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February 4, 2014 - No. 9

Alberta Workers Fight for Repeal of Bills 45 and 46

No to the Austerity Agenda and
Attacks on Rights!
Yes to a Pro-Social Agenda and
Defence of the Rights of All!

Workers rally against anti-worker Bills 45 and 46, Edmonton, November 27, 2013. (AUPE)

Alberta Workers Fight for Repeal of Bills 45 and 46
No to the Austerity Agenda and Attacks on Rights! Yes to a Pro-Social Agenda and Defence of the Rights of All!
Stand as One with Public Sector Workers
Redford Government Claims a "Fresh Start" Without Renouncing the Use of Force and Dictate - Peggy Askin
Court Issues Temporary Stay of Bill 46

Defend the Pensions We Have; Fight for Pensions for All!
Labour Coalition on Pensions Holds Town Hall Meeting
Unsustainable Wrecking of Public Services Must Be Stopped! - Peggy Morton
Seniors Demand No Cuts to Their Pharmacare Plan


Alberta Workers Fight for Repeal of Bills 45 and 46

No to the Austerity Agenda and
Attacks on Rights!
Yes to a Pro-Social Agenda and
Defence of the Rights of All!

Resistance continues to the Redford government's austerity agenda, its attacks on rights, wrecking of public services and sell-out of resources to private interests. Private monopolies have seized control of the public authority including the Redford government, which serves their narrow interests in opposition to the broad public interests and public good.

The PC government in power refuses to recognize any public authority, including the Legislature. Its passage of Bills 45 and 46 shows that it is prepared to use force and violence against anyone who does not submit to the government's retrogressive agenda. Those laws even violate due process as Canadians know it and are in contempt of the Legislature itself.

Meanwhile, the Wildrose Party presents itself as an alternative to the PCs, trying to sneak into the ranks of the opposition to the government's neo-liberal, anti-social agenda. It is putting forward a "Mildrose" image similar to the Redford PC's claim during the last election that it was a soft alternative to the Wildrose threats to wreck social programs.

Just as the people reject with contempt the Redford government's austerity agenda, they equally reject the Wildrose claim to be part of the opposition. Wildrose is notorious for its support of privatization, attacks on public sector workers, and its demands to scrap their pensions and cut billions from funding for public sector wages and benefits and social programs. The Wildrose position boils down to an argument that the working people are incapable of organizing themselves around their own independent pro-social agenda to defeat both parties of the rich and elect a government that defends the public interest and then hold it firmly to account.

Workers and their allies want a Legislature that upholds the broad public interest not the narrow private monopoly interests of the energy, construction and other global monopolies, which administer Alberta's economic and political affairs as if the province is their own private asset.

A lot is at stake in organizing a successful resistance to the austerity agenda and the attacks on rights. The working people, especially public sector workers at this time realize the importance of taking the initiative. Let's consolidate that initiative and step up the work to organize the people's resistance and movement for a pro-social alternative and make the working people a powerful force for change in Alberta!

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Stand as One with Public Sector Workers

The fight to defend the rights of all represents the popular will of the people of Alberta. Public sector workers are challenging Bills 45 and 46 in the courts and through continued actions. They are fighting to defend the pensions they have and to fight for pensions for all. Health care workers are going into negotiations and their struggle to defend their rights is a bulwark against privatization and wrecking of the public health care system. The people of Alberta stand as one with the public sector workers.

Supporting public sector workers means supporting social programs and public services. This support provides the strength to hold in check the privatization of public services and the further expansion of private for-profit health care and destruction of public education.

The people of Alberta continue and must continue to say, No Means No! to privatization and the wrecking of public services. The workers, seniors, teachers and students and all the forces who stand for public right and against monopoly right are the bulwark to stop the retrogressive austerity agenda of the PC government and Wildrose Party, and hold them to account.

Through their organizing and actions with analysis, the public sector workers and all working people are developing their own independent agenda for a new direction for Alberta where the rights of all and the public interests are upheld, investments in social programs are increased and governments stop paying the rich. Through standing shoulder to shoulder with public sector workers, and organizing and fighting to defend a human-centred alternative, together the people can work out how to deprive those who defend private monopoly right of their power, and establish a new direction where the popular will and pro-social agenda are upheld in government.

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Redford Government Claims a "Fresh Start" Without Renouncing the Use of Force and Dictate

Alberta Deputy Premier David Hancock announced on January 30 that the government would extend its deadline to reach a negotiated settlement with the 22,000 government services workers organized within the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). Hancock also said the government had appointed a new bargaining team with a "refreshed mandate." "We want to show every opportunity for a fresh start to really indicate that we want a negotiated agreement," he said.

If the Redford government really wants to make a fresh start, it must accept that workers have rights as the actual producers of goods and services. It must repeal Bills 45 and 46 and all other legislation that prevents workers from exercising their right to say No! and to engage in good faith collective bargaining.

"We're not going to sign a bad deal on behalf of our members, so their renewed mandate has to reflect the economic realities in Alberta where our members live and work," said AUPE President Guy Smith. "There has to be real movement."

"It's not a fresh start," said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "It doesn't matter whether the trigger date is January 31 or March 31. As long as the government continues to hold a gun to its workers' heads, there's no hope for true bargaining."

Since Bills 45 and 46 were introduced in late November, the Redford government has tried to claim that it is willing to negotiate with the AUPE but the union is not. This attempt to justify using force and dictate is not going to fool anyone. The stand of the Redford government all along has been that public sector workers have two choices -- voluntarily agree to the government's phony austerity agenda or have it imposed. How is this good faith negotiations?!

The PCs and the Wildrose chorus both claim that the settlement must be "fair to taxpayers?" Who are these taxpayers? Anyone who works or makes any non-food purchase could be called a taxpayer. The word does not describe how people make their living or whether they are owners of capital or workers who produce the wealth. The nebulous moniker is used to create a "one nation" category without class contradictions and clash of interests in which the rich and their global energy monopolies, and active and retired workers and their families are said to have a common agenda and interests. The agenda of the rich and their monopolies is to reduce investments in social programs and public services, force austerity on the working people, transfer wealth to the rich and wreck both society and even the notion of a public interest and common good. This is not the agenda of the working class.

Social programs and public services play a vital role in the functioning of a modern economy and society, and add immense value while fulfilling their roles. Public sector workers, like all workers, have a right to their claim on the value they produce and services they provide according to their work and qualifications. All workers have a right to working conditions that safeguard their health, safety and dignity as human beings. Public sector workers specifically have the right to working conditions at a level necessary for them to provide the services the people need.

A right must have its concrete expression. Workers have the right to say No! to wages and benefits that they consider are not commensurate with their work and qualifications. They have a right to say No! to working conditions that endanger their health and safety and make it impossible for them to provide the high quality services the people and society require. The government is trying to deprive workers of their rights through Bills 45 and 46 and other coercive means. This must not pass!

The Redford government must renounce the use of force and violence in its relations with public sector workers. This begins with the immediate repeal of the anti-worker Bills 45 and 46. Equilibrium at the workplace demands the recognition of the rights of the working class.

Repeal Anti-Worker Bills 45 and 46 Now!

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Court Issues Temporary Stay of Bill 46

The Court of Queen's Bench issued a temporary stay of the Public Service Salary Restraint Act on January 28. The Act was previously known as Bill 46. The temporary stay is in effect until February 14, at which time the court will rule on whether to issue an injunction to put the Act on hold until the courts have ruled on whether the Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is therefore unconstitutional. Such a challenge could take years before it reaches the Supreme Court and it gives a decision.

The temporary stay came after a day-long hearing in which the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and the Alberta government presented their arguments. The Court of Queen's Bench is the superior trial court for Alberta, hearing trials in civil and criminal matters and appeals from decisions of the provincial court.

The decision means that the Alberta Redford government was not be able to impose terms of employment on the 22,000 government service workers represented by AUPE on January 31, as provided for in the Act.

"We are very pleased with today's decision. While it isn't a comment on the merits of our case, it does mean the matter is of sufficient complexity that the court needs time to write its decision," said AUPE President Guy Smith. "Today's decision doesn't mean we've won the day. But we have resolved to make every effort to stop this legislation and restore our members' rights," Smith said.

Bill 46 prohibited the union from going to arbitration in current negotiations and imposed a four-year contract with wage freezes in the first two years if a negotiated settlement was not reached by January 31. AUPE reports no significant progress in negotiations despite efforts by the union to reach a settlement.

The decision to issue a temporary stay comes amidst continuing opposition to the anti-worker Bills 45 and 46. It shows that not all is going to go smoothly for the Redford government so long as it refuses to establish equilibrium based on recognizing workers' right to wages and benefits commensurate with their work and qualifications, and bargain terms of employment in good faith. As a first step, the government must repeal Bills 45 and 46.

In related news, the British Columbia Supreme Court last week ordered the B.C. Government to restore language that was stripped by legislation from the collective agreement of the British Columbia Teachers' Federation in 2002 and pay the union $2 million in damages.

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Defend the Pensions We Have; Fight for Pensions for All!

Labour Coalition on Pensions Holds
Town Hall Meeting


(UNA)

The Labour Coalition on Pensions organized a Telephone Town Hall meeting at Grant McEwan University in Edmonton on January 21. The Coalition was established by public sector unions representing more than 300,000 active and retired workers who are pension plan members. The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) reports that almost 10,000 people participated in the telephone meeting, calling in and responding to poll questions.

Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) President Gil McGowan explained that the Redford government has announced that it will introduce legislation during the upcoming spring session of the Legislature imposing retrogressive changes to Alberta's public pension plans.

The Telephone Town Hall featured Vancouver-based pension expert Brendan George in conversation with UNA President Heather Smith, AFL President Gil McGowan, Health Sciences Association of Alberta President Elisabeth Ballermann and Canadian Union of Public Employees-Alberta President Marle Roberts. The event was moderated by CBC radio personality Jana O'Connor.

Heather Smith explained that the government's proposed pension changes mean working longer and paying more for less secure and smaller pensions. Early unreduced retirement for workers who have achieved the "85 factor" (age plus years of service equals 85) will be eliminated. The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will be reduced from 60 to 50 per cent and is no longer guaranteed. The value of pensions for younger workers will be reduced by as much as 25 per cent, she said.

Elisabeth Ballermann said that one of most odious changes is the intention to legislate a cap on contributions. Faced with a crisis like that of 2008, pension boards would not be able to increase contribution rates. The pension boards could be faced with cutting pension benefits, making government assurances that current pensions will not be touched hollow.

Marle Roberts said that the Conservatives love to talk about the gold-plated pensions of public sector workers but the reality is very different. The average pension under the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP) is $15,000 per year, while the average Public Service Pension Plan (PSPP) pension is $12,400 a year. With an elimination of the guaranteed 60 per cent COLA for everyone who retires after 2016, pensions will provide less security in retirement. Who can live on what they made 25 - 30 years ago, she asked? This is what the government would force on seniors, and it is not acceptable.

Actuary Brendan George challenged the government's assertions that public sector pension plans are not sustainable. Following the financial crisis of 2008, the LAPP was deemed only 75 per cent funded, but by 2012, this had increased to 81 per cent. A similar "crisis" was declared in 1972 when the government said it would take 40 years to eliminate the unfunded liability, but it took less than ten years for the plan to return to fully funded status. He estimated that it would take about ten years before the unfunded liability has been eliminated, at which time contribution rates could be reduced.

Many people called in with questions while others expressed their determination to defeat this assault on the right to dignity and security in retirement.

A new campaign website truthaboutalbertapensions.ca has been established and town halls, pickets and other actions are being organized across the province as the campaign to defend the pensions we have and fight for pensions for all gains momentum in the weeks prior to the opening of the Legislature on March 3.

Note

The Labour Coalition on Pensions includes the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Alberta Fire Fighters Association, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the United Nurses of Alberta, and a number of smaller unions.

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Unsustainable Wrecking of Public Services
Must Be Stopped!

Privatizing public services destroys pensions

Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner claims retrogressive changes are needed to make public sector pension plans "sustainable." The Labour Coalition on Pensions hired Vancouver-based actuarial firm George & Bell Consulting to look at the plans' sustainability. The study concludes that those plans, which currently have an unfunded liability will likely return to fully funded status within nine years. At that time, the contribution rate could be reduced by as much as five per cent. The study makes clear that the claims of a crisis in the pension system are unfounded. The study confirms the conclusion of the Local Authorities Pension Plan, the largest of the public service plans, which is recommending no changes.

Pension plans are not in crisis now, but the solutions proposed by both the PCs and Wildrose are a direct threat to future viability.

United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith points out: "The government's plan for pension cuts is unjustified, unfair and reckless. In the name of sustainability, they're actually going to make the plans less sustainable by tying the hands of the people who manage the plans and undermining the confidence of the workers and employers who participate in the plans."

The proposed changes would mean that the pension plan would cost more and provide lower and less secure benefits. This would discourage people working less than 30 hours a week from joining the plan, in turn further destabilizing the plan, Smith said.

Privatizing Public Services Destroys Pensions

Elisabeth Ballermann, President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, points to the situation facing hospital lab workers in Edmonton. Alberta Health Services (AHS) plans to turn over Edmonton labs to private monopoly interests. Lab workers would no longer have a pension. Privatizing public assets has already deprived thousands of workers of a pension and dignity and security in retirement. Instead of attacking workers who have pensions, Ballermann said, governments must act to provide pensions for all.

The Redford government and AHS must be forced to stop and reverse privatization and wrecking and instead take active measures to increase the number of active workers in the pension plans as part of overall measures to ensure pensions for all. Factors like the ratio of active to retired workers, and the average age at which people join the plan have a big impact on its viability as well as the contribution rates required.

The replacement of full-time permanent work with temporary, casual and low FTE (Full-Time-Equivalent) part-time work must be stopped and reversed. Workers cannot join the Local Authorities Pension Plan unless they are permanent employees working at least 14 hours a week. Those who work between 14 and 30 hours can join only if their employer has opted for this provision. Since pension plan membership is optional for FTEs below 0.8 (equal to four days a week), many people with reduced FTEs or uncertain hours of work are faced with the "choice" of joining the pension plan or making ends meet in the present.

Retrogressive privatization and the imposition of temporary and part-time jobs without pension entitlement are direct acts of governments in the service of private interests, not something beyond the control of people through the public authority. Privatizations have resulted in much of the value produced by former public sector workers not going into the public treasury or pension funds but into the coffers of owners of capital and in many cases right out of the economy and country. These new owners of public assets have attacked the wages, benefits and working conditions of the workers and eliminated their pensions, unions and security. This is unsustainable and must be reversed!

The problem is not that pensions are unsustainable, far from it. The level of productivity of any modern socialized economy, especially one enjoying the natural bounty of Alberta and Canada and a skilled working class, has more than enough capacity to guarantee the right of all to security in retirement at a Canadian standard of living. The solution is not to attack the right of workers to security in retirement, but to block and reverse the wrecking of public services and pensions by governments serving the private interests of the rich and their global monopolies. Governments that attack the rights of people, rights that they hold by virtue of being human, are not fit to govern and must be replaced by an authority that defends the public interest and rights of all.

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Seniors Demand No Cuts to Their Pharmacare Plan

 

Edmonton seniors held a sit-in at Health Minister Fred Horne's office on January 16. They demanded that the Minister come clean on secret plans being hatched to eliminate the seniors' drug program and replace it with a non-universal means-tested system.

Almost a year ago, the Redford government announced it would make cuts to seniors' Pharmacare and that funding for the seniors' drug program would be reduced by $180 million in 2014. Since that time, it has made no further public announcements.

The Seniors' Task Force of Public Interest Alberta has been attempting to arrange a meeting with the Minister of Health and the Premier since last September without success. The Seniors' Task Force is comprised of a number of seniors' organizations, concerned citizens' groups and unions. Task Force members decided to hold what Chair Noel Somerville called "an old-fashioned sit-in." The seniors spent the day at Horne's constituency office. At about 1 am when the media and supporters had left for the night, the police were called and the seniors evicted.

The current Pharmacare plan requires seniors' to pay 30 per cent of the cost of each prescription, to a maximum of $25.00 for each prescription refill. A previous government scheme to impose a two-tier system was scrapped after widespread opposition. The Seniors' Task Force points out that before she was elected as leader of the PCs, Alberta Premier Alison Redford gave a written assurance that she would keep the current seniors' drug plan. Health Minister Horne made the same pledge in writing one month before the last provincial election.

In response to the sit-in, the health minister issued a statement claiming no secret agenda exists. Horne said consultations on the Pharmacare plan are ongoing and "at no time have we indicated we would cut benefits, and to suggest so is misleading."

In response, Seniors' Task Force Chair Noel Somerville said the government has consistently stated they will cut $180 million from funding for seniors' pharmacare in 2014-15. He also pointed out that the health minister has been quoted in the media and Legislature talking about using an income-based system similar to the one in British Columbia. Somerville explained: "If instituted, this plan will become a form of surtax on people simply because they are sick, and we don't know anyone who thinks that is acceptable public policy."

Alberta has a rapidly growing population and the number of seniors is increasing. The cost of drugs is going up. Cuts to benefits would follow even if funding remains the same. The government, using neo-liberal jargon calls "cuts" as "savings," but these "savings from cuts" is money stolen from seniors.

The health minister claims he is engaged in consultations but has had no meeting with seniors' organizations or any public consultations. Albertans have no official information on the Pharmacare issue on which they could deliberate. Who then is the minister consulting?

Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare says, "We know the lobby group for the insurance industry has communicated with him and said they would not be able to implement any changes within twelve to eighteen months, so we wonder if this is who the Minister is referring to when he says people have asked for the new plan to be delayed.... The Minister needs to say who else he is listening to because it is certainly not the seniors of Alberta."

The seniors declared their action to be a partial success as a meeting with the Minister of Health has been scheduled for February 13. The Task Force will then determine its next steps in its campaign for a universal pharmacare plan in which provision of prescription drugs becomes an integral part of the health care system, available to all on the basis of need, not ability to pay.

The Seniors' Task Force is taking a stand to defend the coverage for seniors that exists and to extend pharmacare to include universal coverage for all. User fees and two-tier benefits for seniors are unacceptable. They are an affront to the rights of seniors. The Pharmacare plan needs strengthening not wrecking, Society is duty bound to guarantee the rights of seniors who have contributed to society throughout their lifetime and to provide the right to health care for all with a guarantee.

(Photos: Public Interest Alberta)

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