are always empty at the end of the month. The answer is not for the rich guy to sell his house, or tell his kids they're going to live on Kraft dinner. The answer is to fix the hole.
The good news is that thoughtful members of our provincial community are starting to wake up and speak out.
Former premier Peter Lougheed understands the problem and is calling for revenue reform. So are members of the premier's own advisory panel on economic strategy and academics from think-tanks including the Parkland Institute and the Canada West Foundation.
Politicians don't like to talk about taxes. And our current crop of leaders have been successfully bullied by the oil industry away from any talk about fair royalties.
But for the sake of our kids, our communities and our future, this is a discussion we have to have.
We need to demand that our politicians stop preaching austerity when it is clearly unwarranted.
And we need to call on leaders to deal with the real problem, which is Alberta's broken system for revenue generation.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 unionized workers in the province. This article is adapted from the speech he gave at the launch of the Join Together Alberta campaign.
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Jun 9 2011
Byline: Gil McGowan
Close to 800 clients with learning disabilities will need to find new support after the local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association closes on June 17.
This is the second time in three years the chapter has had to shut down because of lack of funding and a steady increase in its client base. In 2010-11 the chapter has provided support for 788 clients compared to 470 clients in 2009-10.
Sheryl Krill, executive director, said the continuous cuts in education has had a cascading effect that trickles down the line putting tremendous strain on non-profits and other organizations to pick up the load and it is just too much for some.
Krill was one of about 30 who attended the Join Together Alberta town hall meeting at the Golden Circle Seniors Center last night.
Red Deer was the first stop on the seven city tour of town hall meetings scheduled across the province. In leading up to the next provincial election and during the progressive conservative leadership race, Join Together Alberta relaunched to educate residents and to advocate for better funding for vital public services including education, health care and social services.
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director, Public Interest Alberta said this story illustrates these cuts in services are impacting Red Deer and in the long run are going to cost the community more and the taxpayers even more.
Gil McGowan, co-chairman of Join Together Alberta and president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said given the current strength of the economy, the provincial government should not be considering cuts or freezes to vital services like education and health care. He said the irresponsible cuts to corporate taxes and taxes for high income earners coupled with ongoing cuts to royalties has essentially blown a hole in the revenue base the province needs to fund things like education and other health care services.
“The answer isn’t to cut the services Albertans need to build a stronger foundation for the future,” he said.
The solution is to fix the holes in our revenue base by rethinking the cuts to profitable corporations, tax give aways to high earners and higher royalties.
“Fixing the holes that have been blown in our revenue base is the real pressing for our legislature going forward,” said McGowan. “It is at the root of everything. Politicians always talk about health care about education but all of these things are based on the foundation of our revenue base.”
The next town hall meeting is scheduled for tonight in Medicine Hat.
Red Deer Advocate, Tues Jun 7 2011
Byline: Crystal Rhyno
Alberta labour, social agencies unite to fight provincial budget cuts: Higher taxes, energy royalties would stablize funding for education, social services, health care, group says
EDMONTON — Raising taxes will reduce provincial budget cuts and save more than 1,000 teachers from losing their jobs in Alberta, say unions, community groups and social-services agencies, which have banded together to push for more funding.
Collecting more revenue will help the government provide more stable and long-term funding to programs and services that Albertans need and rely on, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
To that end, McGowan's group and dozens of other organizations have launched a campaign called Join Together Alberta to press the government for more funding for education, social services and health care.
"Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens? The truth is: there is no good reason," McGowan said. "We need to talk about higher royalty rates for the development and sell of our collectively owned natural resources."
Alberta also needs to talk about reducing corporate tax breaks and increasing taxes for higher-income earners, he said.
Join Together Alberta's initiative comes on the heals of an announcement from Edmonton's public school board that provincial budget cuts will cost nearly 350 jobs, including more than 200 teaching positions. The Calgary board is expected to trim 358 teachers and support staff. The government committed this week to spend $550 million on new schools.
How the government fixes the problem is its decision, said Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.
"The children that are in our schools right now are entitled to a proper education in a province that is this wealthy," she said. "They need to put $100 million back into the education system now for this fall."
Armstrong said if the cuts are made, it will lead to larger class sizes, less teacher attention per student and more difficulty improving graduation rates.
Diana Gibson, research director for the Parkland Institute, said the provincial government should stop tying social services to oil and gas prices. That system isn't working and hasn't been for a long time, she said.
"Our social spending goes up and down. It's very volatile because oil and gas is volatile. To have some form of stability in our education, health care and social programs, we need to rely on stable, predictable revenues."
Politicians have long boasted that Alberta has the lowest taxes in Canada, Gibson said, but Alberta should be beating other provinces by a yard, not a mile. The province can raise taxes to provide adequate funding for services and still have the lowest tax rates, she said.
The rest of the provinces are collecting between $11 billion to $20 billion more in taxes than Alberta.
"That gap is so big," she said. "Why the difference? We could capture $10.9 billion and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada and one of the lowest in the G7."
McGowan agreed, adding the change won't affect industry.
"People in businesses don't come to Alberta because of the low tax rates. They come to Alberta because of the oil and gas."
So why is Alberta laying off education workers; under-funding universities, colleges and technical schools; and skimping on other services,s he asked.
"The answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because provincial government has decided to make it bare."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs May 26 2011
Byline: Miranda Scotland
A plan to lay off more than 1,000 teachers across Alberta is being met with fierce opposition from unions and special interest groups, who say the decision can't be justified.
"Our provincial government wants Albertans to believe these are tough times," said Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We should not be as a province talking austerity, we should not be talking freezes. We are a province that can afford high quality public services."
Roughly 1,200 teaching jobs are expected to be eliminated this fall, the result of funding cuts to education programs that have left school boards unable to balance their books. On Tuesday Edmonton's Public School Board announced that 229 teachers would be lost.
But members of "Join Together Alberta" - comprised of a variety of unions and special interest groups - say that schools boards shouldn't be forced to consider job cuts when the province has money to spend.
"We think in the short term the provincial government should be drawing from the substantiality fund to make sure our public services are maintained," McGowan said.
Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teacher's Association, believes a united voice could help convince the province to loosen it's purse-strings.
"The individual in Alberta has a lot of power if they choose to use it," Armstrong said. "I believe if they speak out strongly, the government will listen."
Vanessa Sauve, president of the Holyrood Parents Council, is lending her voice to the chorus, concerned about what cuts could mean for children.
"Parents are worried," Sauve said. "Larger class sizes for their child means less class time with the teacher and things can get missed."
Education Minister Dave Hancock could not be reached for comment Thursday, but earlier in the week suggested that the province has increased education spending by nearly 70 percent in the last decade.
Global Toronto, Thurs May 26 2011
Teachers and the Alberta Federation of Labour plan to fight layoffs that could cost up to 1,200 teachers their jobs. The Alberta Teachers' Association is holding a news conference this morning within the A-F-L to speak out about budget shortfalls that are behind the expected cuts. Union leaders blame the problem on government boom-and-bust budget cycles. They say the province should come up with a plan that would provide the education system with stable funding.
AM770 News, Thurs May 26 2011
A coalition of public sector workers is ramping up its call for no more government cuts.
The Join Together Alberta group launched a new campaign Thursday, essentially creating a coalition including the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA).
The coalition has issued a declaration, asking the provincial government to stop "contemplating cuts, freezes and rollbacks in any vital public services at a time of obvious prosperity."
"We want to really help the public understand how important our public services are in Alberta," says Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the ATA.
It came to light Tuesday that upwards of 1,000 teaching positions may be cut come September, according to a draft budget. Armstrong says the Alberta education system is expecting more than 6,000 new students in September, and 100,000 more by 2020.
Armstrong says the governments recent announcement of more than $550 million for 22 new schools in the province is "short sighted."
"Why you would put money into building schools when you choose not to finance the schools (and) programs that you have right now is certainly questionable," says Armstrong.
The Join Together Alberta group will be launching a series of town halls across the province, starting in Red Deer on June 6. The coalition also plans a telephone town hall on May 31, and a mass telephone campaign reaching more than 250,000 homes in Alberta.
The group welcomes anyone who is willing to sign the declaration. For more information visit www.JoinTogetherAlberta.ca.
Edmonton Sun, Thurs May 26 2011
Byline: Tanara McLean
Mass movement calls for urgent revenue reform in Alberta: Join Together Alberta launches campaign to save education, health and social services
EDMONTON – A coalition of hundreds of thousands of Albertans is gathering to force the Conservative government to fix its broken revenue system and save our schools, post-secondary education, health care and other vital social services.
Today (Thursday, May 26), a new campaign was launched under the familiar tartan banner of Join Together Alberta (JTA) to demand that the province reform its revenue model so that the vital public services that Albertans demand and deserve can be protected.
"Alberta is one of the wealthiest places in the world, blessed with an abundance of extremely valuable natural resources – and yet our government has manufactured a financial crisis that is likely to see 1,200 teachers laid off in the next few months and a still to be determined number of vital educational support staff," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers and co-chair of the JTA campaign. "Our education system is experiencing the same kind of chaos that has been inflicted on our health-care system, and that pain is also being felt in post-secondary education and in social services struggling to help vulnerable Albertans."
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta and campaign co-chair, says: "This campaign is going to mobilize people from various public service sectors and citizens across Alberta who care deeply about the fabric of our communities. Albertans know that our public services and communities are worth fighting for, and this campaign is going to help make that loud and clear to all political parties."
Join Together Alberta is an alliance of community groups, social-services agencies and unions and was formed in 2009. The coalition already represents hundreds of thousands of Albertans, but this new campaign will reach out to many more. Coming events include:
- Phoning 250,000 Alberta homes in the coming days, asking citizens to join the new JTA campaign;
- A telephone town-hall meeting at 7 p.m. on May 31 that will allow people from all over the province to join an interactive show, much like a radio call-in show, to talk about solutions to Alberta's revenue problems;
- A town-hall tour that will visit seven cities including Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Grand Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Edmonton (click here for tour details); and
- The signing of the Our Alberta Declaration, which calls on the Conservative government to finally realize the province's real potential, reform its broken revenue system and fund vital public services.
CONTACTS: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director, Public Interest Alberta, 780-993-3736