Your Voice e-newsletter v14.108

Working Albertans and Alberta's NDP Beat Back Pension Attack

Alberta's NDP logo

The New Democrats won a major fight this week, along with the labour movement and the thousands of Albertans who have opposed the PCs’ unfair and unnecessary changes to pensions! The government voted with us to refer both Bills 9 and 10 to a standing committee for public hearings. After a long, hard fight to protect pension security for Albertans, this referral means that the bills will not come back to the assembly until the fall sitting, likely in late October. And there will probably be amendments, although it’s hard to say what they will be.

The changes the government proposed would have threatened retirement security for more than 300,000 Albertans. There were four changes that we were particularly concerned about:

  1. The PCs’ pension changes would have created a contributions cap. This amounts to the elimination of a defined benefit pension as the only way any future liabilities can be funded is through a reduction of benefits to seniors receiving the pension. With this change, pensions would never be secure.
  2. The PCs’ planned to eliminate the guaranteed cost of living adjustments. Removing guaranteed cost of living adjustments would impose growing rates of poverty on seniors over the length of their retirement.
  3. The PCs also planned to eliminate early retirement.
  4. Lastly, the PCs planned to increase penalties for those who take their pension early

Overall, these cuts to pension would have meant a massive income rollback to hundreds of thousands of Alberta seniors.

The news this week that the PCs would go back to Albertans to discuss changes to pensions is a victory for all those who have been fighting for fairness and a dignified retirement. It shows that well organized public campaigns combined with effective opposition in the legislature can make a huge difference, forcing even a majority government to make concessions, and we’d like to acknowledge the huge amount of work that the labour movement did in their campaign for fair pensions!

Of course, the fight is far from over. Minister Horner has made it clear that he finds the existing defined benefit pension system untenable, so we can count on him to continue to push for reforms. For our part, however, we’ll stay focused on the fight for pension security for all Albertans.

In the next few months, there will likely be public hearings on changes to pensions, and the New Democrats will work hard to ensure that all Albertans whose retirement security is threatened by the PCs’ unfair and unnecessary attack on pensions get representation at those hearings.

- Brian Mason, Leader of Alberta's New Democrats

Workers At Gerard Raymond Centre Vote to Join UFCW Local 401

Girl holding up

UFCW Local 401 is proud to announce that Excel Resources Society employees working at the Gerard Raymond Centre (GRC) and John McGee Employment Options Centre (JMEO) in Edmonton became our newest members this week.

Approximately fifty Excel employees voted 64% in favour of joining the union during an Alberta Labour Relations Board secret ballot vote held on Tuesday May 6, 2014. Gerard Raymond Centre and John McGee Employment Options Centre employees join their co-workers at two other certified Excel facilities in Edmonton: Grand Manor and Balwin Villa.

Excel Resources Society (ERS) employees provide support and advocacy for people of all ages who have mental, physical and developmental disabilities. Operating in Edmonton, Calgary, and the surrounding areas, ERS employees offer a variety of programs designed to assist recipients to be active and contributing members of their communities. Our new ERS members work as Licensed Practical Nurses, Health Care Aides, and Community Support Workers; dedicated to providing specific care to individuals with a variety of health care needs.

“It was amazing to see the show of support at the vote,” said Union Organizer Chloë Carpenter. “The workers at the Gerard Raymond Centre and John McGee Employment Options Centre have been working in a tense environment since the employer found out about the organizing drive about a month ago. It took a lot of courage for them to stand together and demand change by voting for representation through UFCW Local 401.”

Members at GRC and JMEO share many similar workplace concerns with their co-workers at Grand Manor and Balwin Villa, including a need for proactive measures regarding workers’ safety and clarity in terms of the distribution of wages and benefits. While negotiations continue for Grand Manor and Balwin Villa members, GRC and JMEO members look forward to the opportunity to communicate with their employer about the changes needed within their workplace while at the negotiating table.

“We would like to congratulate and welcome our new members to Alberta’s largest private sector union,” said Director of Organizing Chris O’Halloran. “Local 401 looks forward to negotiating alongside the committed and vocal workers at the Gerard Raymond Centre and John McGee Employment Options Centre, who will be a valuable addition to our membership.”

- Chloë Carpenter

Youth Involvement In Politics

Youth talking in circle

There is one word that may be the most common characteristic people use to define youth these days. It’s a word that stands alongside charming adjectives like “entitled” and “self-centred”. It’s a word that, admittedly, does capture a pervasive attitude I find among my generation but I think we can all agree it’s hardly useful in addressing the underlying problem. The word you’ve heard so much of is: apathetic — and it’s beginning to worry researchers who monitor levels of youth involvement in civic duties.

In 2011, the number of young voters in Canada increased comparable to overall turnout. But the number of young people bothering to vote is still low. Only 38.8% of eligible Canadians aged 18-24 cast a ballot in May 2011’s federal election. The number in 2008’s election was 37.4%; an increase, but only a nominal one.

There are differing opinions on why youth turn out is so low, including: disillusionment with the political process, an overall lack of understanding, and lack of any serious connection to a political party (why bother connecting when their turnout is so low?).

Regardless of the reason, every young vote that doesn’t enter a ballot box reinforces a clear signal that issues important to young voters can be sidelined. The inevitable lip service that emergences during each election notwithstanding, if young voters are not going to participate in the process, they cease to be a demographic worth catering to.

That said, work is being done to help better educate students about the political process with an aim to increasing turnout. During the 2011 federal election, the Student Vote Program succeeded in getting 3,750 schools (nearly one-third of all schools in Canada) to participate in mock elections that paralleled the official election. The result saw over 563,000 students cast a ballot, which are not insubstantial numbers.

Elections Canada found that the Program had positive impacts on students’ knowledge of politics and the electoral process. By participating in the mock elections, students became more likely to discuss politics with their parents and friends and their interest both in politics and the belief that voting is a civic duty increased notably. Teachers who participated mostly agreed that something as simple as messages and videos about party platforms and leaders tailored towards young voters could go a long way towards raising the level of political engagement in youth.

Of course, politics is only one way to measure youth involvement. When it comes to volunteering, the stats show a more positive side to young people.

According to the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, young Canadians aged 15 to 24 were more likely to volunteer than Canadians in most other age groups, at 58%. If you’re looking at teenagers alone (15 to 19), 66% had a considerably higher rate of volunteering than young adults (20 to 24) at 48 %, which is about the same as the rates recorded in 2007. Young volunteers aged 15 to 19 did an average of 115 hours of volunteer work in 2010, compared with 159 for those aged 20 to 24.

Alberta in particular doesn’t make for an easy place to get involved. Albertans average five hours of leisure per day, compared to a national average of 5.5 hours. Other provinces range up to 5.9 hours. This means that an Albertan has 182 fewer hours of leisure in a year than the average Canadian. That leaves little time for personal matters, let alone taking time tor learn about civic matters and volunteer.

Perhaps the title “apathetic” isn’t entirely well deserved then. There are signs that youth get involved with other forms of volunteering, despite the current being against them in terms of spare time. If youth don’t make themselves more of a presence in politics, though, those currents will only get harder to push against as the problems they face are back benched for groups with higher turnout.

If you happen to be between the ages of 18-25, perhaps the federal election in 2015 and the provincial election in 2016 would be good places to start having your voice heard.

- Denis Sidlin

PTI Members Win Substantial Gains With New Union Contract

After vigorous negotiations with the Employer, PTI members ratified a new three-year agreement that included significant improvements to camp working conditions. By bargaining strong together, PTI members were able to achieve concrete resolutions to almost all of those issues they brought to the bargaining table.

As a result, on May 4, after two-weeks of Contract meetings and voting at the various camp locations, ballots were counted from the 85% of members who turned out to vote and a new Union Contract was ratified.

An overview of the improvements PTI members won includes:

  • Negotiated two full time walking stewards, one for the Athabasca and Beaver River camps and one for the Wapasu camp – this is important to ensure that members’ issues are addressed in a timely fashion;
  • Enhanced the grievance procedure to ensure that members are able to resolve their issues within days;
  • Increased the shift premium to $1.00;
  • Implemented new seniority provisions into the bidding procedures, which allow members’ to bid on day shifts, rotation and jobs by seniority;
  • Created a new “Trainer” classification that includes an additional $2.00 per hour in wages;
  • Changed working hours to a rotation of 20 days on, 10 days off, with a 20-day work guarantee of 200 hours which includes overtime, time and a half on Saturday, and double time on Sunday;
  • Implemented stronger wording to ensure that overtime will not be used to offset staffing shortages;
  • Implemented better wording for scheduling of leaves of absence, holidays, and vacations;
  • Enhanced health and safety language and provisions to ensure the best health and safety coverage anywhere in Canada for PTI members;
  • Increased bereavement provisions;
  • Implemented language to provide that the Employer shall not request a doctor’s note for three days of sick time or less;
  • Implemented language to ensure that the Employer will pay for a doctor’s note where requested after the first initial note;
  • Increased travel allowance to $500;
  • Implemented provisions to ensure that members’ are able to keep their rooms on turnaround;
  • Won wage increases of 3 .5 % per year, effective January 1, 2014. Total increase of 10.5% over the life of the Contract.

While the Contract is short-term, expiring in December 2016, Union Representative Chris O’Halloran sees the result as a major win for PTI members.

“This Contract puts us back in negotiations two-years from now,” said O’Halloran. “Between now and then we will have the opportunity to implement all of the improvements we’ve won and go back to the table with the real benefits those improvements have created for both the Employer and our members as evidence to push for further gains.”

The above items are only the highlights of what PTI members were able to bargain strong together. The full array of victories will substantially improve the working conditions and quality of life for PTI members.

- Chris O'Halloran