Kenney government fires school employees, CUPE warns of brain drain

EDMONTON – The union representing most K-12 educational staff in Alberta schools called the Kenney government heartless and thoughtless for laying off thousands of school workers for the last two months of the school year.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced today that the Kenney government was withdrawing funding to school districts for staffing during the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said funding to schools’ base operational grant was being reduced by 14%.  Gill believes up to 20,000 employees could lose their employment.

“With a surprise announcement, lacking in detail, on a Saturday afternoon, the Kenney government has just fired thousands of people who look after and educate our kids,” said Gill.

The minister has just passed the buck to the federal government and told education workers, ‘good luck out there, there are programs you can access.’

Gill said CUPE will examine the various collective agreements with school districts to assess the legality of the move but warned that “treating employees so callously would harm the education system.”

“You can’t just fire thousands of Educational Assistants and expect them to all run back to the system in the fall,” said Gill. “This is a recipe for a massive brain drain.”

“Educational assistants can still help students, custodial workers can still be of use, the short-sightedness of this move is breathtaking.”

“We should be helping people keep their jobs during the crisis, not putting front line workers out on the street.”

A message from CUPE Alberta President

Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers,

I first want to thank you all for the incredible work you are all doing on behalf of your members and the public. The COVID-19 crisis is testing us all in ways few could have imagined and CUPE members throughout Alberta have demonstrated the very best values of public service and the Labour Movement. I want to reassure you all that while we are having to work in new ways, CUPE Alberta Division is focusing all its resources on the current situation and is available and ready to support our affiliates and members. I encourage all Affiliates and members to regularly check the CUPE Alberta website for updates and how CUPE is responding to this unprecedented situation.

In keeping with the need to make sure that we do all we can to ensure the safety of members and the public, the CUPE Alberta Division Executive made the very difficult decision on March 18, 2020 to cancel all scheduled Division meetings up to July 1, 2020. While we are very aware that a democratic organization requires the full participation of its members, the very best public health advice is to limit face to face interactions as much as possible for the coming weeks and months so the Division Executive decided to follow this recommendation. We are committed to finding ways for our members to work with each other and communicate in safe and responsible ways using technology and are working hard to make these available as soon as possible.

To begin the process of finding new ways to work the Division will be hosting a video conference for CUPE Alberta Local Presidents next week. This will be an opportunity for the Division to directly update the Local Presidents on the current situation including, the discussion the Division has had with the provincial government. The video conference is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 6:30 pm. Full details including the Agenda and Login Information will be sent to all Locals on Monday, March 23, 2020.

These are the toughest of times but our members represent the very best in all our sectors and I know we will come through this crisis stronger than we have ever been. Keep safe, take care of each other and thank you again for all you are doing to keep Albertans safe.

Best and in Solidarity,

Rory

 

Support for workers who have to stay home due to quarantine

After a week of delay and denial, the Alberta government has finally lived up to it’s promise to provide PAID leave to those who have to isolate for 14 days.

From the government website (for full information click the link here: alberta.ca/release.)

Financial supports for Albertans

Albertans should be focused on their health and not worry about whether they can pay their bills, so the government has put a number of options in place for those struggling financially:

Emergency Isolation Support: $50 million

This will be a temporary program for working adult Albertans who must self-isolate because they meet the Government of Alberta’s published criteria for self-isolation, including persons who are the sole caregiver for a dependent who must self-isolate because they meet the public health criteria, and who will not have another source of pay or compensation while they are self-isolated.

It will be distributed in one payment installment and will bridge the gap until the federal emergency payments begin in April.
We expect the program to be accessible by a simple online application through alberta.ca next week and that funds will be deposited in the accounts of eligible recipients beginning at that time.

Message to CUPE members regarding coronavirus

To CUPE members across Alberta,

The spread of the coronavirus around the world has led to numerous workplace issues that CUPE is dealing with. Each sector and workplace has their own issues, and CUPE staff and local executives are working around the clock to address them as best we can.

National Representatives are available by email and phone to assist locals as we work through the various issues.

Please keep the following principals in mind:

• Employers have legal obligations to ensure that the workplace is safe. Employers should inform employees if there is a risk of exposure and ensure that appropriate precautionary measures are taken.

• All employees are of 90 days or longer are entitled to unpaid leave due to the illness, injury or quarantine. Many collective agreements will allow for paid leave.

• At the time of writing this, the provincial government has promised paid sick leave for all who do not have it, but they have not provided any details of how that will work.

• If you are not sick, but need to stay at home to care for a child or family member, all employees are entitled to up to five days unpaid leave per year if the leave is necessary (a) for the health of the employee, or (b) for the employee to meet his or her family responsibilities in relation to a family member. Again, individual collective agreements might provide more leave or paid leave.

Where work can be done remotely or from an employee’s home, CUPE will ask employers to do so. In particular, employees with compromised immune systems need to be accommodated.

Schools and daycares have been cancelled, which creates a serious challenge for many workers. Employers have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. This means employers may need to be flexible with hours of work, change schedules and allow employees to work from home where possible.

Employers also have a duty to accommodate where employees are required to self-isolate or provide care because family members are sick.

CUPE staff and elected representatives will continue to be available to assist with all manner of workplace issues. Please reach out to your job steward or local representative if you need assistance.

CUPE Alberta Convention 2020 – Postponed

A message from CUPE Alberta Executive regarding CUPE Alberta Convention March 18-20, 2020 in Fort McMurray, AB:

After reviewing recommendations from public health and government officials, the executive of CUPE Alberta decided late Thursday evening to postpone our annual convention, scheduled to take place next week in Fort McMurray.

We’ve made this decision to slow down the rate of infection among at-risk populations. CUPE members work in schools, in long term care homes and in hospitals. These workers are most at risk, and most needed to fight a pandemic.

Out of an abundance of caution, we are postponing our convention. We will monitor the situation and will aim to reschedule our convention once the pandemic has subsided or health authorities recommend gatherings such as ours go ahead.

In Solidarity,

Rory Gill, President CUPE AB

Budget 2020: we pay more, services cut, corporations get big tax breaks

Even with deep cuts to public services, and with $436 million in new taxes, fees, licenses and premiums, the UCP are making Alberta’s debt and deficit worse.

Not that deficits are the problem Jason Kenney says they are. But deficits are why we are seeing all these cuts and tax increases, right?

No. Last year, Jason Kenney blew up Alberta finances with a $4.7 billion tax cut to corporations. That tax cut failed to create a single job. In fact, Alberta has lost 50,000 jobs under the Kenney plan.

And we are paying a steep price. Here are some of the features of today’s budget:

We all pay more

  • Albertans will pay $436 million more in taxes, premiums, licenses and fees. This is over and above the increases from the October budget. And because of Jason Kenney, electricity bills, car insurance, tuition and school fees have gone up.
  • The Kenney government increased personal income taxes by $600 million over three years.
  • The UCP has eliminated the freeze on education property taxes, so expect to pay more if you own a home.

Fewer jobs

  • The so-called, ‘blueprint for jobs’ is a re-stating of the idea that a $4.7 billion corporate tax cut will create employment. Kenney promised 55,000 new jobs, but Alberta has already lost 50,000. Companies like Husky have taken the tax cut and invested it in other provinces and the USA.
  • The budget cuts 1,436 jobs in the public sector.
  • The UCP will cut 1,400 jobs from the public sector, in addition to job losses stemming from the October budget.

Cuts

  • They are cutting $72 million from seniors drug coverage, including measures to make it harder for seniors to qualify.
  • There is an effective cut to Alberta Health services of $500 million.
  • The Kenney government is cutting $135 million in real dollars from hospitals.
  • There is $120 million cut from schools, in addition to the fact the UCP is not funding enrollment.
  • Five-year-old kids with special needs will no longer get PUF funding, meaning problems in classrooms, and higher costs in the future.
  • $53 million cut to maintenance and renewal of senior facilities and housing.
  • $105 million cut to maintenance and renewal of health facilities.
  • Supports for seniors under the Special Needs Assistance program will be reduced in 2020-21 by $8.2 million.

Education minister lies, again.

Last week, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said all school boards would receive additional in the budget. What actually happened is that districts are now “allowed” to spend an “additional” $100 million from their own fundraising and reserves.

Pensions

  • Public sector pension plans will pay $167 million more in management fees to AIMCO (the organization Kenney is forcing the plans to accept as the fund manager).

Magical budgeting

Even though the deficit is getting larger, the UCP says they can balance the budget by 2023. That’s because they are relying on unrealistic economic projections. The budget projects a 2.5% growth in the Alberta economy in 2020, while five major banks are projecting an average of 1.7%. The UCP project an average oil price of $58/barrel, when the price has been hovering in the $45 range for some time. And Jason Kenney predicts 7.5% increases in revenue in 2021-22 and 2022-23, when private sector forecasts are much lower.

Summary

  • Jason Kenney promised lower taxes, and we are getting higher taxes.
  • Jason Kenney promised more jobs, and we have fewer jobs.
  • Jason Kenney promised a lower debt and deficit, they are higher.
  • Jason Kenney promised no cuts to front line services, we are seeing deep cuts to front line services.
  • The only promise Jason Kenney has kept is his $4.7 billion tax cut to big corporations that are already earning a profit. Everyone else in Alberta will suffer to pay for that gift to Kenney’s pals.

Yvonne Fast passes away

We have just learned about the passing of Yvonne Fast.

Yvonne spent her entire career in CUPE. She served as the President of the now defunct local at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, then as President of CUPE Alberta, worked as a National Representative in Red Deer and Edmonton, health care coordinator, and Regional Director from 2014-2018.

It’s no exaggeration to say she dedicated her life to CUPE.

Donations can be made in her name to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Rest in peace Yvonne.