On March 8, 2014, UFCW Local 401 presented a screening of the film The End of Immigration? in conjunction with Migrante Alberta. The film focuses on the growing practice among Canadian companies of bringing temporary foreign workers into the country with empty (and usually broken) promises to perform work in often-unacceptable conditions and at criminally low wages.
As the film’s producers note,
The End of Immigration?, uncovers a trend which is having a profound impact on the society in which we live, where there will be citizens with full rights, and “rent-a-workers” with few or none.
By comparing the situation of these temporary workers with that of their own parents who arrived in Canada as unskilled workers in the last century, the filmmakers uncover a hidden world that’s as close as the MacDonald’s on the corner. And they ask the crucial question: is this the kind of society we want to build?
UFCW Local 401 was excited to coordinate this event with Migrante Alberta as part of our ongoing effort to expose persistent problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and champion more inclusive and effective immigration policy in Canada.
Turn out for the event was fantastic and included an opportunity to discuss issues in greater depth with two temporary foreign workers featured in the film, Malcolm Guy (one of the film’s directors), and immigration advocate and expert Yessy Byl.
As well, NDP MLA and Labour Critic Rachel Notley stopped by the screening to speak with participants about why the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is such an important issue in Alberta and what the Alberta NDP is doing to address ongoing problems with the Program.
“The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been problematic almost from the start,” said Notley. “Workers are given empty promises about citizenship that never materialize and employer abuse is not uncommon. What we need to do is explore legitimate pathways to permanent residency for foreign workers that also enhance Alberta’s economy. Those are the sorts of solutions that Alberta’s New Democrats are committed to finding.”
UFCW Local 401 looks forward to organizing future events to bring further awareness to the issues facing temporary foreign and other migrant workers in Alberta.
Earlier in 2014, UFCW Local 401 coordinated a series of meetings to engage Safeway members about improvements they would like to see made to their Union Contract during negotiations. A proposal survey was also mailed out to all members and posted on the union’s website and a telephone town hall was organized to seek as much input about negotiations from members as possible.
Not known for being timid, Safeway members have approached the negotiating process with zeal – attending meetings across the province, participating in a lively town hall, and submitting healthy stacks of proposal surveys to the Bargaining Committee.
UFCW 401 Secretary Treasurer Theresa McLaren spent March 25-28 meeting with the Bargaining Committee to review the proposals and prepare for negotiations with the employer.
“It’s great to see Safeway members so engaged in the negotiating process,” said McLaren. “One thing we learned while negotiating with Superstore last year is that the more engaged and active the members are, the better negotiations go. This is a great start to the process.”
Safeway members have the added confidence of going into negotiations as members of the National Defense Fund (NDF), which they voted overwhelmingly to join during the proposal meetings.
The NDF is special fund members can utilize should they find themselves in need of resources to support a strong strike campaign. As members of the NDF, Safeway workers have the strength of standing with more than 46,000 other UFCW Canada members and can access more than $37 million of resources available through the Fund.
The following dates have been set for negotiations and Safeway members are encouraged to drop by if they are in area (exact meeting locations will be posted on the union’s website):
April 8 – 11 (Calgary)
May 12 – 16 (Calgary)
June 10 – 13 (Edmonton)
July 14 – 18 (Calgary)
August 25 – 29 (Edmonton)
September 15 – 19 (Calgary)
We’ll keep you posted as Safeway members get ready to bargain strong together!
One of the most notable differences between working in the sectors most UFCW 401 members do and working in the remote services industry (camp catering), is the presence of a rotating scheduling system. This differs greatly from our other nearly 30,000 Local 401 members. Here’s how it works.
Having to take a bus, drive a car (and many of the camps don’t have staff parking so the bus ride from Fort McMurray or Edmonton is mandatory) and travel extensively to a remote camp site, prevents the ability to have a 5 days on – 2 days off weekly work cycle, as is typical in most workplaces even if the days off are split up. This industry has a unique process of daily functioning.
Workers in the camp catering industry stay on site in accommodations provided by the employer. This creates unique problems, as you can well imagine because, let’s face it, the vast majority of workers can go home at the end of the day and do pretty much what they like in their own living space. Camp workers, while at work on their rotations, are at the mercy of their landlord – their employer.
A typical rotation consists of working 21 days straight, with 7 days off to return home, often in another province and always in another city or town. This is the “21 and 7” rotation. Imagine the issues that crop up for workers who work 8-10 hour days (sometimes more) for 21 days straight! These members are scrutinized as both a worker during their shifts and a tenant in their off hours. You would likely agree that those 7 days off are highly valued and a critical part of a worker’s mental health.
The use of the 21 and 7 rotation is one of the most common rotations, however, there are several other types of rotations. For example, the “10 on and 4 off”, has been a preferred shift for people that live relatively close to the remote camp location, since travel is shorter there isn’t a great loss to the down time due to travel. A newer rotation that has been introduced, and is quite popular among workers is the “20 on and 10 off” rotation. This offers better stability because after 20 days of work, there is more time to spend at home and recover.
With shift rotations come challenges to the workers that choose to earn their living in the remote services sector. One noticeable difference is “cabin fever”. This refers to the result of being isolated in a location that is distant from home and not easily accessible to the general amenities of life and where workers find themselves cooped up indoors for the vast majority of the day and night. Though, today most camps have some creature comforts that help to reduce the feeling of confinement, unique problems come up day to day and the need for union representation becomes abundantly clear. But even with these extracurricular activities, the day-to-day monotony has a tendency to wear on the mind and body.
With extended time away from friends and family, compounded by the same faces and job duties for a duration of 20 straight days or more, things can be very taxing on even the hardiest of individuals.
Most people are interested in the remote camp services for the chance to make a decent wage. And in today’s economy this can give the average family the ability to be a single income earning home. The significant cost, however, is the extended time away from that home, which can be very taxing mentally and emotionally.
All of UFCW 401’s members work hard and we are proud to represent each and every one of them. However, today we take a moment to say thank you to those working in circumstances that present unique challenges daily. The oil and gas sector has received some very bad press in recent years. We are sensitive to the environmental issues at stake but until we are able to convince our governments and their corporate buddies to adopt sustainable energy alternatives, it is important to remember the hard working people who bring us our fuel to keep us warm, keep us fed and keep us moving on.
Each year, UFCW International awards seven, four year scholarships of up to $8000 to members or their children throughout North America. Scholarship applications are available and will be accepted online from March 3 – June 20, 2014.
In the unpredictable waters of professional politics, things can go from bad to worse in a hurry. Here in Alberta, grumbling about scandals dogging our bully government degraded into a Caucus revolt and has ended with the resignation of a Premier – all in the span of about a week.
Some have called Redford’s resignation “graceful”. Others have praised our former Premier for putting principles before politics by attempting to quell Caucus rancor and refocus attention on the needs of the province.
I would remind those people that for all the supposed “dignity” of Ms. Redford’s departure, she remains a premier who her broke promises to Albertans from day one, slashed funding to social programs on which many vulnerable Albertans rely, and launched the most vicious attack on Alberta’s working families in the province’s history.