February 7, 2019

Tragic Deaths of Three Rail Workers

Urgent Need for a Rail Safety Regime that Serves the Employees and Public


Lockout at the ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec
Support for Locked-Out Workers Keeps Coming In

Ford Government's Anti-Social Offensive Deepens Crisis in Health Care

The Need for a Human-Centred Health Care Delivery System
Advisory Committee Report Turns Its Back on Ontario's Hospital Capacity
- Ontario Council of Hospital Unions
Health Care Union Calls for Immediate Action to Address Staffing Needs in Long-Term Care Facilities

Crisis in Quebec Health Care System
Unresolved Issues in Health Care and Social Services

Discussion on How to Fund Social Programs and Other Economic Issues
Part One -- The Necessity for a Motive of Production and Work Consistent with
the Modern Social Conditions

Tragic Deaths of Three Rail Workers

Urgent Need for a Rail Safety Regime that
Serves the Employees and Public

Workers' Forum expresses its deepest condolences to the families, loved ones and co-workers of conductor Dylan Paradis, engineer Andrew Dockrell and trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer, Canadian Pacific Railway crew members killed on February 4, in a train derailment near the Alberta-British Columbia border. The train plunged nearly 60 metres from a bridge into the Kicking Horse River.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) said the workers had just taken over the train consisting of three locomotives and 112 cars east of Field, BC. All three workers were based in Calgary.

Eight railway workers have now died in Canada since November 2017. Investigations into these accidents are still ongoing, TCRC reports.

"Today, our focus is on this accident as well as the victims' friends and families. But moving forward, the government and the rail industry will have to recognize that something is wrong and change is needed. Eight workplace fatalities in a little over a year is not something that should be expected or accepted," said Lyndon Isaack, President of the TCRC.

Left to right: Dylan Paradis, Andrew Dockrell and Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer. The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference has set up a fundraising page to assist the families of the workers killed: https://www.gofundme.com/laggan-relief-fund

The train derailed between the Upper and Lower Spiral Tunnels, which were built in 1910 to accommodate the steep grade over the Kicking Horse Pass, a high mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Americas with an elevation of 1,627 metres. The slope grade and route are considered one of the most treacherous in North America.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) website has documented 64 CP train derailments since 2004 on the 220 kilometre track between Field, BC and Calgary. Almost half of those accidents have occurred within 30 kilometres of the area near the Spiral Tunnels. Another derailment took place in the same area as recently as January 3.

In a news conference held February 5, the TSB spokesperson stated that preliminary indications suggest the disaster was a "loss of control" that began after the train had been parked for several hours and with a change of crew. The train started to move on its own and barrelled down a steep slope of tracks for three kilometres before plunging over a cliff.

Environment Canada reports temperatures at the time were extremely cold and well below what is considered the "tipping point" of -25°C when the cold can cause failure of air brakes and other cold-related hazards.

The spokesperson had no information in response to questions from the press as to whether CP was in contact with the crew prior to boarding, and whether the crew had expressed concerns about proceeding under the conditions.

Rail workers have waged a protracted struggle to defend their health and safety and that of the public from the rapacious and reckless actions of CP in its pursuit and competition for private profit. Features of the deadly rivalry over freight transportation in Canada include fewer workers in control of trains and engaged in maintenance, more remote-controlled operations and trains that are longer, faster, and loaded with heavier freight including dangerous materials such as oil and gas.

Rail workers are precious, and the terrible and continuing loss of their lives must be ended. CP, other railways and governments that permit self-regulation and the pursuit of private profit in contradiction with the safety of workers and the public must be held to account.

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Lockout at the ABI Smelter in Bécancour, Quebec

Support for Locked-Out Workers Keeps Coming In

Workers from the Raglan mine in northern Quebec visit the locked out ABI workers in Bécancour, February 5, 2019

The 1,300 workers at the ABI smelter in Bécancour have now been locked out for almost 13 months. United Steelworkers Local 9700 reports that discussions have been taking place since January 30 between the union and company representatives. ABI workers demand that the Alcoa/Rio Tinto cartel, the owner of ABI, stop its provocations and negotiate a collective agreement that workers can accept. Issues that were in dispute in December 2017, pension plan funding, seniority in job posting and labour mobility, are still on the table. As well, the owners have added new demands for concessions, including the removal of 20 per cent of unionized jobs at the smelter. This would weaken the union in its organized struggle for workers' rights. The ABI workers are firmly opposed.

Support for ABI workers keeps coming in. On February 5, a delegation representing the 820 unionized workers of the Raglan mine in Nunavik, the most northern region of Quebec, came to support them on their picket lines. These members of USW Local 9449 who are employed by the Glencore mining and metallurgical monopoly have decided to double their monthly contribution to support the ABI workers. "They face a multinational, just as our employer is. We know that negotiations with these big companies are more and more difficult. Their battle is also ours. It is important that they feel that we are with them," said Éric Savard, the President of the Local. Other union locals also provided financial support to Bécancour workers.

ABI workers also continue their tour of unions across Quebec to explain their struggle and mobilize support. In recent weeks, representatives of locked out workers have been meeting with Unifor workers in Baie-Comeau, in the Saguenay region, as well as the Suncor workers in Montreal, who themselves faced a 14-month lockout in 2007.

On February 12, while the workers of ABI are participating in a general meeting of the union to take stock of the situation, the workers of the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Alma in Lac-Saint-Jean will travel about five hours by bus to replace them on their picket lines.

Support for ABI workers keeps coming in, strengthening the conviction that their struggle is the struggle of all for their rights and dignity.

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Ford Government's Anti-Social Offensive Deepens Crisis in Health Care

The Need for a Human-Centred
Health Care Delivery System

Rally at Queen's Park, October 23, 2018 in defence of public health care.

Ontario's spending on public health care is one of the lowest per-capita of all provinces in Canada. Still, its total annual health care budget stands at close to $58 billion, and given the neo-liberal agenda of consecutive Ontario governments of every political stripe, health care spending has become a cash cow for global monopolies providing consultants, planners, accounting, supplies and services in the lucrative for-profit health care industry. Front-line health care workers and their organizations, as well as Ontarians, 49 per cent of whom accessed the health care system in 2018, are the ones who have first hand knowledge and know best that this direction is unsustainable and straining the health care system to the breaking point. It is their voice that must be heard in addressing the problems of health care. Having their voice in the halls of government where the decisions are taken, would go a long way to addressing the problems confronting public health care.

On January 31, the Ford government received a report from the Premier's personally-appointed advisory committee entitled Hallway Health Care: A System Under Strain. The Chair of this committee is Dr. Rueben Devlin, a former CEO of Humber River Hospital who has had a direct hand in administering neo-liberal health care policy. More significantly he is a former President of the Ontario PC Party, and a member of Premier Doug Ford's election team. So, he is not just any old hospital CEO. Devlin was appointed special advisor to the Premier on the day of Ford's swearing-in, with an annual salary of $348,000. It is also noteworthy that none of the members of advisory council were front-line staff who have to bear the brunt of the health care crisis in Ontario.

The report purports to recognize the problems of patients accessing the system and of staff who deliver the services, but in fact it dismisses the problems and the measures to address them long identified by front-line health care providers. Instead it sets the stage for a second report to follow in the spring which will make recommendations to the government, for concentrating decision-making power in the hands of fewer and fewer government appointed administrators. Not only will this further dehumanize both conditions of work of care-givers and of accessing health care services for patients, it will enable the monopoly capitalists in the for-profit health care industry to capture even more of the social wealth appropriated from working people in the form of tax dollars spent on public health care.

The report acknowledges, among other things, that on any given day there are at least 1,000 patients receiving care in Ontario hospital hallways. It acknowledges that in November 2018 there were 4,665 patients in hospitals because the average wait time to access alternative care options is six days for home care or 146 days for a long-term care facility bed. It acknowledges that infectious diseases contracted while in hospital are expensive to treat and place a considerable burden on the system, lengthening hospital stays by two weeks on average.

Yet the Premier's special advisor outright ignores that repeated studies have shown that the reason people are dying from infections like C. difficile contracted in hospital lies primarily with under-staffing and overcrowding of hospital wards. The inhuman outlook of the Premier's advisory council is such that their report outright declares that adding more beds to the system will not solve the problem of hallway health care in Ontario! Incredible!

Also on January 31, a draft copy of a government bill entitled the Health System Efficiency Act was leaked to the NDP, who made it public. The draft legislation reveals that the Special Advisory Committee's first report to identify problems and its forthcoming second report to recommend solutions are a sham. The draft legislation indicates "solutions" have already been decided, namely: achieving efficiencies in delivery mechanisms, economies of digital medicine, on-line appointment making, and economies of scale for supply chain management of goods and services used by hospitals etc., to achieve an "integrated" approach to health care delivery to be managed by a "Super Agency."

Speaking about the leaked legislation, Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition said, "The legislation is an omnibus bill. It would necessitate amendments to dozens of pieces of major health care legislation. It gives unprecedented powers to the Super Agency to order the privatization of any health provider's procurement and supply chain. It does not define -- and therefore does not limit -- what ‘procurement' and supplies could be included. In plain language, the Super Agency would be able to order the privatization of whole swaths of health care and support services. It also enables the Super Agency -- made up of 15 appointees of Ford's cabinet -- to order the specific company to which the services are privatized. These powers have never been passed in Ontario law before. They are extraordinary privatization powers."

Furthermore, creating a Super Agency, will have the effect of even further removing the ability of the public to have any input whatsoever. Mehra elaborated that "the drafters of the bill purposefully left out virtually all if not all the public interest provisions that we have won in amendments to the LHINs (Local Health Integration Networks) legislation. Requirements that board meetings be held in public and limiting secret meetings? Eliminated. Appeals, more robust public consultations about planning and restructuring decisions? Gone. Requirements that LHINs measure and plan for population health needs, also gone. Principles to guide health planning and restructuring? Erased. It would have been a disaster if the Ford government had finished drafting this legislation and pushed it through the Legislature with very limited time and ability for us to stop it."

The Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Federation of Labour immediately called on the Ontario government to throw out the draft legislation and scrap all plans for the privatization of health care in Ontario. They also launched an online petition which can be accessed here. The OFL also announced a province-wide political action campaign starting the last week of February in London, Waterloo, North Bay and Durham and leading to a province-wide assembly in Toronto at the Metro Convention Centre on March 25 entitled the "Power of Many."

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Advisory Committee Report Turns Its Back on Ontario's Hospital Capacity Crisis

Health care workers participate in Queen's Park rally in defence of public health care,
October 23, 2018.

Today's [January 31] initial report from Ontario's PC government "expert" Reuben Devlin "can only be seen as an epic failure to face the truth about why patients are in the hallways and tub rooms of overcrowded hospitals. Mr. Devlin is turning his back on Ontario's hospital capacity crisis," says [Michael Hurley,] president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the large-hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario.

"The evidence shows that Ontario has a hospital capacity problem, too few beds and staff. Attempts to paint the capacity issues as an alternate level of care (ALC) clog ignore scientific studies that suggest that at least one-third of people designated as ALC patients are suffering from multiple conditions and do require acute care hospitalization," says Hurley.

OCHU is urging the Premier and health minister to put patients' interest above their government's plans to give more tax breaks and cut billions of dollars from public services and look at the clear evidence that investments in our under-resourced hospitals and more beds are needed to end hallway medicine.

Access and capacity problems that the Ontario hospital system is facing are only going to grow, warns Hurley. "What's needed is not a permanent investment and expansion, but significant investments and beds are needed to fund the hospital needs of Ontario for the next 25 years, after which the demographic wave recedes and the need for such investments diminishes over time. Ontario did not turn its back on the reality of the baby boom, and it must not turn its back on that generation as it ages and needs more health care services.

"What's especially cynical about the politics of the Devlin report is that it suppresses access to hospital services, already the lowest in the country, to move those needed dollars to massive tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, already at the lowest levels in North America," says Hurley.

In the last two decades, despite Ontario's booming and increasing population, nearly 18,000 beds were cut from hospitals creating constant overcrowding all year long, not just in surge flu season periods. Ontario spends the least on hospital care than other provinces, about $400 less per patient, although it is the richest. Patients in this province receive one-half hour less nursing care per day and have the shortest hospital length of stay.

Studies show that just a few minutes more of bedside care significantly improve patient outcomes. Ontario is an outlier in terms of its lack of hospital capacity with respect to Canada and, especially, in comparison to countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), notes Hurley. "It is, however, a world leader in readmissions to hospital, a telling sign of lack of capacity which drives people out of hospital while they are still ill and brings them back for longer and more costly hospitalization -- a telling system failure."

Devlin's cure for hospital overcrowding mirrors an old prescription of the previous Liberal government to replace hospital care with home care. "We need additional home care to keep pace with the hospital discharges and to avoid hospitalization, but home care is not a substitute for the absent hospital bed capacity. This is simply used as an excuse for not adding the needed beds in our hospitals. We should prepare for more hallway health care if Premier Ford fills Devlin's prescription," says Hurley.

(January 31, 2019)

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Health Care Union Calls for Immediate Action to Address Staffing Needs in Long-Term Care Facilities

SIEU health care workers picket outside Scarborough Veterans' care facility, November 8, 2018.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 24,000 front-line staff in long-term care (LTC) facilities across Ontario has issued another urgent appeal for the government to address under-staffing issues to meet the health and safety needs of residents and staff alike. The appeal was issued by SEIU Health Care President Sharleen Stewart on February 1, the same day that the CBC published an exposé of conditions in LTC facilities in Ontario.

SEIU Health Care President Sharleen Stewart's statement read: "As the union that represents the most long-term care workers in Ontario, the under-staffing and health and safety issues highlighted by today's CBC Marketplace story are unfortunately all too familiar to us. We have been speaking out and ringing alarm bells on these issues for over a decade. Under-staffing has now become an epidemic in LTC facilities across the province and we continue to demand immediate solutions to this crisis. We are urging the Ontario government to work with us and the more than 24,000 frontline LTC staff we represent, to establish a mandatory minimum hours of direct care for residents and additional funding to allow long-term care facilities to be staffed sufficiently. Until these changes happen, the health and safety of residents and staff in long-term care facilities will continue to be at serious risk."

The CBC report was based on evidence gathered by an undercover reporter using a hidden camera while working as a volunteer, to document conditions for residents and staff at Markhaven Home for Seniors in Markham. This particular institution ranks in the median range in terms of reported incidents involving residents at a long term care facility in Ontario. This institution however was brought into the spotlight following the death of an 84-year-old resident in 2017. Both the Ministry and the institution stonewalled family requests for an account of what happened but because family members had secretly installed a camera to monitor the care provided, it was impossible for the Ministry and the institution to dismiss the legitimate concerns about the quality of care being provided.

Chronic under-staffing was immediately apparent to the CBC reporter, who noted that the home relied heavily on high school student volunteers putting in their 40 hours of community service that high schools require as a condition of graduation. Under-staffing was exacting a heavy toll on staff who skipped lunches and breaks in order to tend to residents, yet were still demoralized by not being able to adequately meet the needs of residents whose basic sanitary needs, for example, could not be routinely met due to under-staffing. The SEIU equates under-staffing as systemic abuse of the patients.

There are no guidelines in Ontario mandating the number of hours of direct care that residents of long term care facilities are to receive. They were scrapped back in 1996 by the Mike Harris Conservatives and never replaced.

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Crisis in Quebec Health Care System

Unresolved Issues in Health Care and Social Services

Three Outaouais health care unions have formed a common front to put forward their demands to improve the working conditions of their workers and the health care and social services available to the population.[1] The three unions' first joint action was to demand a meeting with a Quebec government representative designated to investigate problems within the health care system in the Outaouais and report to the Quebec Minister of Health.

The three unions are concerned the designated government trustee did not seek to meet with them, as they are very knowledgeable as to the problems facing health care services in the region. They handed in a petition signed by union employees. Among their preoccupations is the exhaustion felt by many due to compulsory overtime, staff shortages and the heavy workloads. They also raise the need for local services for populations living in the region.

Line Plante, President of Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation (FIQ) asks why no pivot nurses, who work closely with cancer patients and their families, work in the region. How could that be normal she demands? Also, why do women living in the Vallée-de-la-Gatineau have no child birth care and mothers must go to Gatineau or to Mont-Laurier to give birth? The unions jointly demand that these services be a priority and that the required services be put in place to meet the needs of the population throughout the region.

In related news, nurses of the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal held a sit-in on January 27 to express their discontent in the face of compulsory overtime and to demand the hiring of new nurses to deal with staff shortages. Workers recall that since the Quebec elections last year, the new Minister of Health, Danielle McCann, has expressed time and again that she would leave no stone unturned to solve this problem. Now her approach appears to have somewhat changed. She recently stated that the issue of compulsory overtime should be resolved by means of the pilot projects put in place by former Health Minister Gaétan Barrette towards the end of last year and whose declared objective was to examine the nurse/patient ratio so as to eventually reduce the number of patients somewhat. How this concretely addresses the matter of solving the pressing problem of compulsory overtime is not at all clear as nurse/patient ratios are more directly connected with the level of care. These pilot projects do not address the urgency of the situation of compulsory overtime, which requires immediate resolution.


 1. The three unions are the Alliance of Health and Social Service Professional and Technical Staff, Confederation of national unions and the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation.

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Discussion on How to Fund Social Programs and Other Economic Issues

Part One -- The Necessity for a Motive of
Production and Work Consistent with the
Modern Social Conditions

Where does the money come from for social programs and public services? We are told it comes from the public purse yet that explains nothing and is akin to saying food comes from the supermarket.

Working people recognize clearly that governments have no trouble finding money to pay the rich but say no money can be found to pay for social programs and public services and to guarantee the rights people have by virtue of being human.

Governments, workers and private enterprises all make claims on the value the working class produces. How much those claims should be and where the value goes clearly relate to who decides.

For example, in Ontario, the Ford government is intensifying the anti-social offensive. This relates to who decides the claims on the value workers produce and where the value should go. How then do the people find and enforce an alternative to the anti-social offensive where the people can decide and enforce where to invest the claims on the value workers produce.

The Motivation for Production and Work

To find an alternative to the anti-social offensive and who presently claims the value workers produce and decides where the value should be invested, the people should first focus on the motivation for production and work. Why do we work? What is the purpose regarding the development of the means of production and articles of consumption and the modern infrastructure? According to the outlook and motivation of the rich, the drive to produce those means of production and articles of consumption would be reduced if the drive for individual wealth and competition amongst companies for the value workers produce were replaced with another motivation and outlook.

The Marxist-Leninists have a different view on the matter. They think that the drive to be rich and having the economy divided up into competing parts can only carry an economy and society so far. At a certain point, what has developed so far needs new social forms and an outlook to resolve the problems that have accumulated. New social forms, outlook and motivation have to be created consistent with the developed economy and social conditions, especially the massive means of production, articles of consumption and infrastructure that have come into being.

Most innovation these days comes from scientists and others working within large corporations, the universities and the military. A few are singled out for acclaim and awarded riches but the effort really arises collectively through what society has already developed. In the present social conditions, advance arising from those collective institutions can either be blocked or accepted depending on whether the innovation serves the narrow private interests of a particular company in control within a darkening atmosphere of global competition and war preparations.

In addition to this, solving problems in the social and political fields and the natural environment and how to guarantee the rights that belong to people by virtue of being human do not form part of the motive to be rich. The solutions to those problems have to be found with a new motivation and outlook consistent with the modern social conditions. Those solutions require great collective efforts from the working class in general where no individual is going to become super rich but society itself in its ensemble will be enriched. Workers in general have to see in practice that their efforts will reward themselves personally to have a better and more secure life, as well as assist their peers, collectives and economy and give them assurance that society is advancing and prospering in an atmosphere of unity without threats of war and that solutions can be found to the pressing problems in the social and political fields and natural environment and to guarantee the rights of all.

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