November 3, 2021 - No. 103

Steelworkers Must Have Say in Decisions that Affect Them

"Green" Pay-the-Rich Federal
Handout to ArcelorMittal

Construction Workers Call for Increased Vocational Training in the Sector
Daycare Workers' Strike Upholds Right to Child Care

Paramedics Organize to End Crisis in Emergency Medical Services
- Peggy Morton

Steelworkers Must Have Say in Decisions that Affect Them

"Green" Pay-the-Rich Federal
Handout to ArcelorMittal

At the same time the Trudeau government gave Essar Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie money to modernize its process of production, it also gave ArcelorMittal Dofasco (AMD) in Hamilton some $400 million of public money to be used to convert its Hamilton steel mill from basic oxygen steelmaking to an electric arc furnace (EAF). The announcement on July 30 was made just two weeks before the Trudeau government called its pandemic federal election. It was not only a thinly disguised attempt to influence Hamilton voters with public money but also illustrates how the federal government plans on being in the forefront of meeting its climate crisis commitments with pay-the-rich schemes which benefit foreign interests.

The foreign owned and controlled ArcelorMittal is the largest steel monopoly in Canada and accounts for half of all steel production in the country. ArcelorMittal is headquartered in Europe with multiple facilities and operations worldwide.

The payout from the federal treasury is but one of a series of pay-the-rich schemes to large companies using advances in green technology as an excuse to enhance the private wealth, power and class privilege of certain well-positioned and connected oligarchs. This second pay-the-rich project in the steel sector follows the earlier announcement of $420 million of federal money for the U.S.-owned and controlled Essar Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie. That handout is likewise to fund the steel company's transition to EAF steelmaking.

The Trudeau government pay-the-rich schemes to transition to EAF at both mills have been carried out behind the backs of the steelworkers directly concerned. At Algoma, the funding was organized without any consultation or planning with United Steelworkers Local 2251, its President Mike Da Prat and the collective membership. The announcement of money for the transition to EAF at AMD in Hamilton likewise took place behind the backs of steelworkers who are not organized into a collective defence organization.

The consequences for steelworkers during the transition could be serious as EAF is a different process requiring skills that many current steelworkers do not possess. Talking with Workers' Forum, Local 2251 President Da Prat said the arrangement for federal money to fund the EAF transition at Algoma was reached without any consultation with the workers. President Da Prat questioned, "Why is the government jumping in without any thought about requiring the company to, at a minimum, protect jobs?"

He insists that the government should have contacted the workers to hear their concerns. Steelworkers need "some guarantees on work assignments and how movement of workers within the changed operation will take place," he said, adding that Algoma steelworkers have worries about job reductions.

"This process is not like an on and off switch, that we are an integrated steel mill today, then that is switched off and the EAF is switched on. That is not how it works. There is going to be a transition period. They will need to run both processes simultaneously for a period. New people are going to come in to get trained in the new process. The older workers who are trained in the current process cannot be left out in the cold to be gotten rid of when the EAF is running at full speed. They will need a job. We are talking about a large number of workers," he added.

A big problem for steelworkers at ArcelorMittal Dofasco is that they have no collective defence union in which they can organize discussions among themselves and take actions based on an analysis of what will defend their rights and interests during this transition to EAF and to deal with other problems they face.

For President Da Prat's complete talk with Workers' Forum see What the Workers Have to Say.

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Construction Workers Call for Increased
Vocational Training in the Sector

In an October 21 press release, FTQ-Construction, the construction wing of the Quebec Federation of Labour, notes that the Legault government, in its inaugural speech of the National Assembly session, spoke in favour of improving vocational training for construction workers.

"We sincerely hope that the government will really make a difference so as to better support the development of vocational training and accessibility to programs dedicated to construction trades and occupations."

The press release indicates that the construction industry needs 12,000 DVS (Diploma of Vocational Studies) holders annually for all trades and occupations across all regions of Quebec for the 2021-2024 period.

"We are far from reaching these needs! The shortage of qualified workers is very worrying in many trades, occupations and regions of Quebec," writes Éric Boisjoly, general manager of the FTQ-Construction.

The press release emphasizes that the lack of places in Vocational Training Centres (VTC) to meet the need for graduates in certain construction trades and the lack of enrollment and accessibility in many regions hinder the training of a future generation of workers. It also indicates that the competence of the workforce is an important factor for the retention of workers on construction sites.

"The Quebec government, as the largest contractor, must not let the situation deteriorate. In this sense, we invite it to vigorously support vocational training for construction trades and occupations and to plan public works in order to stabilize the demand for labour and construction costs throughout the regions. [...] Job training and skills development are important retention factors and are key to ensuring economic recovery and good productivity in addition to addressing unemployment and industry dropouts."

Construction workers have long pointed out, the press release reiterates, that worksite apprenticeship and upgrading must complement the skills learned in vocational training.

After pointing out that vocational training centres are no longer able to keep up with the quantity and quality of training needed, the press release concludes by calling on the government to support vocational training by improving accessibility throughout Quebec, increasing budgets for material resources (materials, trainers, premises) and providing dedicated budgets for the development of more vocational training for trades in more locations.

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Daycare Workers' Strike Upholds Right to Child Care

The Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec (FIPEQ-CSQ) has called two one-day strikes on November 1 and 5 in the early childhood centres (CPEs) they represent. Early childhood educators have been holding rotating strikes to demand working conditions that will attract and retain personnel in the public sector, and address unsustainable workloads.

In mid-October, following actions by child care workers, the Quebec government announced an offer of a 12 per cent increase over three years for "qualified educators" only. A "qualified educator" is one one who holds a diploma of college studies in early childhood education or equivalent training recognized by the Minister of Families. The government offered them a lump sum payment of up to 17 per cent for those who agree to increase their work week from the average range of 32-36 hours to 40 hours per week. Other child care workers would receive less. 

The union considered the offer and made comparison charts to inform and consult its membership.

The union also conducted a survey of 1,099 child care workers in the network, just after the government offer from October 15-17, which also revealed that 69 per cent of employees have considered leaving their jobs because of exhaustion over the past three years. "A bonus for working 40 hours or more will certainly not solve this problem! This is what the government is stubbornly offering child care workers in its latest offer at the bargaining table," said Valérie Grenon, president of the FIPEQ-CSQ.

Workers stated in the survey that they did not have time to perform the many tasks required of them (78 per cent), that there were insufficient resources to provide what children with special needs require (65 per cent) and that staff shortages prevent the taking of recuperation days (60 per cent).

Following continued recent negotiations, the FIPEQ-CSQ says it is clear that the mandates have still not been given by the President of the Conseil du trésor, Sonia Lebel, to settle the negotiations. The FIPEQ-CSQ submitted a counter-proposal to the government on October 24. "The solutions put forward by the FIPEQ-CSQ are aimed at slowing down the exodus of experienced workers, but also at attracting new workers. On these two aspects, the government's proposal does not make it possible to solve the problems that afflict our network," explains the president of the FIPEQ-CSQ, Valérie Grenon.

In a November 1 statement the union says, "Our members would like elected officials to discuss with the government the importance of substantially improving working conditions for daycare workers. More specifically, how does the government intend to recruit 17,800 educators and thousands of workers from other job categories without a satisfactory settlement in the current negotiations? Why did it wait more than 16 months before making its first wage offer and why, after 20 months, are the mandates still late in coming?"

The FIPEQ-CSQ says it is looking forward to an important day of negotiations on November 4 to receive feedback on the solutions it is bringing with its counter-proposal tabled on October 24. "The latest offer from Quebec risks accentuating the exodus from our network, particularly among specialized educators who find themselves paid less than unqualified personnel. We can clearly see in our surveys that educators are asking for more specialized educators, more pedagogical and technical support agents, more attendants -- in short, more help to accompany children with special needs and to support their daily tasks," concluded Ms. Grenon.

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Paramedics Organize to End Crisis in
Emergency Medical Services

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), which represents paramedics across the province, is speaking out about the state of emergency services in Alberta. HSAA is smashing the silence on the acute shortage of staff and ambulances which has stretched emergency medical services (EMS) beyond their limits. The situation is so serious that Albertans can no longer be certain an ambulance will be available to respond when they need one, HSAA reports. The union is calling for a public review of the entire system to reveal the full extent of the crisis and action to resolve the unsustainable shortage of paramedics.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) took over the operation of ambulance services from municipalities in 2009, and completed consolidation of EMS dispatch services in January 2021. Ambulances are now dispatched from seven centres across the province. The final consolidation took place despite strong opposition from the city councils in Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Ft. McMurray who wanted to retain their local dispatch services. Ambulances are now routinely sent from one community to another, which not only results in longer response times, but also leaves communities with no available ambulance.

HSAA has tracked red alerts (no ambulance available to respond), including at least 135 red alerts in 12 communities on 50 days monitored. Between October 23 and October 26 alone, there were at least 20 red alerts. Ambulances responded to emergency calls in Calgary from 10 surrounding communities, including from Canmore which is 102 km from Calgary, and Three Hills, a distance of 132 km, leaving those communities without ambulance coverage. HSAA also reports that ambulances were parked for entire shifts in St. Paul, Andrew, Hardisty, Bonnyville, Hanna, Vulcan and Drumheller because there were no paramedics available to crew them. And in Grande Prairie and Drumheller, ambulances were downgraded from Advance Life Support to Basic Life Support because there was no Advanced Care Paramedic available to staff them.

At least 66 communities had an ambulance parked due to lack of crew for at least one day. Calgary had 18 ambulances parked on one day due to lack of crews (August 8, 2021). Vermillion had an ambulance parked at least 20 of 50 days, at least 52 times the response time exceeded 30 minutes and at least 22 times the response time exceeded 60 minutes. A Redwater crew were sent to Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement, a distance of 97 kilometers, for an ATV rollover accident, a response time of 61 minutes. The patient tragically died at the scene.

"We have heard reassurances the closest ambulance will be sent to people who need them," said HSAA President, Mike Parker. "What we aren't being told is the number of times there is no ambulance available to respond, or that when one is available it could be coming from another city or town -- 30 minutes or even an hour away."

HSAA launched the HSAA EMS Facebook page on August 28 to give Albertans an idea of what's happening across the province when it comes to ambulance availability. The information provided on the page comes from HSAA members currently working in EMS within Alberta. The first 50 days of HSAA's EMS Facebook page have led to the conclusion Albertans may not have timely access to an ambulance when they need one.

Parker, who is an Advance Care Paramedic, also spoke about the impact on paramedics when precious minutes are lost for a patient in need of emergency response. "I can tell you sitting in an ambulance knowing it's going to take an hour to get to someone who needs you is devastating for the health and well-being of paramedics."

The COVID-19 pandemic as well as the opioid crisis have exacerbated the crisis in emergency response. This is not a new problem, but one that has been growing for more than a decade through a succession of governments, Parker explained. "The cost of continued inaction is measured in lives," he said.

The response of AHS confirms what the paramedics are saying, both about the huge increase in calls and the failure of government to provide the needed resources. A spokesperson for AHS acknowledged that paramedics are responding to up to 30 per cent more calls this year, and said that it has increased the number of paramedics by nine per cent over the past two years. This amounts to at least a 21 per cent cut. AHS also claimed to be filling 100 paramedic positions across the province, but as HSAA pointed out, no new positions are actually being created. Instead, 70 casual positions will become temporary positions, and 30 temporary positions will be continued.

HSAA president Mike Parker responded to the announcement: "It doesn't solve the issue of not having enough members hired. Every shift is being run short. Without hiring more new paramedics, the current government continues to put the system, our members, and every Albertan needing urgent medical care, at risk."

"What we're seeing is a system that was already running on the edge of failure, running 'Code Red' every single day and we are now going to a forced overtime system, a forced model where anybody who is left standing is left picking it up and trying to keep this system together," Parker said.

Highest quality emergency medical services when needed are literally a matter of life and death. Paramedics are clearly showing Albertans that the status quo is unsustainable, and what is needed to fix it, while successive governments have continued to underfund the emergency response system, ignore those on the ground who know what is needed and cover up the consequences of this neo-liberal wrecking. Paramedics are speaking out, informing Albertans about the crisis and the solutions, and engaging with communities to speak out to demand that the UCP government guarantee the right to emergency medical services.

(With files from CBC, CityNews, and HSAA. Graphics: HSAA)

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