Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Labour Relations Board Scandal in Alberta

I have blogged here, and here, and here about the bankruptcy of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. How it is not impartial, nor an independent third party but a direct arm of the Government.

And it has been in disrepute for over a decade, despite union reps sitting on it, since the Klein government putsch that ousted LRB Chairman Robert Blair for being pro union, and replaced him with an Employer Rep Lawyer connected to the anti-union Merit Construction companies.

A set of emails between the LRB and the Government have been leaked to the Press and the Alberta Federation of Labour that shows collusion between the LRB and the Klein Government in passing Bill 27 which outlawed strikes in the Health Care sector and forced elections for union representation on hospital workers forcing them to choose between AUPE, CUPE, and HSAA.

Bill 27 caused an internecine battle between AUPE and CUPE over who would represent hospital workers in Alberta, a battle that proved divisive for the last four years, divisive enough to halt a unified fight back campaign that should have occured. A fight back against the ruling that made all health sector workers essential workers and removed their right to strike.

Now the chickens have come home to roost, and the whole nasty little affair of the governments attempt to castrate the labour movement in Alberta with Bill 27 has come to light. This is yet another scandal to add to a long list of scandals in Alberta. This is what happens when you have a real One Party Dictatorship.

The Edmonton Journal reported on it today.
Labour board provided draft of regulations
Collaborated on Bill 27 to detriment of organized labour, says AFL head
Internal Alberta Labour Relations Board e-mails obtained by The Journal suggest the board collaborated with Ralph Klein's government and health-care employers to produce a bill that many in the labour movement consider the strongest anti-union legislation in the province's history.

NDP calls for labour board resignations

The NDP is calling for the resignation of the labour relations board, after news that the vice-chairman had input into controversial legislation that rewrote the labour code, allowing the restructuring of the health-care system. "And if they don't resign, they should be fired for compromising the labour relation's board independence and impartiality," NDP labour critic Ray Martin said. Martin and the United Nurses of Alberta joined the Alberta Federation of Labour in calling for a public inquiry into the board's role in the legislation.

Dan MacLennan, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the largest union in the province, says a public inquiry should have a broader scope, looking at labour relations and labour law in Alberta in general. "I've never viewed them as totally impartial," he said of the board. "They're an extended arm of the government and this is further proof of that. "I don't think we've ever gone there in terms of job action or legislation viewing it as a fair process. Publication of e-mails requires prompt, honest answers about conduct of Labour Relations Board, AUPE president says

The AFL has issued the following press release, claiming the Government is attempting to censor them and demanding the emails back. Even though it was the Privacy Commissioner who released them!

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

LRB “Biased and Compromised”, says AFL
Lawyers Trying to Get Documents Back from AFL

Documents received by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that key figures of the Labour Relations Board (LRB) breached their role by actively participating in the drafting of legislation, and by consulting with employer representatives about the content of draft legislation, says the Alberta Federation of Labour today.

The AFL received documents as part of a FOIP Commissioners Inquiry. The documents reveal that LRB Chair Mark Asbell, and Vice-Chair Les Wallace were actively involved in the drafting of Bill 27, the Labour Relations (Regional Health Authorities Restructuring) Amendment Act. Their participation in the process contravenes the role of the LRB, and places into serious jeopardy its independence.

The documents also suggest the LRB actively consulted with employer representatives in the drafting of the Bill ­ another contravention of its role that undermines impartiality.

“We have a ‘smoking gun’ that demonstrates a serious breach of the LRB’s mandate,” says AFL President Gil McGowan. “The actions of the two senior officials at the Board have allowed the LRB to become biased and compromised.”

“We need a public inquiry to get to the bottom of how deeply compromised the LRB is,” says McGowan. “The truth needs to come out.” The AFL sent a letter today to Human Resources Minister Mike Cardinal demanding a public inquiry into the breach.

Today, the AFL received a letter from the lawyer for the Privacy Commissioner demanding the return of the documents received by the AFL ­ saying it got them in error. The AFL has responded by refusing to return the documents. The AFL’s position is that it has a right to access these documents and there is a pressing public interest that requires full disclosure of the documents. Neither the Commissioner nor the LRB have not indicated what their next legal steps will be.

Following the receipt of the documents, the AFL sent them to its 350 affiliated union presidents, to update them on ongoing efforts to reveal the truth about the Bill 27 process. The AFL will be calling together senior union leaders in the next couple of days to discuss next steps.

The LRB, as an arms-length quasi-judicial body, has the mandate of interpreting and enforcing the Labour Relations Code. In performing its job, it must adhere to a strict policy of independence and neutrality. As the “court” for labour relations, it must avoid participating in the setting of government policy or regulations regarding labour relations. In other words, its job is to interpret the law, not make it.

“The documents we have received clearly show that the Vice-Chair of the LRB wrote the bill that the government used to attack health care unions,” notes McGowan. “This says to me that the LRB has sided clearly with the employer ­ and destroyed any semblance of fairness in their dealings. For an LRB, this is unconscionable.”

Bill 27 set in motion a process to reduce the number of bargaining units in health care. It led to a series of acrimonious and bitter run-off votes, cancelled longstanding collective agreements, removed the right to strike for community health and other workers, and denied nurse practitioners the right to join a union. It was widely seen as an anti-union piece of legislation.

“The LRB is the anchor of our modern labour relations system. If the parties can’t trust its fairness and independence, the whole system is at risk. The actions of the LRB’s senior officials have jeopardized trust in the system. This could have wide ranging implications.” McGowan concludes.

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