Report of the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies to the Prairie Region Council submitted for the October 18-20, 2013 meeting. This report covers the period from the last PRC meeting.
PSAC Prairies REVP
Report to Prairie Region Council,
WE ARE ALL AFFECTED
Just a few weeks after our last PRC meeting, the federal government handed affected notices to another 530 PSAC members, including 84 across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. One-third of the 235 notices that went out to PSAC members who work at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada came from the Prairie Region. As we all know, federal job cuts have become an epidemic across the country, but I’m very concerned with the attack on agriculture in Canada. They’re wiping out programs and services and devastating small communities from Indian Head, to Morden, to Brandon.
The Brandon Research and Development Centre will be shuttering the Beef Cattle Program. The closure means a major loss for research and development, but is also a huge hit to the local economy. Farm supplies, including hay, straw, feed, fence supplies, building materials, fuel, vaccines and veterinary services are all sourced from local suppliers and farmers.
After reading about the latest cuts to government, Sherry Hunt, a PSAC member of Agriculture Local 30048 in Lethbridge, looked back at the past two years under a Harper majority and how our country has changed. She thought of the well-known statement by Martin Niemöller and decided to write her own take on it. For her, it was a reminder that we as Canadians need to find our voice and speak up before it’s too late. I’ve included the final piece as an appendix at the end of this report.
In addition to disrespecting public service workers, the federal government is also betraying Canada’s veterans by shutting down nine Veterans Affairs offices across the country, including in Brandon and Saskatoon. In Saskatoon, the office has already been cutback to a skeletal staff of eight, and is scheduled to close completely on February 28, 2014. However, we’re hearing rumours the office will be closed to the public as of December 20, 2013. The closures would affect more than 22,000 veterans across the country that will have a harder time getting the support and services they need and deserve. They would be forced to travel up to four hours away for in-person service, or required to suffer through automated self-help menus online or by telephone.
In response, PSAC held a media event in Ottawa and launched a 3.5-minute video featuring veterans and PSAC members who work in the Veterans Affairs Canada offices, discussing the impact this will have on veterans of all ages. Now, PSAC members are working with veterans to organize events in various communities and urge Members of Parliament to speak out against the closures. We’ll be targeting MPs in the ridings affected in the week following Remembrance Day, November 12-15.
As MPs prepare to return to Parliament in October, we’re bracing ourselves for continued attacks on PSAC members and the services they provide. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Calgary Herald that was published on June 20, 2013, taking them to task over their half-baked editorial on sick leave. The fact of the matter is sick leave is an insurance program for workers and our collective agreements give management all the tools they need to manage sick leave responsibly. This will be an ongoing fight for us, as well as Tony Clement’s plan for performance evaluation and other attacks on workers.
PRAIRIES VIDEO PROJECT
I had the privilege of travelling from Edmonton to Winnipeg on an 18-day road trip to personally speak with Prairies members and discuss their stories and experiences on camera. Within three weeks, we interviewed 43 people in eight different cities across three provinces, spanning Component and equity lines.
For this project, we’re not only putting faces to the work we do, but the experiences we’ve had. We want to preserve our stories and be able to share them with current and future members, as a reminder of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. The project was produced with union labour, as we enrolled Shaun Roemich of Road Dog Media (Canadian Freelance Union – CEP 2040) as our videographer and editor.
We’ve already released a short trailer of the project and our first full video titled “The Value of Unions”. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and subsequent videos will be released at varying intervals under a variety of themes. Each video will be an important resource to teach members about our history and build solidarity.
Earlier this summer, Banff, Canmore, Calgary and much of Southern Alberta faced devastating flooding and evacuations. PSAC has more than 4,300 members living in Southern Alberta. More than half work right in the downtown core, which was completely shut down for an extended period of time. Not willing to stand idly by while flood victims dealt with the aftermath of the disaster, PSAC members took action.
In Lethbridge, members assisted with a Flood Relief Concert. PSAC Local 30048 supplied the volunteers for the event and ran the concession. The event raised $8,740 with more than 250 people in attendance. In Calgary, members volunteered at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. PSAC sponsored the Friday evening meal and 25 members served 950 meals to patrons of the shelter. In High River and the Siksika First Nation, members helped with cleanup efforts to rebuild communities and repair damages.
Additionally, PSAC Prairie Region teamed up with PSAC’s Social Justice Fund to establish the Alberta Solidarity Fund. We raised $22,800 to provide support to community-based organizations, Aboriginal communities, inner city neighbourhoods, and community partners. Thank you to all of the Components, Area Councils, Committees and Locals across the country who donated money and helped us provide assistance to the most vulnerable communities in Southern Alberta.
The Alberta Federation of Labour held their Convention April 25-28, where more than 500 labour activists gathered to celebrate the achievements of unions, hear from dozens of speakers, and help chart the direction for the future. PSAC members from Alberta attended and participated in the rally against the LRT privatization in Calgary.
On the first weekend of May, we welcomed over 60 Sisters to Banff for the PSAC Prairies Regional Women’s Conference. The conference theme, “Telling Our Stories”, encouraged conference delegates to share knowledge and experiences in an effort to move forward together and advance women’s issues.
Conservatives from coast to coast will converge in Calgary later this month for the Conservative Party of Canada 2013 Convention, October 31 to November 2 at Stampede Park. The Convention was originally scheduled for June 26-28, however, the event was postponed due to the devastating flooding in Southern Alberta.
Since this is our chance to put serious pressure on this government, we are organizing a rally on Saturday, November 2, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. PSAC is taking the lead on this, but we are working collaboratively with representatives from other unions and progressive organizations. If you live in the Calgary area, please encourage everyone you know to attend. The rally will take place outside Stampede Park, on the west side of Macleod Trail SE (south of 14 Ave SE and across the street from the Victoria Park/Stampede Station CTrain). Find the event on Facebook, and contact us if you, or someone you know, is interested in getting involved or volunteering.
Next on the conference circuit will be the PSAC National Equity Conferences, November 18-22 in Toronto. As you know, this will be the first PSAC event of its kind to bring all of our equity groups under the same roof in an effort to mobilize and take action together. Approximately 510 delegates are expected to attend, including up to 86 from the Prairie Region. In preparation, I have been working with Sister Julie Docherty, REVP for the North, as an advisor for the National Women’s Conference Resolutions Committee.
As I mentioned at the last PRC meeting, PSAC was one of only four groups invited to present as a witness to the Saskatchewan Human Services Committee as they debated Bill 604, regarding asbestos reporting. On April 18, I was delighted to be in the gallery of the Saskatchewan Legislature to see our efforts pay off. Saskatchewan MLA’s unanimously voted to make reporting of asbestos in public buildings mandatory by law. The legislation to amend the Public Health Act was aptly renamed “Howard’s Law” in honour of our friend Howard Willems.
Now that this unprecedented legislation has passed, advocacy groups can pursue similar legislation in provinces across the country and talk to government officials about the importance of asbestos awareness. The Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (SADAO) continues to work with the Saskatchewan provincial government to ensure that the regulations meet the intent of Bill 604. In preparation for moving into other jurisdictions, SADAO is reviewing legislation and standards in other provinces, including Alberta.
PSAC’s One-to-One campaign is an ongoing effort to reconnect with members face-to-face and establish relationships. This initiative is crucial to getting members involved and interested in their union, and also to ensuring contact information is up to date for future mobilization efforts. Many locals have been innovative in getting the cards signed, however, the exact number of cards signed in this region is not available at this time. Some locals have yet to complete their campaign and submit the cards to their regional office for processing.
Based on what we’ve seen at the bargaining table this year, PSAC members continue to be faced with a lot of employer-demanded concessions. In the Prairies, wage settlements compared to national averages are gradually increasing and we’re in a fairly good position. However, for employers, that’s reason to justify attacks on a variety of other issues, including sick leave and pensions.
We reached agreements with three Prairies airports this year, including Calgary (June), Edmonton (August) and Winnipeg––general bargaining unit and firefighters––(August). Negotiations with Regina begin in October and Saskatoon will follow in early 2014. The airports are an especially difficult employer to negotiate with due to their hard stance on pensions. Separate employers in general right now are feeling very empowered when it comes to concessions.
As far as other bargaining units go, negotiations with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights have reached impasse and will go to conciliation later in the fall. The University of Winnipeg is going to first contract arbitration and we expect an arbitrated settlement by the end of November, in accordance with Manitoba’s Labour Relations Act (Section 87), which calls for settlement within 60 days of notice being served.
Members working at Casino Regina ratified their agreement in July, Brandon University ratified in August and we reached tentative deals for members working at the Non-Public Funds, Canadian Forces Base in Suffield and members working at the Hudson Bay Port of Churchill.
From October 24-November 8, we will host meetings for young workers in six cities across the Prairie Region. We hope to gather suggestions and ideas to build a network of young workers and move ahead with the creation of Young Workers Committees. This is in accordance with the approved resolution from the 2012 PSAC National Convention, which called for the creation of Regional Young Worker Committees, open to members 30 years of age and under.
PSAC recently launched the new Union Development Program (UDP), which has been one of the most comprehensive union leadership training programs in Canada for more than 35 years. The program has been completely overhauled with exciting new content and programming to better provide emerging leaders with the skills they need to support their activism.
Under the new program, members will have the opportunity to participate in the course annually, rather than triennially under the old system. Regions will also collaborate on the training to facilitate networking among regions with three simultaneous courses happening at once. The Western UDP will bring together approximately 20 members from BC, Prairies and the North. The first face-to-face session, and the inaugural rollout of the new UDP, will take place in Winnipeg, March 13-16, 2014.
As part of this session, there will be a social justice fair on Saturday, March 15. UDP participants will have the opportunity to build connections with local social justice groups, which will also aid in their course work. Other members in the Winnipeg area are welcomed and encouraged to participate in this event. There will also be a national summit, bringing together members from all three UDP programs, in Ottawa May 30 – June 1, 2014 to broaden participants’ networks and allow them to learn from each other’s experiences. If you know of any emerging activists who would be well suited to this type of unique and empowering educational experience, please encourage them to apply before the November 5 deadline.
Preparations are well underway for the PSAC Prairies Convention, to be held in Saskatoon, June 27-29, 2014. The call out for registration and resolutions will go out in November. Our host committee will be finalized in October to look into the best ways to welcome delegates to Saskatchewan and ensure they enjoy all Saskatoon has to offer.
Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies