Re: "It's time for unions to re-evaluate needs of workers and adapt accordingly; Attitude overhaul necessary to regain their much-needed place in society," by Colin McComb, Ideas, Sept. 12.
It's time for the truth about unions in Alberta. Unfortunately, we got nothing like that from Colin McComb's opinion piece.
McComb failed to identify his background as a former representative for the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). Why?
Many readers understand that the CLAC is not a real union. Perhaps including his former association with that organization would shatter his arguments for how unions should change. He says unions should not be involved in politics, but fails to point out he has a background in political marketing and campaigning.
McComb has a problem with democratically run unions making donations to political parties, but he has nothing to say about donations from corporations, whose spending far outweighs that by the labour movement.
He implies that unions love to strike, but the truth is that unions rarely strike. No worker wants to live on meagre strike pay instead of collecting a real wage. Striking is a weapon of last resort - but to surrender that weapon will leave workers powerless to defend themselves from bad employers who slash their wages or raid employee pension funds.
McComb paints an outrageous picture of union leaders as Marxists plotting an uprising. This is so out of touch with the labour movement it makes you wonder if he has delusions he is Joseph McCarthy, trapped in a 1950s witch hunt for Reds under his bed. McComb would have us go back to an era when workers had to bow down to employers, instead of being treated with the respect every person deserves.
A flip through a few contracts CLAC has negotiated on behalf of workers is evidence of this: employers being able to lay you off with no notice; no CLAC representative needing to be present for disciplinary meetings with a worker; employers and the CLAC being able to change anything in a collective bargaining agreement to be competitive.
One clause in a CLAC contract sums up their approach to dealing with employers: "In the event that consultation fails to resolve a matter of contention, the union agrees that the decisive word resides with management, unless specifically abridged, deleted or modified by this agreement."
That's CLAC-style labour relations. Some employers seek out the CLAC because they know it will mean they can pay lower wages, offer fewer benefits and impose lower standards on workplace safety.
If workers want real representation, and to ensure fairness in their workplace and a fair return for their labour, they need a real union.
Real unions have no trouble debating their role in Alberta. We do have a problem when those who argue against us do so from behind a smokescreen of omissions.
Douglas O' Halloran, president, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401
Edmonton Journal, Letters to the Editor, Tues Sept 27 2011
EDMONTON _ The Alberta government is bracing for protests after introducing what critics are calling anti-union changes to the province's labour code.Employment Minister Hector Goudreau has confirmed that extra sheriffs have been brought to the legislature this week in case of any unruly demonstrations.The legislation bans strikes and lockouts for ambulance workers and prevents unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.The changes will also prevent union-supporting workers from joining a non-union company to kick start the process of unionizing the firm _ a practice known as salting.NDP Leader Brian Mason says the legislation is an act of ''revenge'' for the union-sponsored attack ads used against Premier Ed Stelmach during the recent Alberta election campaign.A spokesman for the Alberta Building Trades Council did not appear overly concerned by the legislation and says the practice of salting is nearly obsolete in the province.But the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees reacted much more strongly, suggesting the legislation violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of association.''This is what Conservatives do _ squeeze workers for the benefit of employers,'' federation president Gil McGowan said in a media release Monday.''The Conservatives have long been anti-labour and this bill is their latest attempt to kick workers in the shins. They are simply using their new majority to exercise their anti-worker reflexes,'' he added.McGowan also noted the bill has been timed to keep wages down during the province's economic boom.Doug Knight of the provincial employees' union said the law ought to be changed so that there is one labour law for everyone, instead of the current system where there is a separate Public Service Employee Relations Act.Knight said his union also wants other changes, like automatic certification without a vote when more than half the employees in a workplace sign union cards.''Albertans are now seeing government that is willing to use its election majority to make drastic decisions behind closed doors,'' Knight said in a news release.
The EnergyNews.com, Wed Jun 11 2008
The Alberta government is bracing for protests after introducing what critics are calling "anti-union" changes to the province's labour code.
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau has confirmed that extra sheriffs have been brought to the legislature this week in case of any unruly demonstrations.
The legislation bans strikes and lockouts for ambulance workers and prevents unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The changes will also prevent union-supporting workers from joining a non-union company to kick start the process of unionizing the firm - a practice known as salting.
NDP Leader Brian Mason says the legislation is an act of "revenge" for the union-sponsored attack ads used against Premier Ed Stelmach during the recent Alberta election campaign.
A spokesman for the Alberta Building Trades Council did not appear overly concerned by the legislation and says the practice of salting is nearly obsolete in the province.
But the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees reacted much more strongly, suggesting the legislation violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of association.
"This is what Conservatives do - squeeze workers for the benefit of employers," federation president Gil McGowan said in a media release Monday.
"The Conservatives have long been anti-labour and this bill is their latest attempt to kick workers in the shins. They are simply using their new majority to exercise their anti-worker reflexes," he added.
McGowan also noted the bill has been timed to keep wages down during the province's economic boom.
Doug Knight of the provincial employees' union said the law ought to be changed so that there is one labour law for everyone, instead of the current system where there is a separate Public Service Employee Relations Act.
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Thurs Jun 5 2008
In the wee hours of the morning, the Alberta government passed new legislation which it says will improve the province's labour code, but critics claim it is an attack on the basic rights of workers.
The government passed Bill 26, the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2008, only three days after introducing the legislation.
The bill states that employees in the construction sector must have worked for an employer for at least 30 days in order to participate in a union certification vote.
The government designed the new provisions to prevent salting - planting unionized workers on a construction site before an election vote - as a union-organizing tactic in the construction sector.
"The rebalancing measures contained in Bill 26 will help ensure a competitive and stable labour relations regime exists for construction companies. These measures are desperately needed as the province moves forward developing the oil sands and building much needed infrastructure projects," said Stephen Kushner, Merit Contractors Association president, before the legislation was passed.
"While a handful of internationally affiliated craft union locals use unfair organizing practices and bid subsidy schemes, the impacts can have devastating consequences in critical trade areas such as carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and pipefitting."
In sharp contrast to this view, a spokesperson for the labour movement in Alberta said he believes that Bill 26 is designed to benefit employers at the expense of organized labour.
"The big winners from this proposed change in the labour code are the big non-union contractors under the banner of Merit. This is a gift from the government to them. These changes will tilt the playing field further in their favour," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president, shortly after the legislation was introduced.
"This is not about fairness, because the government is squeezing unionized construction firms out of Alberta."
Merit argued that Bill 26 will promote fairness in the construction industry and would give more democratic control to construction workers during unionization elections.
"The proposed changes simply level the playing field in terms of acceptable organizing and bidding activities and leave critical decision making in the hands of individual employees rather than union leaders. What could be more democratic?" Kushner said.
The AFL argued that Bill 26 is intended to make it almost impossible for construction workers to express their democratic right to join a union.
"The issue of salting is a straw man the government is using as an excuse to ram through these draconian measures, which make it more difficult for workers to join a construction union," said McGowan.
"Many construction jobs last for less than thirty days and many construction workers make a living moving from one short term contract to another. The new legislation is saying these sites can't be organized and these workers can't unionize."
"Bill 26 also gives employees 90 days to reconsider their decision to join a union.
"Even when a union earns the right to certify, employers will have 90 days to have workers change their minds and revoke the certification," McGowan said.
"We all know that employers will use this period to beat up and discourage workers from becoming union members. This should be called a 90-day intimidation period."
Journal of Commerce, Mon Jun 9 2008Byline: Richard Gilbert
Government officials are so concerned about the potential for strife over changes to Alberta's labour code that they have beefed up security at the legislature.
"We expect individuals to come and voice their displeasure with what we're doing," said Alberta Employment Minister Hector Goudreau Monday.
Goudreau said extra sheriffs have been brought in this week, but he would not provide any details.
"We're trying to minimize conflicts by just being more on the cautious side."
The changes announced to the labour code Monday are the first in 20 years. Among other things they will ban strikes by ambulance workers and prevent unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The new legislation will also prevent union organizers from joining a non-union company to kick-start the process of unionizing the firm - a practice known as "salting."
CBC News , Tuesday, June 3, 2008
A survey released by Canadian LabourWatch Association found unions are irrelevant and their leaders out of touch, but one union leader believes this view of the results is biased and distorted.
LabourWatch hired Nanos Research to conduct a telephone survey of 1,000 employed Canadians between July 27th and Aug. 6th.
One of the most important findings of the Nanos survey is that 77 per cent of non-unionized working Canadians are not interested in being unionized.
The survey also found that more than 25 per cent of currently unionized respondents said they would prefer not to be unionized, if given the choice.
"These results speak for themselves" said John Mortimer, president of LabourWatch.
"Union leader positions on a range of issues are contributing to this continuing slide in both interest and actual union representation."
A spokesperson for union workers in Alberta has a very different interpretation of the survey commissioned by LabourWatch.
"It (LabourWatch) is a who's who of anti-labour organizations that exists to undermine unions and get them off work sites," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"When you look at this poll, you must consider the source. This is a laughable group that must not be taken seriously."
McGowan said Nanos is a reputable research firm, but it is clear that the questions have been written in such a way as to encourage negative responses to unions.
"Even with this bias approach the survey shows that 75 per cent of the people polled are happy with and support their union," said McGowan. "This is a higher approval rating than any provincial government in Canada and higher than the Harper government. As a labour leader these figures suggest we are on the right track."
In response to the survey's finding that people are not interested in union membership, McGowan argued that the restrictive labour laws in Alberta were the main reason more people are not being able to join a union.
"LabourWatch is not the only organization looking at or asking these types of questions," explained McGowan. "Our own internal survey shows that 30-40 per cent of the people who are not currently unionized would join a union if they could."
Another finding of the survey was that 84 per cent of working Albertans disagreed with union leaders using union dues to pay for advertising campaigns opposing political parties. Almost 70 per cent of working Albertans also disagreed with unions contributing to groups advocating causes unrelated to the workplace.
"The results clearly indicate that workers are rejecting the heavy handed tactics and negative rhetoric of union leaders who claim to speak for all working Albertans, said Stephen Kushner, president of Merit Contractors Association. "The recent provincial election in Alberta which saw the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) spend millions of dollars on attack ads is a case in point."
In the run up to the Alberta election on March 3, the ABTC and the AFL sponsored a campaign called 'Albertans for Change'. The main aim of this campaign, which began before the election was announced, was to question the leadership abilities of Conservative party leader Ed Stelmach.
Union leaders did not disclose the cost of these so-called attack ads. However, critics of the campaign estimate the cost at $1 million for prime-time TV spots and full-page newspaper ads.
McGowan said the decision to spend union funds on the election campaign was made after going through a very democratic process. The union leadership consulted the grass roots and was fully accountable to members.
Despite this fact, McGowan is concerned about the direction the Conservatives are taking public policy on union dues and political campaigns.
"They (Conservatives) will probably get their wish on this one," said McGowan. "The will issue legislation this fall to reduce the unions ability to spend money during an election."
Journal of Commerce, Mon Sept 15 2008 Byline: Richard Gilbert
Forklift wasn't part of job description: Teen was trained to be 'foot soldier,' not work with heavy machinery, Rona store manager says
Sixteen-year-old Mitchell Tanner worked only two shifts at his new job before he was killed.
"He told his friends it was his dream to work (at Rona)," said friend Hailey Hume, 15, standing at a memorial site erected in Tanner's memory. "He thought it would be so much fun."
The Grade 10 student was working his second shift at the Rona Building Centre in St. Albert on Saturday when the accident occurred.
Tanner was hanging off the side of the forklift as it was being driven by one of his friends, a 17-year-old student at St. Albert High School. The forklift tipped over and crushed him.
Tanner had previously worked at McDonald's and Panago Pizza, and friends and classmates from Paul Kane High School recalled his excitement over his new job. He was making dinner for his family when Rona called him with the job offer. Tanner immediately shared the good news with one of his best friends.
"He was just so happy about it," said Nick MacDonald, who has known Tanner for two years.
"He said he'd be working in the lumber yard and using forklifts."
A school memorial for Tanner was erected in the student lounge Monday, but his closest friends preferred to remember him in their own way. Several students at school on Monday were wearing purple ribbons, Tanner's favourite colour.
Lilacs were taped to the side of a nearby overpass where Tanner used to hang out and ride his longboard. Messages were written on the overpass in marker and pen, addressed to "Big Mitch" or the "gentle giant." Tanner was more than six feet tall, his friends said.
"He just liked to have fun," said friend Niki Jaenen, 17, who fondly recalled the Halloween when Tanner painted himself entirely green. "Knowing Mitch, if he stepped on the side of that forklift it wasn't to go fast or anything. It was to have fun."
Tanner was hired at Rona as a "foot soldier" in the lumber yard, cleaning and helping customers retrieve orders. Store manager Barry Campbell said there are two or three other teenaged foot soldiers at Rona, and none of them are supposed to operate forklifts.
He said Tanner had already completed his job training when he died, including workplace safety training, but hadn't received forklift training because he was never expected to use one.
"What was going on was outside the parameters and guidelines of the company for (his) position," said Campbell. "He was trained for the foot-soldier job, but usually for the first few weeks they're with someone else."
Two years ago, the Alberta Federation of Labour tried to introduce changes to Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code, which it says is "virtually silent on the issue of forklift safety."
"Frankly, I'm heartsick," said federation president Gil McGowan. "I can't help but think that if recommendations for change had been embraced and acted upon two years ago, we might have avoided this tragedy."
There are no rules in Alberta about who can operate a forklift, said McGowan, unlike in Manitoba where forklift operators have to be certified.
The weekend's accident is being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety. Spokesman Barrie Harrison said Tanner is the second death in the 15-19 age group this year; last year there were none.
Friends and classmates said Tanner was a model student who aspired to be a teacher and volunteered every Friday at Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School.
"He was amazing, there are no words to describe him," said friend Katie Hagan, who was supposed to meet Tanner after work the day he died. "Everybody just loved him."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 10 2008Byline: Jennifer Yang
Headlines from around the world reveal that the labour movement is under attack on many fronts – but it's not all bad news for unions, particularly in the Alberta oil sands.
Tea Party Republicans are attacking collective-bargaining rights and public-sector workers in dozens of states, including, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Florida. The moves have included proposed legislation that severely restricts a union's ability to bargain collectively, makes it more difficult for unions to organize workplaces, more difficult to collect union dues and allows for alternate workers to be hired during a strike. Meanwhile, the fight for workers' rights continues in Mexico, Colombia and Egypt, while public-sector workers in the U.K. are facing massive layoffs.
While Republicans in the U.S. may have expected workers to show weakness in the face of these attacks, the opposite has happened – the attacks have galvanized union and non-unionized workers, with hundreds of thousands joining in protests to defend workers and the middle-class lifestyle.
In Wisconsin, about 20,000 new members have joined an organization called Working America since February 15, bringing its total membership in the state to 65,000. Working America is an advocacy organization allied to the AFL-CIO that gives the labour movement an outlet for non-union workers. It has more than three million members nationally.
Working America field organizer Kevin Pape told the Huffington Post: "People are just thirsty for a connection to a labour movement. The effort required to get somebody to join has definitely decreased. This is an avenue to join the labour movement, and they're just jumping at it."
Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), has described Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as "the Mobilizer of the Year" and predicted Republicans would suffer a backlash for their attempts to undermine unions.
In February, faculty at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse voted by a margin of 249-37 to join a teachers' union. One professor at the university told the Huffington Post that Walker's actions galvanized them to form a union. In March, faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls voted 148-16 today in favour of joining the same union.
What does this have to do with Alberta and the oil sands?
Firstly, what has happened in Wisconsin and other states may start to happen here. Attacks on public-sector workers have intensified in Alberta in the last few months and those attacks have included a call to rethink collective-bargaining rights. Meanwhile, the U.S. billionaire Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars in the U.S. funding the Tea Party and lobbying for extreme right-wing policies, have made a move onto the Alberta political scene, by hiring a lobbyist to push the Alberta government on economic development and taxation issues.
Secondly, the oil sands appear to be heading for another boom – and that's good news for unions, according to Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
The industrial shift we are seeing from conventional oil and gas operations to the oil sands is an opportunity for labour, says Coles, because oil-sands operations are industrial worksites.
"Organizing field services, drillers is a very complicated, complex issue and our success has been very minimal. But with industrial workers, over time, like any other industrial worker, they end up having a problem with the boss and, in the end, unionization is their only way out."
Statistics Canada figures show that, nationally, just over 4.2 million employees were union members in the first half of 2010, an increase of 64,000 on the same period in 2009 and making a total of 29.5 per cent of the working population.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, the total rate of unionization in Alberta fell slightly to 25 per cent from 25.3 per cent in the decade after 1999. This breaks down into a rate of 69.5 per cent of public-sector workers and 12.3 per cent in the private sector. Energy workers fall under the Statistics Canada category of Forestry, Fishing, Mining, Oil and Gas. In Alberta, the unionization rate in this category has grown to 11.2 per cent from 8.4 per cent in the decade.
The number of union members working in the energy industry has not changed much in the last few years, says Coles, but as a percentage of the total industry workforce there has been a small drop.
"The industry is growing so fast that you can actually get left behind. It takes us time to catch back up again... We rarely organize a new place in the first year or two," he says.
Bringing a workplace into the union is rarely about wages or benefits. "It's usually more about workplace democracy issues, fairness, occupational health and safety. We have a long record of working collaboratively with the industry ensuring safety ... It's about making sure that everybody, whether they are in a union or management, goes home alive," he says.
"We just have to work harder. We have to be able to communicate, as difficult as it is, with the non-union workers, so that they can engage in a discussion. One of the problems you have with the law in Canada is that they (workers) are captive. They get to (hear) the company's pitch non-stop. They never get to get engaged in any type of transparent discussion about what they'd like to see happen. We have to continue to find ways to engage in a transparent, democratic process with non-union workers," says Coles.
With Tea Party-style attacks filling the headlines, workers appear to have an increased awareness of the vital and positive role unions have played. It is unions, after all, that have done the most to create a middle-class lifestyle, in which you are fairly rewarded for working hard, and where you can build a better communities and better lives for your families. Workers appear to be more receptive to a union message and they understand what's at stake for all workers if the labour movement is weakened.
CEP, for one, is ready to take advantage of the opportunity brought by an oil sands boom and the mood in the workplace.
"We have got plans," says Coles. "We are going to implement strategic organizing campaigns throughout the energy sector in Alberta. It is a priority for us."Forestry, Fishing, Mining, Oil, and Gas ALL 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 TOTAL EMPLOYEEES 70.1 75.6 92.0 88.1 89.9 98.6 109.0 122.0 133.3 132.9 124.6 UNION COVERAGE 5.9 7.0 10.4 10.0 10.0 9.9 10.3 11.5 14.3 13.3 13.9 NO UNION COVERAGE 64.3 68.3 81.0 78.3 79.7 88.7 98.7 110.5 119.0 119.6 110.7 UNION RATE 8.4% 9.3% 11.3% 11.4% 11.1% 10.0% 9.4% 9.4% 10.7% 10.0% 11.2%
EDMONTON - The Alberta government moved swiftly today towards passing controversial labour code amendments, despite ongoing criticism from labour groups.
Just before debate started on Bill 26, the government made a motion to limit time spent on the matter. Opposition parties accused the government of stifling its opponents.
An NDP press release said the government was jamming the bill through the legislature "in time to hit the golf courses and barbecue circuit."
Liberal Hugh MacDonald said the sooner the government passes the bill, the less chance they will face opposition. "It's restricting and limiting public debate on a public bill," MacDonald said. "They want to steamroll this through and they do not want people get organized to oppose this legislation."
Conservative MLAs argued that opposition members will still have plenty of time to make their case during the seven hours the bill is in committee.
"What argument cannot be made by the opposition members within their allocated 30 or 40 minutes?" Tory Neil Brown asked.
A spokesman for the premier's office said they are hoping to have the bill passed by the end of the week, but are prepared to go into next week if the opposition prolongs the debate.
Union leaders continued to bash the bill, which was introduced Monday. It bans ambulance workers from striking and puts limits on so-called "salting" and "MERFing" practices.
Salting is when a union employee or sympathizer gets a job at a non-union workplace in order to organize workers or disrupt the company's operations. Unions argue the practice is rare, but contractors' associations say it is fairly common.
Market Enhancement Recovery Funds, or MERFs, are used by unions to help union contractors win bids. They are used, for example, to help employers provide benefits or higher salaries to their workers. The government has argued these funds distort the marketplace and harm non-union shops.
Stephen Kushner of the Merit Contractor's association says it's about protecting workers from unwanted salting practices and protecting non-union shops from unfair bidding.
"It's long overdue," he said. This morning, union leaders met for about 30 minutes with Employment Minister Hector Goudreau. They emerged unhappy. "The minister called us together not to hear our concerns or consider our suggestions, but rather to tell us the way things were going to be," said Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan.
McGowan said the bill isn't about making the market more fair or about worker choice. "What it's really about is tilting the playing field even further in favour of the merit contractors and other friends of the government."
Elisabeth Ballermann, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, said the government did little or no consultation with unions. She said the bill does nothing but hurt working people.
"There's nothing there but stripping away workers' rights, whether it's construction workers, ambulance workers, et cetera, et cetera," Ballermann said.
The NDP and others accused the government of hitting back at unions who bankrolled an advertising campaign last election attacking the government.
Goudreau said it was a hot issue on the hustings during the last election, particularly after the ads began to air.
"The ad campaign triggered a pile of discussions as we knocked on doors. They were saying why would they do that? So part of that enhanced that type of discussion. Now that's not the only reason. We've been talking about salting and MERFing for seven or eight years."
Speaking to reporters in Calgary, Stelmach said the bill came up now not because of revenge, but because the government finally had time to do it.
"I'm taking a bunch of issues off the backburner," Stelmach said. "There was only so much I could do in the first 14 months."
Debate continues today.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 3 2008Byline: Archie McLean
Alberta's labour movement was born in the in the coal fields and on coal-powered railways. When oil and natural gas were discovered, coal was displaced for home heating and the railways, and a new trade-union era opened.
While trade unions may have been grudgingly accepted as a fact of life in some sectors, for the most part, Alberta's energy industry has been hostile terrain for organizers. Nowhere was this more true than in the new oil and gas industry, which set the agenda for Alberta governments ever since Imperial Oil's Leduc No. 1 blew out in 1947.
Anti-union policy migrated across the border with the U.S. oil multinationals that quickly snapped up ownership of the rich oilfields. Wherever union organizers went, they met a wall of hostility and even violence, particularly in the upstream portions of the industry where resources are extracted, as opposed to where the resources are refined.
Where trade unions saw an opening, such as in the refineries and petrochemical plants, companies turned to a made-in-America solution – "company unionism," a clever strategy invented by William Lyon Mackenzie King, one of Canada's most nimble politicians and twice our Prime Minister.
King was the industrial-relations genius most responsible for introducing "soft human-resource management" strategies into Canada. When the Laurier government was defeated in 1911, he lost his job as Canada's first Deputy Minister of Labour. He was later retained by the late John D. Rockefeller to mend industrial relations after the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 in Colorado, where the National Guard had turned machine guns on strikers and torched their tent villages.
King advised Rockefeller to appease workers by giving them Christmas turkeys and dancing with their wives at social functions. As well, he proferred in-house councils as a way to avoid future strife. These employer-sponsored "company unions" (also known as "joint industrial councils" or "donkey councils") came to Canada with oil and have remained a feature of the industry to this day.
Eugene Mitchell, organizer with the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) and former secretary-treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour explained how company unions were able to monopolize the petrochemical industry. "They hired people who travelled from one plant to the other, forming company unions. All of a sudden, meetings were called, constitutions put in place and cards signed... Anyway, we didn't give up. It didn't take long before that company union signed a sweetheart deal with the company. Another year went by and they had to get a new contract."
Organizing in Alberta
C. Neil Reimer, OCAW's Canadian director and first leader of the Alberta NDP was there from the beginning. He began work in 1942 at the age of 20 in the Consumers Co-operative Refinery in Regina, where he organized Canada's first oil workers' local under the Canadian Congress of Labour (now the CLC) - the United Oil Workers of Canada Local 1.
Reimer was assigned to Alberta in 1951 to organize Alberta's fledgling petroleum industry for the Oil Workers' International Union (later to become OCAW). In an interview with the Alberta Labour History Institute, he recalled one particularly chilly instance. "My wife went to a welcome party in our block. They all were there and welcomed her. When they asked: 'Who does your husband work for?' she proudly said, 'The Oil Workers International Union.' That's the last time she was invited to coffee."
The first local he successfully organized was at Liquid Carbonic, giving the Oil Workers voice and vote in both the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Edmonton Labour Council. Next came CIL and Celanese, the latter a tremendously anti-labour U.S. company that did not have another organized plant in the world. Reimer had started by trying to organize at the BA Oil Refinery, but he lost even though he had a 70-pre-cent sign-up. Those who voted for the union quit the company en masse, and went to CIL and Celanese, providing a strong union base there.
Opposition at CIL came when the United Mineworkers of America claimed jurisdiction for the whole energy industry. However, a CLC convention in Montreal extended jurisdiction to allow the Oil Workers plants such as this. Said Reimer: "We won the vote there, a real good start to organize the industry. With that kind of record, I was appointed director of the union."
In April 1980, delegates from OCAW, the Canadian Chemical Workers and an independent Quebec union of textile workers met in Montreal to form the Energy & Chemical Workers (ECWU), a Canadian union headquartered in Edmonton. Whereas breaking from American parent organizations was fractious for some unions, it was peaceful for the OCAW. U.S. leaders gave Canadians everything that was owed, continued a common strike fund, and co-operated on a number of issues, including occupational health and safety.
Enter the oil sands
The oil industry's anti-union stance was carried into the oil sands when multinationals turned attention there in the 1970s. This was demonstrated most clearly in the Syncrude consortium headed by Frank Spragins, an affable Mississippian who was originally sent to Canada by the U.S. War Office in 1942 to search for oil.
Construction was union; the challenge to the union hiring halls would come later. However, from 1973 until production began in 1978, Syncrude declared an intention to operate non-union and, in spite of numerous organizing attempts and challenges at Alberta's Labour Relations Board and the courts, has remained non-union to this day. The Alberta government went so far as to place the whole northeast corner of the province under a commissioner to ensure that community activists, trade unionists, environmentalists and other undesirable elements did not interfere with these plans. He was to act as a planning co-ordinator with power to trump a number of regulatory authorities.
According to Reg Basken, long-time OCAW representative and later president of the merged ECWU: "Syncrude was run by Imperial Oil, and they had a fundamental opposition to unions. As Jack Armstrong, the CEO of Imperial Oil, used to say: 'We love unions as long as they're somebody else's.' "
Said Basken: "We tried an arrangement with the building trades and the Steelworkers. We tried it on our own. We set up a company council, so we could affiliate it later, but nothing worked... You can buy a union off if you have enough money. They always had enough money, and bought employees off from joining the union."
Suncor was another story. OCAW stayed with it from the time Sun Oil took over the Great Canadian Oil Sands project in 1963, working with an independent oil workers' group, which affiliated with the CLC in 1973 as the McMurray Independent Oil Workers (MIOW). An affiliation agreement with the ECWU had been negotiated by the time workers were locked out by the company in 1986.
According to MIOW president Dan Comrie, Suncor used collapsing oil prices to take the union to the wall. Open warfare broke out when the company turned down a "stand pat" union offer on May 1, instead serving lockout notice. MIOW responded with strike notice and, on the same day, affiliated with the ECWU. The company immediately obtained court injunctions to limit pickets and sued the ECWU for $5 million for disrupting production. On May 8, almost 200 RCMP officers accompanied with dogs appeared at the picket lines, even though the union said it would obey the injunction.
"There was total shock that we were not only fighting the company, the government and the courts, but also police from across the province," said ECWU staffer Ian Thorne. "Members turned out to walk the lines en masse and, when led away by police, were replaced by wives and other members."
A total of 1,050 families were on strike; 152 arrests were made. When a 'back-to-work' tactic by the company failed in early October, Suncor met with ECWU director Basken to negotiate a settlement with mid-term wage increases, employee-assistance programs and a change in industrial-relations strategy.
Health and safety
The upstream oil and gas industry has always been one of the most dangerous places to work. Alberta was the first province in Canada to adopt a comprehensive Occupational Health & Safety Act in 1976, but was also the only jurisdiction not to mandate joint worksite health and safety committees; unions would have to negotiate health and safety. Not for the rigs, however, because the union never broke through barriers to organizing.
Reimer explains that the union made health and safety a priority for national bargaining and breakthroughs in downstream plants – Celanese and refineries – were won on this issue. "We named representatives to health and safety committees in the '60s, before health and safety ever became an issue with the majority of the people negotiating in Canada, and far ahead of the U.S.," he said.
Canadian unions demanded the "right-to-know" about hazards posed by the substances employed in production. The Canadian government finally responded in 1986 with the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), which fell far short of union demands, but at least required suppliers to provide the required information. Alberta did not enact WHMIS until a year later, however, and even then, did not incorporate such key demands such as worker participation and full education. The ECWU took the issue further, negotiating a deal with the Petro-Canada refinery in Edmonton in 1988 to check off three cents an hour for every worker to finance union-sponsored education and training in the health and safety field.
Boom-and-bust labour relations
Alberta's "oil-booms" are often misnamed – they are really construction booms. The recession Canada went through in the early 1980s was deeper and more long-lived in Alberta because of its heavy reliance on energy. With the downturn in Alberta's oilpatch, construction fell precipitously and contractors tookadvantage of a huge reserve of unemployed workers by employing a strategy that combined lockouts with "spin-off"companies to unilaterally terminate collective agreements in the industry.
By law, expired collective agreements usually remain "bridged"until a new one is settled. They may be terminated only by strike or lockout. So, when construction agreements expired in 1984, the Contractors' Association implemented a "24-Hour Lockout", locking out their workers and declaring, 24 hours later, that a collective agreement no longer existed. The same jobs were then offered to workers at vastly reduced wages and benefits. As a second tactic, they set up "spin-off companies" and transferred work to these non-unionized companies.
PCL, Cana and Ellis-Don – all of Alberta's big contractors were involved, virtually wiping out collective agreements in the construction industry, and leaving workers at the tender mercy of contractors for their wages, benefits and conditions. Said Brad Bulloch, business manager for Calgary's Carpenters' Local 2103: "One day, you were working for a union company with a full benefit package and full rate, and 24 hours later you were working for a non-union company at what I figured to be a 65-per-cent cut. It was devastating to anybody that had a mortgage, a car payment, or a family, such as me. We lost members, and some lost their lives through suicide. There were many marriage breakups, people lost their homes, lost their vehicles. In 1984, people were selling their homes for $1 to get out of the liabilities."
Bill McGillivray, business agent for the Medicine Hat Local of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA) added: "We got hammered, and the government did nothing about it. They locked us out and said: 'This is what you're going to get.' Pay went from $18 something an hour down to $12 an hour."
Construction workers responded with the 'Dandelions'; just like the tough weeds, they defied eradication. While their unions worked through conventional channels, unemployed workers with little prospect of decent work began to organize. Dandelions appeared everywhere, at conferences of construction contractors, and on signs on lawns and windows, adding energy to the demands of the labour movement for job creation and workers' rights. They joined other organizations in Solidarity Alberta, and even appeared at farm gates, where farmers were being threatened with eviction.
Immediately after his election in 1984, Brian Mulroney began to cement a free-trade deal with the United States. It happened in 1985, at the 'Shamrock Summit' at Montebello, Que., where he joined U.S. President Reagan in singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling - "the single most demeaning moment in the entire political history of Canada's relations with the United States," according to Canadian historian Jack Granatstein.
AFL President Dave Werlin warned the 1986 AFL Convention: "With no mandate from the Canadian voters, they are preparing to sell out our Canadian resources, our Canadian jobs, our Canadian culture, our Canadian social services, our Canadian standard of living, and Canadian sovereignty – all of it served on a platter to the U.S.-based multinational companies and their disloyal, greedy, junior partners in Canada ."
The Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), struck late in 1987, eliminated barriers to trade in goods and services between Canada and the United States. Two countries that already had more trade between them than any other two countries on earth - roughly $150 billion worth of goods a year – would be brought even closer together. The effect of this and other free-trade agreements that followed was that the U.S. was given "national status" concerning our energy resources. This means we cannot stem shipments of energy products during times of domestic shortfalls, nor can we vary terms of sales to serve our own national interests should circumstances change.
Anti-trade deal rallies organized by the Pro-Canada Network in 1988 attracted thousands from church, community, aboriginal, trade unions and even attracting leading economists and industrial leaders. Lobbying was so strong and intense that the Tories might have lost the "Free Trade Election" of November 1988, had it not been for the multi-million dollar advertising blitz launched by some of Canada's largest corporations under the umbrella of the Alliance for Opportunity and Trade.
Mulroney was re-elected and the agreement ratified on October 4, 1988, coming into effect on January 1, 1989. Three years later a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) brought Mexico into the trading bloc, and jobs began moving out of Canada.
Alberta's petrochemical industry - created from nothing by the policies of Premier Peter Lougheed - soon began to feel the effects. Dave Coles, current president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, summarized the new reality when petrochemical plants such as Edmonton's Celanese started closing down soon after. "I think the situation in the petrochemical industry in Alberta is no different than taking raw logs and shipping them out. ... When the government approved the Alliance Pipeline (which sent raw natural gas to Minnesota for processing instead of having it processed in Alberta),it killed the manufacturing sector. We lost
thousands of workers here at Celanese and many other places across Alberta. The natural gas converting industry was killed, while just 37 jobs were created to run the pipeline. Chicago got the jobs, Alberta got the pollution."
(Winston Gereluk is vice-president of the Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI). It brings together trade unionists, academics, labour archivists, political activists and writers to preserve and tell the story of Alberta's working people and their organizations. Since its founding in 1998, it has interviewed more than 300 leading trade unionists and community activists; preserved and archived records, photos and publications; produced Alberta Labour History Calendars; hosted Labour History Days; provided material for city and provincial centennial celebrations; and made presentations to trade unions, schools and other organizations. In 2007, ALHI partnered with the Alberta Federation of Labour to provide an historical and educational foundation to the centennial the AFL will celebrate in 2012. Visit ALHI at www.labourhistory.ca.)
1 This and other background information taken from Roberts, Wayne. (1990) Cracking the Canadian Formula: The Making of the Energy and Chemical Workers Union. Toronto: Between the Lines.
2 Alberta Labour History Institute interview with Eugene Mitchell, October 29, 2002
3 All Reimer quotes from Alberta Labour History Institute interview with Neil Reimer, July 22, 2002.
4 Roberts, p. 163.
5 See Pratt, Larry (1976). The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers.
6 All Basken quotes from Alberta Labour History Institute interview with Reg Basken, May 20, 2005.
7 Alberta Labour History Institute meeting, Ft. McMurray, October 20, 2005.
8 Roberts, Wayne. (1990) Cracking the Canadian Formula: The Making of the Energy and Chemical Workers Union. Toronto: Between the Lines. p.142.
9 Alberta Labour History Institute interview with Ian Thorne, March 8, 2005.
10 Alberta Labour History Institute Interview with Reg Basken, May 20, 2005.
11 Roberts, p. 219
12 Interview with Brad Bulloch, November 16, 2005.
13 Alberta Labour History Institute Interview with Bill McGillivray, June 3, 2005
14 Will Ferguson, Will, Why I Hate Canadians. (Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997, 112-3
15 Alberta Federation of Labour, Executive Council Report, 30th Annual Convention, 1986.
16 Alberta Labour History Institute interview with Dave Coles, September 24, 2007.
Get a Union! How to form a union What employers and unions can do Organize! Get a Union! Once you and your fellow employees have decided that a union can help you stand up for your rights as workers and improve your workplace, you've taken the first step in the process of forming a union.
Your right to organize or join a union is protected by legislation. In Alberta, the Labour Relations Code defines how to form a union and lays out the rules for union certification, bargaining, etc. The act clearly states "an employee has the right to be a member of a trade union and to participate in its lawful activities, and to bargain collectively with the employee's employer through a bargaining unit."
Unfortunately, as with most labour law in Alberta, there is often a big difference between what employers are allowed to do and what they actually do. With this in mind, it is important to know your rights when it comes to organizing a union.
As a general rule, employers don't like unions and will try to stop them from being organized - so workers should always use caution when researching, communicating with or organizing a union at their workplace. Contacting the Alberta Federation of Labour or an affiliated union can help you through the process.How to Form a Union
Unions represent a specific group of employees in negotiations with the employer and otherwise act on the employees' behalf. A trade union may be a local of a provincial, national or international union, or it may be an independent organization that represents the employees of only one plant or business.
Any group of workers can form their own union by drafting a constitution and bylaws, signing up members, electing officers and filing with the Labour Relations Board to become a union.
These days, however, most workers who wish to become unionized do so through an established union because it makes the process easier and gives workers the support of an organization that knows the process and has organizers to help with a union drive.
The actual process of forming a union in your workplace is not complicated. To be certified, a union must demonstrate that it has the support of the majority of employees in a workplace.
This is done is by having employees sign a union membership card (or sometimes a petition) indicating the desire to be represented by a particular union. In Alberta, workers signing cards must also pay $2.00 as an application fee. Cards are valid for 90 days from the date they are signed.
Once at least 40 per cent of employees have signed cards indicating their support for a union, an application for certification is made to the Labour Relations Board. The application is made by completing and filing a form supplied by the Board and providing proof of support. In practice very few unions would file for application with only 40-per-cent support. The goal is to talk to all employees and have as many employees as possible support the union.
When the Board receives the application from the union, they check to make sure:the union has at least 40-per-cent support; the union is properly set up; the group of employees which the union seeks to organize is a proper bargaining unit; the application for certification was filed in a timely fashion; and there has not been any undue influence used by the union to get support.
Once the Board has determined that the union has fulfilled the above requirements, the Board will, as soon as possible, conduct a representation vote to determine if a majority of employees in the bargaining unit favours certification.
A notice of vote will be posted, setting out the type of employee eligible to vote. The vote is by secret ballot, and the majority of those employees who actually vote determine the outcome. If 50% plus 1 of the employees who vote support the union, it is certified as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees.
The Board then issues a certificate which confirms that the union is the exclusive agent for every employee in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether or not they are a member of the union. Usually, the union and the employer then commence bargaining for a collective agreement. A collective agreement is a written contract that outlines the wages, benefits, and working conditions of employees.
The Code requires the parties to meet with each other and to bargain in good faith. They must make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement. If one party feels the other is failing to meet or failing to bargain in good faith, that party may file a complaint with the Board. If the complaint cannot be settled, the Board may hold a hearing, make a finding and, if necessary, issue directives or impose conditions to ensure that good faith bargaining resumes.What Employers and Unions Can Do
It is important to know that the process is totally confidential. Unions won't tell an employer who has signed cards, the Board is not allowed to release information on who has signed cards, and the vote is conducted in secret by the Board.
The choice to form a union is up to the workers alone. The Labour Relations Code also prohibits employers from doing certain things which will interfere with the rights of employees to freely choose whether to form a union. These actions are called unfair labour practices.
Employers cannot:make it a condition of employment that you do not join a union fire you if you are a member of a union or trying to organize a union contribute financial or other support to a union participate in or interfere with the formation of a union, it is up to the employees to decide whether or not to form a union use coercion, intimidation, threats, promises or undue influence to interfere with employees unionizing
Some examples of other things employers cannot do are:promise employees a pay increase, better working conditions, additional benefits or special favours if they stay out of the union threaten to fire or reduce the wages of people who support the union threaten to close or move the company or drastically change operations if the union is voted in spy on workers attending union meetings tell employees that the company will refuse to bargain with a union if it is certified intentionally assign the worst jobs to union supporters threaten or discipline workers for talking to other employees or getting them to sign union cards during non-working times, including breaks transfer employees who support the union to other worksites to disrupt the union drive ask workers how they intend to vote in a union certification vote ask employees about union meetings or who they know have signed union cards urge loyal employees to persuade other employees not to support the union allow the production of anti-union literature using company equipment
Likewise, there are rules governing what a union can and cannot do. A union cannot:organize on the employer's premises during an employee's working hours without the consent of the employer use coercion, intimidation, threats, promises or undue influence to encourage trade union membership interfere with the performance of work because certain employees are not members of a particular trade union
In addition, once a union applies for certification, the conditions of employment are frozen. This is done by the Board because employers will often try to make conditions better at a workplace, by raising wages for example, in an attempt to convince employees to vote against forming a union.
An employer is prohibited from altering the rates of pay or any term or condition of employment or any right or privilege of any employee from the date of the application until 30 days after certification is granted. If the union serves notice to bargain within those 30 days, the employer may not alter working conditions for a further 60 days.
This rule does not apply to changes in the conditions of employment that are customary, such as a raise that is given to employees every year that happens to fall within this period.Organize!
If you think that a union might be right for you and your fellow workers, we can help!
The Alberta Federation of Labour has more than 1,100 affiliated locals in more than 30 unions across the province. These unions are provincial, national and international in scope and represent members in the private and public sector and trades.
It is in the interest of each group of unorganized workers to join a union with experience and proven effectiveness in representing workers in the same industry, service or trade. We can help you decide which union would be best to represent workers in your type of work, and we can help put you in contact with a union that can help you. All inquiries will be kept completely confidential.
For more information about forming a union or with help in finding the right union to help you, contact the Alberta Federation of Labour.
January 2011: CEP welcomes new members; New Union Magazine; Victory for IAMAW Lodge 99; NUPGE/CLC commit to examine raiding issue
CEP welcomes new members There were 226 reasons that the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada was celebrating on New Year's Day. That's the number of new members it has, after the Alberta Labour Board confirmed on January 1 that Bee Clean workers at Suncor in Fort McMurray had voted to join CEP Local 707. For more information ... New Union magazine is out - read all about it! Twenty years of bad decisions on tax and royalty policy by successive Conservative governments have left our province's vital public services extremely vulnerable to under-funding. But our broken revenue system can be fixed. That's the theme of the latest edition of Union magazine. Read the online version of the magazine. Get a free subscription to the print version
Victory for the Fighting 99The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local Lodge 99, has won a battle at the Labour Relations Board. The case was about the employer, Finning, creating a subsidiary, OEM, and inviting the employees to join the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). The Labour Board decided that this was unfair and that there needed to be an opportunity for the Machinists to keep the group. Over the next few months a run-off against CLAC will occur. For more information...
NUPGE and CLC commit to examine raiding issueThe National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) have agreed to continue working together on the issue of raiding. A statement from NUPGE said: "We commend the leadership of CLC affiliates for the commitment they have made to find a resolution to a practice that destroys labour unity." For more information ... Urgent Action
Hockey Day in Little BuffaloThe federal and provincial governments have dropped the ball when it comes to dealing fairly with the Lubicon Cree. Now it's time for us to drop the puck - at the new hockey rink in Little Buffalo. The AFL Human Rights and International Solidarity Committee's Operation Hockey has raised funds to build a rink to benefit the Lubicon Cree youth. The rink opens with a big match on February 6th. To join in the celebration, contact the AFL at 780-483-3021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Lubicon Cree issue ... Events
February 4 - Deadline for nominations for 2011 AFL International Women's Day Award February 6 - Hockey rink opens in Little Buffalo as part of AFL's Project Hockey to benefit the Lubicon Cree youth February 11 - Deadline to register for AFL Equity Conference (February 25 and 26). Note: Room block cut-off date is January 26; registration deadline is February 11. February 18 - Deadline to register for 2011 Edmonton and District Labour Council School (www.edlc.ca)February 20 - UN World Day of Social Justice February 21 - Alberta Family Day February 25 - Deadline for nominations for 2011 AFL May Day Solidarity Award February 25-27 - 2011 Edmonton and District Labour Council School (www.edlc.ca)Did you know ...
• More than half the cost of natural gas used by oil sands extractors is paid for by taxpayers, according to thetyee.ca. • 88 per cent of Albertans didn't think we were getting our fair share of revenue from the oil industry, according to a Calgary Herald/Edmonton Journal poll in 2007. • 58 per cent of Albertans (including two-thirds of Progressive Conservative Party supporters) were opposed to the March 2010 cuts in royalty rates, according to the Calgary Herald. • The Alberta government aims to capture 50-75 per cent of the oil industry's financial surplus, or "rent," but has failed to capture even the minimum amount almost every year in the last decade. • Corporate profits in Alberta have soared in the last two decades from $3,635 per capita in 1989 to $15,050 in 2008 (adjusted for inflation). • Since 2001, Alberta has cut its corporate tax rate to 10 per cent from 15.5 per cent, making the lowest in Canada and depriving the Alberta treasury of $1.1 billion annually. For more information ...
Policy paper adopted by 2003 AFL Convention
Amendments to the Alberta's new labour relations code are causing a stir among some labour groups.Bill 26, introduced in the legislature by Employment Minister Hector Goudreau on Monday, strips ground ambulance services of their ability to strike during labour disputes and restricts union "salting" techniques aimed at organizing non-union workshops.The bill, approved early Thursday morning, requires labour disputes for ground ambulance services to be settled through mandatory arbitration, an amendment that prevents threats to public safety, Goudreau said.To restrict "salting," the bill would require employees to work for an employer at least 30 days before voting on certification and would allow 90 days for employees to reconsider their vote.Doug Knight, president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees said Bill 26 violates Charter rights that give people the right to strike as part of the negotiating process and cited a Supreme Court ruling last June that said freedom of association includes the right to bargain a collective agreement."If it ever went to court the government would lose," Knight said of potential challenges to the bill.He said the amendment to the labour code that allows people to reconsider certification votes could subject employees to harassment from employers looking to reverse the results of tight certification votes in their favour.But Goudreau said the amendment allows employees to weigh the pros and cons of their certification vote allowing employees relief from regret, similar to buyers remorse.
"It's to allow a sober second thought," Goudreau said during a phone interview on Wednesday.Market enhancement recovery funds (MERFs) collected through union dues and used by union contractors as a bidding tool would also be restricted under the bill.Bill Stewart, vice president of Merit Contractors Association, said MERFs limit the ability of non-union contractors, especially those limited in size to bid competitively with unionized contractors.Unionized workshops with access to MERFs can bid on contracts without factoring in labour costs, Stewart said. He added that smaller non-unionized contractors can't compete with the $10-15 per hour difference in costs that can mean a difference of several thousand dollars per contract."It can have a huge impact on who gets the work."He said he is pleased the government is regulating an unregulated practice."What this (Bill 26) is doing is putting a window around and saying 'this is permissable, this is not.'" Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour called Bill 26 a gift to anti-union groups from the Conservatives in a press release and named Merit as one of those groups."This bill is about rewarding your friends in the construction industry at the expense of fairness and the well being of thousands of construction workers," he said.On Tuesday, the government moved to limit debate on the bill to seven hours during the committee stage.Both the Liberals and the NDP blasted the Tories' decision to limit debate. "The Tories are ramming this legislation in the dying days of the session to scuttle public debate," Liberal leader Kevin Taft said in a news release.Goudreau said there was plenty of opportunity to debate the bill in first and second readings."If you review Hansard and if you review the comments you will notice that they're basically saying the same thing over and over again."Goudreau said if you consider debate in first, second and third readings as well as debate before committee, plenty of time has been allowed for debate.
Fort Saskatchewan Record, Fri Jun 6 2008Byline: Paul Grigaitis
The Alberta government is bracing for protests after introducing what critics are calling anti-union changes to the province's labour code.Employment Minister Hector Goudreau has confirmed that extra sheriffs have been brought to the legislature this week in case of any unruly demonstrations.
The legislation bans strikes and lockouts for ambulance workers and prevents unions from subsidizing contract bids by unionized contractors competing with non-union firms.
The changes will also prevent union-supporting workers from joining a non-union company to kick start the process of unionizing the firm, a practice known as salting.
The Alberta Federation of Labour opposes the changes as does the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
CHQR Newsroom, Tues Jun 3 2008
AFL: Did the information that you heard at the Treading Water: Workers, Wages and the Boom conference about wages and wealth in Alberta surprise you?
SG: I had read that the boom in Alberta was one of the greatest in Canadian history but suspected that this might not be reflected in egalitarian gains across classes and groups. I was, however, surprised at the extent to which inflation had eroded most of the monetary wage increases so that real wages in Alberta have actually been rising slower than in most other provinces. I was not surprised that oil profits were high, but was surprised at the limited extent to which the government was insisting that all Albertans share in the province's oil wealth. On the other hand, in discussions with workers, it was good to see that many workers had not bought into the notion that the oil companies were doing Albertans a favour and were prepared to quite radically challenge the absolute control these companies had over both the present and future shape of Alberta.
AFL: Unions seem to be on the defensive across much of the industrialized world. What do you think are the underlying reasons for this? How do you think the labour movement should respond?
SG: Big questions! The crisis of the 1970s revealed a contradiction in the workings of capitalism. That the issue was about general developments in capitalism and not what was going on in any specific country, was indicated by how the same problems emerged everywhere. It was clear that capitalism would have to change, but the actual options were polarized - either the corporations would have to be more regulated and some degree of democratic planning introduced, or workers would have to accept greater limits and be more "disciplined." The latter perspective won out and workers have been paying the price since. So we can blame capitalism, the corporations, and governments for the attack on workers, but that begs the question of why labour let this happen. Part of this is of course that they simply had more power than we did and it happened in spite of some important struggles in opposition. But more fundamentally, it seems that the corporations clearly understood the "polarization of options", while labour was never as clear about what we were up against.
The lesson for labour, I think, is that the labour movement needs to get as radical in terms of working class needs as business did in constructing an environment favorable to corporate "needs." Fundamental to this is, I think, the need to recognize that we are part of a class. It is of course crucial to continue fighting specific battles in our workplaces - that is where workers learn that collective action matters. But if we remain at this fragmented level, we'll lose. Building the working class starts, I think, with three basic issues.
1) An independent vision: We need to develop an independent way of looking at the world. If, for example, we accept competitiveness as a goal, then we end up linked to our employers at the expense of ties to other workers. Our goal includes being productive so we can meet our needs with less labour - not so we can condemn someone else to unemployment. Similarly, the freedom of corporations to maximize their profits undermines our freedoms to address our needs. And so the fight for a democratic society is not just about the right to vote but to have control over the economy because the economy determines so much about our lives.
2) Organizations adequate to our goals. Workers do not generally believe they can change the world. Nor does solidarity amongst workers happen spontaneously. Everyday life seems to teach the limits of what is possible, divides workers by workplace, leaves us too busy surviving to worry about "larger" things. If we're going to develop the confidence to act and the solidarity to act effectively, we need to rethink our organizations: How should our unions be changed? What kind of new organizations might build our strengths and vision in the ways raised here?
3) In the case of the Alberta labour movement, I think the above comes together in one immediate strategic issue. The boom will not last and so the question is how to take advantage of the present opportunities. In many cases, this means getting as much work and as high pay as possible while the good times last. But it should also mean something else: how we build the kind of movement that can continue to fight effectively when the boom is over. In this regard, it is especially important that the labour movement establish itself - in contrast to business and Tory governments - as THE voice of an Alberta that represents material security, equality, community, and environmental sensitivity.
AFL: Over the last 15 years we've seen a number of unions merging to form larger organizations-what are the strengths and weaknesses of this trend as a response to pressures on unions?
SG: Mergers of union are not good or bad in themselves. The main point is to be clear about what we're trying to build. If the point is to build the kind of labour movement that is a vehicle for workers to collectively challenge and change the status quo, then mergers should be judged from that perspective. Do they simply create larger organizations or actually increase the capacity to bargain, organize, and mobilize? Do they concentrate power in a bureaucracy (even a well-meaning one) or strengthen democracy and participation as part of creating more effective ways to struggle? Will this contribute to solidarity across the working class by bringing different kinds of workers together or will they divide workers into a few mega-unions? Can the advantages of size and unity be achieved only through mergers or is it also possible to do the same through other institutional arrangements (e.g., through informal cooperation across unions or via central labour bodies)?
AFL: Unions in Canada have always talked about, and have acted to a certain extent, to build coalitions with the broader community but in spite of these good intentions, this talk has not resulted in the creation of a broader movement to counter neo-liberalism. What do you think has gone right or wrong in these efforts? What should we be doing now?
SG: Here again, I think it's critical to start from a class perspective. Class is expressed in all aspects of our lives. One of the problems in coalition work lies in seeing it as a relationship to "others" instead of to other dimensions of our own lives and to other sections of the working class. So, for example, a coalition on the environment, health care, the education of our kids, or culture and vibrant communities is about joining others to address crucial gaps in providing for our own needs and those of other working people. The other point is that this work needs to be integrated into normal union functions rather than viewed as something external. So, for example, internal health and safety work should be linked to the environment; concerns with child care should be addressed in bargaining and even if they cannot be solved there, the very act of raising the issue is educational and demonstrates we are serious.
Issues of immigration and human rights could be linked to organizing strategies. Locals could have "education committees" that include spouses and teenagers to address what's happening in the school system and be the basis for linking up with teachers.
A warning: the issue isn't to simply combine unions as they are with other movements as they are - unless this is part of changing both unions and the existing movements, we won't get anywhere.
This booklet examines what effects this has had on the lives of working people in Alberta. In a sense, it represents a snapshot of daily life for workers that is then compared to a similar snapshot taken 25 years ago in 1975. This provides the perspective of an historic view that compares the lives and working conditions faced by two different generations of Alberta workers and their families.
The Alberta legislature ended the spring session with the passage of controversial changes to the province's labour laws.
The Alberta government introduced Bill 26, the Labour Relations Amendment Act 2008, in the afternoon on June 2. After more than eight hours of debate, the bill passed at around 3:15 a.m. on June 5.
The new bill requires employees in the construction sector to have worked for an employer for 30 days, before participating in a union certification vote. Even when a union earns the right to certify, employees will have 90 days to reconsider their decision to join a union.
The government designed the new provisions to prevent salting - planting unionized workers on a construction site before a certification vote - as a union organizing tactic in the construction sector. The unions see Bill 26 as a ban on union organizing for short-term projects.
The creation of market enhancement recovery funds (MERFs), which were used by union contractors to submit more competitive bids for projects in relation to non-union contractors, has also been restricted.
"It was absolutely wonderful in terms of dealing with this issue. It has been a long time coming. From our perspective this has been studied and studied and recommended and recommended," said vice president of Merit Alberta, Bill Stewart, who was in the legislature for two days listening to the debate on Bill 26. "This is good news and its been a long time in coming."
According to Stewart, Merit was part of a government committee in 2002, which produced a report called Building A Labour Relations Code for the 21st Century.
"We (Merit) identified MERFing and salting as the two main problems in the construction industry," he said.
Opponents to Bill 26 are concerned about the pace at which the bill was passed by the legislature. They believe this process prevented proper consultation and debate on the issue.
"We knew they would ram it through. We were working with the opposition to continue the debate and try to force the government to explain why legislation was actually needed. There is no compelling reason why these changes had to be made," said president Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"The challenge we face is that the government made a decision to hit us hard and fast, in order to limit our ability to respond before the legislation was passed. We had less than 72 hours to digest the legislation, contact our members and organize a response."
Stewart said he isn't concerned about the fast tracking of Bill 26, because these issues have been discussed by the industry for years.
"This is an outstanding issue. To suggest the government has sprung something on people, that they were not aware about, is not accurate," he said.
"They are cleaning up outstanding pieces of business and this is just some housekeeping they have acted on."
McGowan said he believes the main motivation behind the changes to the labour code was a desire by the government to help a close friend.
"This bill was a gift to non-union contractors, in particular, Merit Contractors Association, who have been pushing for these changes for at least five years," he said.
"Some say the bill is retaliation for the advertising campaign we ran during the last provincial election, but the roots of this bill run much deeper. Both Klein and Stelmach have been considering these changes for at least five years."
Stewart has a different view about how the legislative process works.
"We put our case to the government and the unions put their case to the government. At the end of the day, the government took our side," he said. "If Bill 26 is a reward and we are such good friends with the government, why did it take 15 years?"
For McGowan, the Conservative government is just doing what all Conservative governments do.
"The government is using their legislative power to stack a deal against the working people, by making it harder to organize and exercise the constitutionally protected right to join a union," he said.
The AFL is consulting with a lawyer, but no legal action can be taken until Bill 26 is fully implemented.
"We need a live issue. As soon as an employer uses this legislation to stop an organizing drive, we will challenge this bill under the charter," he said. "We don't know how long it will take to get an appropriate case."
Journal of Commerce, Wed Jun 11 2008Byline: Richard Gilbert
Now More than Ever: An examination of the challenges and opportunities facing Alberta unions in the 21st century
In this report, we will take a closer look at the future of unions in Alberta. More specifically, we attempt to answer a number of pressing questions. Do Albertans still want unions? Do they need unions? Do unions in Canada still‘deliver the goods' for their members? In addition to addressing these questions, we will also discuss the impact that unions have on the economy.
October 2010: Pension reform; Lakoff lecture/workshop; health-care proposals; workplace injury and fatality records website
New poll shows massive support for pension reform More than three quarters of Canadians support increasing Canada Pension Plan benefits, according to a new national survey released today by Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. For more information ... To learn more about the campaign for pension reform and events being organized by the Alberta Federation of Labour and Canadian Labour Congress, go to ...
Why the right wins ... and how we can stop themAlbertans have a long history of electing right-wing governments. This has seriously affected the quality of our public debate and hampered our efforts to unionize and represent workers. How can progressives slay this political giant? To find out how, the AFL is bringing in George Lakoff, the communications mastermind behind the U.S. presidential campaign of Barack Obama. For more details ...
Drop undemocratic changes to Alberta's health lawsFriends of Medicare has launched a campaign to persuade Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky to abandon plans to change provincial health laws, after a legal opinion commissioned by the AFL said the proposals were "not consistent with a democratic society." For more information ... Send a letter to Zwozdesky ...
Government's safety records website gets failing gradeAlberta's new website offering workplace injury and fatality records may be well intentioned, but presents only a bewildering array of statistics and little useful information for workers, says the AFL. For more information ... Urgent Action
Support U of A janitors in struggle for justiceA group of janitors at the University of Alberta is suing a cleaning company for tens of thousands of dollars, claiming that overtime money has not been paid. The janitors, many of whom are temporary foreign workers, say they have been threatened with deportation by their employer, University of Alberta contractor Bee Clean Building Maintenance. Show your support at an event at the University of Alberta, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19, Education Building Room 106, University of Alberta North Campus. For details of the event ... For information and to sign a pledge in support of the workers, go to http://www.j4jatuofa.org/ Events
October 25, 2010 - CLC Pension Campaign Lobby Training Session, Edmonton October 28/29, 2010 - George Lakoff Lecture/Workshop, Edmonton November 5-7, 2010 - AB New Democratic Convention, Red Deer November 16, 2010 - AFL Lobby Day, Edmonton November 19-21, 2010 - Parkland Fall Conference, Edmonton November 27, 2010 - AFL Pension Summit, Edmonton December 5, 2010 - AFL Women's Committee Commemorative Brunch, Edmonton Did you know ...
An analysis by the AFL of Alberta government spending shows that it has cut expenditure on environmental monitoring, while spending on public relations has soared. The research revealed: 26% drop in spending on environmental monitoring, compliance, and enforcement. Alberta spent $27 million on monitoring, enforcement, and compliance programs in 2003. Budget 2010 projects Alberta Environment will spend $20 million this year. 54% increase in spending on public relations since 2003. The Communications line for Alberta Environment grew from $717,000 in 2003 to $1.1 million for 2010. 57% increase in spending by the Minister, Deputy Minister, and Communications from a combined total of $1.4 million in 2003 to a projected $2.2 million in 2010.