Wood Buffalo continues to push for fly-by-night contractors over employees

FORT MCMURRAY – As the lockout of Wood Buffalo Housing (WBH) employees reaches the two-month mark, bargaining between CUPE 1505 and the housing authority continues at a slow pace.

Earlier today, Wood Buffalo Housing issued a news release outlining its perspective on how bargaining has progressed.  CUPE 1505 President Judy Collier was unimpressed. “They did not provide accurate information” said Collier.  “For instance, three members have been moved to the Rotary House Collective Agreement, not two.”

Collier said CUPE remains committed to fighting for employees who are committed to the region instead of replacing them with “low wage contractors.”

“The union is committed to increasing its pressure campaign.” Collier said.  Union advertising was expanded on Friday to movie theatres, and that they are looking at bringing pressure on WBH board members.

“The WBH board members have been too quiet,” said Collier. “They can take a stand and end this mistreatment of their employees. We’re not prepared to let them hide much longer.”

 

Where’s the money, minister?

CUPE calls on Shandro to deliver promised wages to staff at seniors’ homes

CALGARY – Six weeks after promising a $2/hour raise for health care aides, those workers are wondering if they will ever see the wages promised by Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill says BC, Ontario and Quebec responded to COVID-19 by delivering wage increases of $4/hour or more to staff, but notes Alberta can’t get it together to give smaller amounts to fewer workers.

“This minister is incompetent,” says Gill. “Even with Ottawa providing funding for wage increases, they can’t figure out how to deliver the money.”

Gill says higher wages are needed to recruit more workers to support Alberta seniors. Earlier this week, health officials promised workers would see an increase on paycheques today. Gill says that’s not happening.

“The government is either lying or misinformed about wage top-ups. They will not be delivered today as promised.”

“It took BC two weeks to organize a provincial wage grid to deal with COVID-19. Two months on, Tyler Shandro is still sputtering,” says Gill. “He truly is the worst health minister in Alberta history.”

 

Calgary closed because Kenney won’t listen to workers

CALGARY — A union representing 5,000 health care workers says the Kenney government has failed to address problems in long term care and meat packing. According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees, this failure is the reason Calgary cannot reopen with the rest of Alberta.

“Calgary is still closed because the UCP would not talk to front line workers about safety issues,” said Rory Gill, President of CUPE Alberta. “The biggest COVID outbreaks are in meat packing and long term care, because they messed up both files.”

On April 3, Gill wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro with detailed suggestions about how to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in long term care.  Gill urged Shandro to put single site staffing rules in place.

“The province of BC put single site staffing rules in place in about two weeks,” said Gill. “Two months into a pandemic, we are still waiting on the Alberta government to figure it out.”

“The Kenney government doesn’t get why we are still seeing outbreaks in long term care centers,” said Gill. “We need more staff, and better safety procedures.”

Gill says the UCP still can’t figure out what it is doing with wages in the sector. On April 10, the minister stated there would be a $2/hour raise for one classification of employee. “Over one month past that announcement, and no one has received a dime. How do you recruit more workers if you don’t pay them enough?”

“In Ontario, the Ford government gave a $4/hour increase for all long term care workers, including housekeeping and dietary aides. “Ford did that weeks ago,” said Gill. “What’s taking Kenney so long?”

 

Help line is no help

Students deserve Educational Assistants, not hold times

EDMONTON – A help line launched today for parents and students is a sad and insulting replacement for the 8000 educational assistants who were helping kids adapt to learning in a quarantine.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill called Education Minister Adriana LaGrange ‘clueless’ if she thinks a help line is going to replace trained staff she sacked on May 1st.

“An educational assistant has a handful of students. They work with individual teachers on the lesson plans and implements them according to the individual needs of the student” said Gill. “Replacing that person with a help line, where someone new answers the phone each time, someone who doesn’t know the student, the lesson, the teacher or the plan, is a joke”.

“Adriana LaGrange and Jason Kenney took resources away from Alberta’s most vulnerable special needs students” said Gill. “They left them floundering and vulnerable. This help line is no help.”

“Alberta’s special needs students and their parents deserve real resources, not hold times.”

Kenney government axes Northern Living Allowance

Letter to Keyano College staff confirms government isn’t coughing up

WOOD BUFFALO – Keyano College is proceeding with cuts to the Northern Living Allowance to employees after failing to receive confirmation that the Alberta government will fund it beyond June 2020.

A letter from the college to employees confirms that the monthly allowance of $1,040 per person will be taken off the pay packages of employees in July.  Keyano employees are the second group after childcare workers to lose the monthly benefit since the Kenney government was elected.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said he was worried other Fort McMurray residents would soon lose the benefit.

“First it was childcare workers, then Keyano employees, I’m worried municipal workers, healthcare workers, firefighters and others will lose it next,” said Gill.

“Jason Kenney promised to support oil and gas communities,” said Gill. “By defunding the allowance, after everything Fort McMurray has been through, is a slap in the face to a city that is still struggling.”

Started during boom times, the allowance assisted Wood Buffalo residents with the high cost of living. Gill said that the allowance now serves a different purpose.

“With the fire, the economic downturn, the crash in oil prices, and the COVID-19 crisis, Fort McMurray residents need help more than ever,” said Gill.

“The living allowance is a lifeline. Don’t cut it.

 


Many laid off education staff won’t be back in September

Union calls on Kenney government to restore services to students

EDMONTON – As school districts across Alberta begin letting go of support staff, their union says that because of cutbacks by the Kenney government, many staff will not return in the fall.

“When students return to school in September, there will be fewer staff dealing with more kids,” said CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill. “Special needs kids will have to make do with less support as they re-adjust to in class learning.”

Gill said promises to bring back laid off workers after the pandemic “are false and misleading.” Gill noted that because of cuts in the March budget, most districts are not going to be able to bring back staff.

“Today, Edmonton Public Schools will lay off over 2,100 support staff,” said Gill. “But we know that district has to cut $90 million from its funding in September. “Depending on a few variables, between 600-800 support staff will not return.”

“When Jason Kenney and Adriana LaGrange say the layoffs are temporary and due to COVID, they are lying. Again.”

Gill said that over 7,500 school support staff have been given notice of layoff with many districts still to announce their numbers. Most layoffs will happen on May 1st. Another 6,000 substitute teachers will also be dismissed.

“The damage this is doing to the current generation of students cannot be calculated,” said Gill. “One year ago, Jason Kenney promised he wouldn’t cut education. But instead he’s picking on the youngest and most vulnerable of our population to pay for his $4.7 billion tax cut to profitable corporations.”

 

 

Kenney government cuts northern living allowance

FORT MCMURRAY – Provincial funding cuts are forcing Keyano College to cancel the northern living allowance of over $1,000 per month to its staff.

At a meeting this evening, Keyano College board members reported that the Alberta government has still not funded the Northern Allowance for 2019-20, nor have they committed to funding it for the fiscal year that started on April 1, 2020. Because of the lack of commitment from the Kenney government, the board cannot offer the allowance to employees. Board members discussed but did not approve actions to address the cut.

Similar cuts were made last month to childcare workers in the city.

About 140 Keyano College employees belong to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill called on the Alberta government to reverse the decision.

“Jason Kenney promised to support oil and gas communities,” said Gill. “By defunding the allowance, after everything Fort McMurray has been through, it is clear Kenney’s commitment was a lie.”

Started during boom times, the allowance assisted Wood Buffalo residents with the high cost of living. Gill said that the allowance now serves a different purpose.

“With the fire, the economic downturn, the crash in oil prices, and the COVID crisis, Fort McMurray residents need help more than ever,” said Gill.

Gill says he expects other city residents will soon lose their access to the allowance.

“The living allowance is a lifeline. Don’t cut it.”

CUPE calls for more COVID-19 protection at nursing homes

CALGARY – One fifth of the staff at McKenzie Town Care Centre have tested positive for COVID-19, a situation that has their union calling for big changes to the way the province handles staffing in the long-term care sector.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro suggesting detailed measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Gill’s letter said current rules allowing workers to move from facility to facility, while still leaving most seniors’ facilities dangerously short staffed, were not sufficient.

“The absence of a fifth of the employees is life-threatening for residents,” wrote Gill.  “Normal guidelines concerning nutrition, hygiene, and recreation cannot be implemented if there is no staff to do it, let alone COVID-specific protocols for isolation and deep-cleaning.”

Gill called on the Kenney government to implement a province wide staffing strategy for nursing facilities. Among the most needed reforms is an end to the practice of staff working at more than one facility at a time.

“According to preliminary survey data, 37% of long-term care workers work in more than one site,” said Gill. “This mobility is creating a very dangerous situation.”

“Your government should create the conditions for a quick and coordinated response that ensures that workers are not penalized,” wrote Gill.

Gill said some individual facilities are preventing staff from working elsewhere, but that without provincial co-ordination, the efforts will likely fall short or fail completely. And unless wages are increased, short staffing will continue to be a problem during the crisis.

“We are in this mess because of low wages and poor working conditions,” said Gill. “A successful strategy to get out of it requires a wage subsidy to increase and level wages across the sector.”

CUPE wants changes similar to those enacted in British Columbia, requiring a re-structuration of staffing practices and a rapid reorganization of the workforce. “These goals need to be accomplished without punishing health-care workers in the front-lines.”

CUPE Local 38 President Responds to Farkas’ Vampire Comments

Calgary, AB

CUPE Local 38 President D’Arcy Lanovaz shares Mayor Nenshi’s concern about the tone of the debate regarding retirement allowances.

“The notion that this level of spending was directed by city employees or is somehow nefarious is absurd,” says Lanovaz.  “The use of terms like ‘blood-sucking vampires’ is unacceptable and does nothing to resolve tensions around this matter.”

At the same time as City Council is dragging its feet on addressing the tax shift, they continue to imply that there is a lack of understanding around the origin and rationale for the longstanding benefit.

“As we move into budget review in 2020 we ask that the Council be transparent, civil and respectful of the hard work, value and contribution city employees provide,” says Lanovaz.  “Our members are reasonable and want to be part of a respectful conversation with the Council.”

“Our members simply come to work every day to make the City a better and safer place and shouldn’t be subjected to insults and blame,” he says.

The scope of which employees will be impacted by this issue needs to be assessed. The benefit is outlined in at least one collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Calgary chapter of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and it is yet to be determined how this will impact other collective agreements.

“In these economic times, when the City is looking to adjust budgets and looking at every aspect of operations City Council, City employees and Calgarians need to work together and be forward-thinking in resolution rather than sling insults, point fingers or assign blame,” says Lanovaz. “Only by working together in cooperation can we resolve these issues and focus on keeping Calgary as one of the most livable cities in the world.”

Backgrounder

D’Arcy Lanovaz is Chair of the Coalition of Civic Unions which represents employees across all disciplines within the City of Calgary.

CUPE Local 38 represents the administrative and technical workers at the City of Calgary and Enmax as well as Calgary Parking Authority workers.

Government wage rollbacks will hurt CUPE members

You’ve likely heard that the Jason Kenney government is seeking wage rollbacks of between 2-5% for different groups of public sector union employees.

This represents another broken promise by Jason Kenney and it will hurt hundreds of thousands of Albertans who work hard every day in our provincial government and health care system.

I don’t need to tell you that many members of the public service haven’t seen a cost of living wage increase in years, so asking them to take a wage reduction is a slap in the face from a Premier who earns $200,000 per year on top of a $120,000 pension from his years as a Member of Parliament.

For the moment, the Kenney government is only seeking wage reductions for a limited group of union members that does not include CUPE. Unions (like AUPE, UNA and HSAA) who have collective agreements in place with arbitrated wage re-openers in 2019 are the subject of this attack.

Our friends and family members in UNA, HSAA and AUPE are under attack by Kenney,  who is seeking to use the wage re-opener arbitration process to roll back the wages of workers who haven’t had raises in at least two years. CUPE will stand with them as they fight back.

But while CUPE isn’t the union in Jason Kenney’s sites at the moment, these decisions affect us in several concrete ways:

  1. There are a couple of CUPE locals in the K-12 sector who have wage arbitrations this year. While the Kenney government has been silent on what position they will take in those arbitrations, there is no reason to believe they won’t seek wage reductions.
  2. Several other CUPE locals have ‘me-too’ agreements in their contracts which tie their wages to settlements made by the unions being attacked.
  3. Rest assured that if Jason Kenney can win wage reductions from AUPE, HSAA, the Nurses or other groups, they will try the same tactics with CUPE.  Just because we are not first, doesn’t mean we don’t have just as much on the line.

CUPE will do everything possible to fight wage reductions in the public sector. We will work with these unions and the Alberta Federation of Labour to let Jason Kenney know this is not an acceptable way to treat Alberta’s employees.  We need you to also speak out. Let your MLAs know what you think of this. Make your voices heard. Together, we can win back our Alberta.

 

In solidarity,

Rory Gill, President
CUPE Alberta

Cuts to education and health a betrayal of Jason Kenney’s promise

Statement by CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill on today’s provincial budget:

During the provincial election this spring, Jason Kenney promised to ‘maintain or increase’ public services. Today’s budget breaks that promise.

Kenney is not freezing spending on health care and education, cuts will come. They will come as costs increase and services are squeezed as a result. Doctor’s fees and other contracts will have to be honoured, and that means money will be taken from front line services. Longer wait times, poorer care, fewer nurses with more patients is what we can expect.

In fact, in this budget – Jason Kenney is cutting nurses, rural doctors, drug services and ambulance services. These are real cuts that will hurt all Albertans. 

In education, it’s the same story – as the population grows, school districts will be squeezed. In turn, they will put more kids into each class, and hire fewer teachers, support staff, custodial workers and educational assistants to try and keep things going. 

The Kenney budget cuts Educational Assistants, it cuts funding for class size reduction, and it cuts funding to keep school fees low.

In what universe is this ‘maintaining services in health and education?’

Other services will be even worse off. A 10% cut in post secondary education is the exact opposite approach Alberta should be taking. We need to train people for high tech jobs of the future. Not increase tuition and lower standards in our colleges and universities.  Tuition is expected to jump by as much as 23%, and families will no longer have the education tax credit to help out.

Municipal grants have been cut. This means less funding for roads, building and new projects. And if cities decide to cover the provincial funding themselves, they will take the funds from operations – meaning rec centres, libraries and other public spaces will reduce hours. Trash collection and road repair will be even less frequent, and wait times to get access to municipal services will increase.

And everyone’s income taxes are also increasing as the government de-indexes the tax exemptions. Amazingly, they still claim they are not raising taxes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Kenney government moved quickly to give a $4.5 billion tax cut to already profitable corporations. They claimed this would create jobs, but companies like Husky merely pocketed the windfall while laying off hundreds in Calgary.

The Kenney cut backs save $1.3 billion. The corporate tax give away cost $4.5 billion. These are the choices Jason Kenney has made.

AISH recipients (who cannot work due to disabilities) lose indexing. Kenney says it’s not a big deal. It is a big deal. All of it is a big deal.

We need to fight back, and we will fight back. But I can’t do it alone. CUPE members must speak up. Watch this space for more updates, share this video, attend union meetings, sign petitions and go to rallies. It all helps. We’re all in this together – and we have to take our province back.