22, 2012 - No. 22
Health Care Workers Speak Out
Wildcat walkout of
Alberta health care workers, near
Rockyview hospital, southwest Calgary, February 16, 2012.
Is a Right!
• Health Care Workers Speak
• No to Private Clinics and
Two-Tier Health Care! - Peggy Morton
• Hospital Workers Are
Defend the Public Good
• More Layoffs at Owens Corning
Fiberglass Plant - Peggy Askin
Our Water Is Not for
• Honouring Nestlé Chairman Dishonours
University of Alberta - Dougal MacDonald
Health Care Is a Right!
Health Care Workers Speak Out
Workers in more than 20 cities and towns across
Alberta held one-day
wildcat strikes on February 16 to defend their rights and dignity. The
actions spread across the province after workers at the Royal Alexandra
Hospital in Edmonton set up their picket line. (For coverage see TML Daily, February 17, 2012 - No.
TML Daily spoke with many
workers on the picket lines in Edmonton and Calgary.
Over and over the workers said that they want respect for the important
work they do. Workers gave examples of what has
happened to their wages
over many years. One worker who started work in 1986 at
$9.99 is earning $8.62 more after 26 years. When inflation is taken
into account (and this does not include increases in the price of food,
electricity) it turns out she is making
34 cents more than in 1986. Since her 1986 wage was at the starting
her current job rate, this shows that real wages for these workers have
actually gone down. Workers told TML Daily
that they work every day in
an environment where they are exposed to infectious diseases, and then
have to contend with a workload that leads to exhaustion. And they
wonder why we get sick, the workers said. They stressed that it is not
acceptable that health care
workers are denied wages and working conditions necessary for their
own health and well-being and that of their families.
The many examples
that the workers provided showed that in defending their own rights,
health care workers are also fighting to defend patient care. Fighting
for a standard of services provides a safe and healthy
environment for patients and staff
alike. The workers are a bulwark in the fight against privatization,
two-tier health care and wrecking of the public health care system. To
speak about quality patient care without caring for the staff who
provide that care and service is irrational. Hospital support
staff and all health care workers deserve all-out support
in their fight to defend their rights and the rights of all.
What the Workers Had to Say
• "There is such a big
we consider it a slap in
the face that Alberta Health Services offered us less than a mediator's
report we rejected by 95 per cent. Health care workers have had enough
of being undervalued and not treated with respect. The fact that what
we had planned as information pickets
turned into a wildcat walkout across the province shows how strongly we
as health care workers feel about winning our rights and improving our
benefits. A large group came here today from Health Sciences. They are
in the same situation we are. We all need to stand together, the
entire health care sector and
offering us a lump sum
payment this year, which is
even less than the mediator's report. They are trying to tell us we are
not worth anything."
• "For many
of us it is a
choice of paying the rent or buying groceries, we can't afford to pay
for both. One cheque goes to
pay the rent, the other is for everything else. As things stand, we
afford even to buy healthy food, we can't even afford Kraft mac and
cheese, we have to buy the no-name product."
• "They have
only guaranteed us a two per
cent raise over the next
three years. Our LAPP [Local
Authorities Pension Plan -- Alberta's main public sector pension
plan -- TML Ed. Note] payments have gone up and that takes our
increase. How do we pay for the increased costs of food, rent and
• "Every day
we deliver services to
people who live in Alberta. We take care of them. We deserve that our
properly cared for as well."
• "We work as
Across the province, therapy
assistants are in three different unions all with different pay scales.
We want parity with the other unions. We have been trying to get this
resolved for a long time. We do not even have a job description."
• "When we
get sick, we are
harassed. They call
us at home to put pressure on us, and then force us to go to the doctor
for a doctor's note before we can return to work. When a doctor
says, 'You need to be on light duties,' they just ignore it."
• "We want
fair treatment. We want to
be recognized. We want
respect for the important work that we do. When I have to work
Christmas day, I should receive the same
premium as others do. Other unions get paid double time and we do
Workloads Are Not Sustainable
workloads keep increasing. Where there used
to be three people
to do the work, now there is only one. We keep getting pulled from our
areas and then we are asked why we can't get our work done."
• "I work in
Environmental Services (Housekeeping).
I am now working
in a pilot project where my two-person team is expected to clean 33
patient rooms a day plus 10 to 15 discharge beds. There is no way that
we can do this job the way it should be done with this workload."
• "What would
be better? To spend millions of
dollars in research
trying to find new drugs for the superbugs, or to keep hospitals clean
and prevent people getting these infections? How many people have died
because of multidrug resistant Staphylococcus
aureus or other superbugs? Think of all the pain and suffering
that this has caused.
This is a very serious matter. It is about life. If the hospital is not
clean, then no one is safe."
• "I am a
porter responsible for taking patients to
examinations, procedures and so on. We walk 12-13 kilometres in the
course of our day. With the level of staffing we have, if one porter is
off sick everything breaks down and gets behind. Patients do not get to
their tests on time and patient
care deteriorates. We are part of the health care team but our work is
undervalued. We need to fight. We are out here to tell the truth about
patient care and the conditions we are working under."
• "I work in
the kitchen. We have gone from a
situation where we
cooked quality food in the hospital that was healthy and considered
part of the healing process, to having all pre-made food that has lost
its quality. How can people get healthy? If we have to take action to
improve our conditions and improve quality care for patients,
the nurses have done many times, that is what we will continue to do."
government is trying to break
the unions. They
are privatizing everything. For example, more and more eye surgery is
being carried out at the private clinics, which we could be doing at
our eye centre."
• "I am
scheduled to work all these different
shifts, 6:45 am one
day, then 8:45 and then 2:45 and so on. How am I supposed to make
arrangements for child care? Then they change our shifts without
consulting us and we have to start all over again arranging our child
Wildcat walkout at the
Hospital in Edmonton, February 16, 2012.
No to Private Clinics and Two-Tier Health Care!
Vancouver businessman Don
Copeman has announced
that he will be opening a private, elite clinic
in Edmonton in March, 2012. Copeman
opened a private clinic in Calgary in 2008. The clinic operates as a
members-only club. The "elite program" costs $3,900 for an individual
to "join" and an annual fee of
$3,000 a year after that or a $9,300 initial fee for a family of four
and $7,590 each year. Copeman states that the clinic will have a
patient roster of about 2,000 and about 30 staff.
The clinic will bill Alberta Health Care for all
More and more Canadians cannot find a family doctor and wait times for
referrals to specialists are many months long. The Copeman clinics are
designed so that those who can afford to pay these large annual fees
will have guaranteed access.
Those whose doctors have left their practices to join the private
clinics will be left desperately trying to find a doctor. The clinic
will accept as patients people who have not paid the annual fee only
after the "elite members" have been looked after.
According to Copeman, the clinics are designed
for a corporate
clientele. The same corporations who are driving the anti-social agenda
to withdraw funding from health care will make arrangements to have the
health care needs of their executives provided. That is, the fees will
be paid from the wealth
created by the working class and people, while the workers, both active
and retired, search in vain for a family doctor and wait many months
for referral to a specialist when they are ill. Such unbridled greed
and corruption is having a devastating effect on the people, especially
the seniors and those with chronic illnesses
who are most in need of care.
The cynicism of these privateers knows no bounds.
quoted in the Edmonton Journal
as saying that the clinic would appeal
to patients interested in "very progressive" and "world-leading"
preventive health-care services. As if only the rich want
"world-leading" services! Naturally the pathetic
assertion that this is about "choice" is also parroted by the monopoly
media. As it gets more and more difficult to find a family doctor and
waits to see the doctor get longer, the rich should have the "choice"
to have medical care. If this "choice" of the rich means that others
will no longer have a family doctor, well
that is just collateral damage in their eyes.
is supposed to be banned by the Canada Health Act.
Extra billing is also prohibited by Alberta legislation. When Copeman
signalled that he would open a clinic in Alberta several years ago,
Alberta Health indicated
that it would be considered a violation of the Act.
2008 when the Calgary clinic was again proposed, the
Minister of Health
said he didn't see any problem. A review is not needed, he said,
because the BC Medical Services Commission said the BC Copeman
clinic, opened in 2005, was not violating
any laws. Apart from anything else, this completely ignored the fact
that Alberta law is being violated and a decision made in BC has no
bearing whatsoever. Section 9 (1) of the Alberta Health Care
"Extra Billing," states: "No physician or dentist who is opted into the
Plan who provides
insured services to a person shall charge or collect from any person an
amount in addition to the benefits payable by the Minister for
insured services." A doctor who contravenes this can be deemed to be
"opted out," that is, unable to bill Alberta Health Care. But this is
of no concern to the authorities.
When it comes to taking up their social responsibility to ensure the
rights of all to health and social programs, the response is "don't
look at me."
The "no strings attached"
the Harper dictatorship to
health care is opening the privatization floodgates. The federal
government has completely disengaged, saying that the health and
well-being of Canadians is none of their affair. The Alberta government
has a detailed secret privatization
agenda on which Health Minister Fred Horne has been point man for
The right to health care must be provided with a
Two-tier medicine is an affront to the rights which belong to all
people by virtue of being human. Governments must be held to account
for their refusal to uphold their social responsibility.
Hospital Workers Are Fighting to
The Alberta Union of Public
Employees' (AUPE) website
"Your Working People" informs
that every year more
than 250,000 Canadians get a hospital acquired infection, resulting in
more than 8,000 deaths. "In fact good housekeeping remains a hospital's
best form of security against superbugs. Given that multidrug resistant
aureus (MRSA) or C.
be found on ordinary hospital surfaces such as countertops, cabinets,
and bed rails, careful and regular cleaning is essential for patient
safety." The AUPE provides examples of how doubling housekeeping staff
hospital led to a 90 per cent reduction of the spread of superbug MRSA
and on the other hand infection
rates and deaths soared with privatization and cuts.
Hospitals which have adopted strategies which
cleaning of environmental surfaces as well as patient screening,
hand-washing and judicious use of antibiotics have been able to reduce
infection rates by 80 to 90 per cent. Conversely, contracting-out and
reduced cleaning budgets have
led to more infections and deaths.
Despite these undeniable facts and the terrible
toll of pain,
illness and death caused by inadequate resources for cleaning
hospitals, the information provided by hospital workers shows that in
the face of the growing problem of hospital acquired infection and
antibiotic-resistant bacteria, hospitals have
reduced the time housekeeping staff are allocated to clean a patient's
The aggressive and false marketing of private,
monopolies has played a big role in the downgrading of public services.
One of these monopolies has the motto "sometimes the best way to do
something is not to do it at all." They claim they can do the job
cheaper and better. What
they do not say is that services will be degraded and the claims of
workers reduced while more money goes to pay the rich, in unnecessary
and wasteful expenditures. Through their 1998 strike, Edmonton hospital
workers put the brakes on the privatization of hospital cleaning. But
backward and dangerous outlook
of the government and Alberta Health Services that these workers are a
"cost" has meant that workloads have continued to climb, putting
patients at risk as well as creating stress for the workers.
The guidelines of the U.S. Association for
Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) and the Association for the
Healthcare Environment (AHE) state that daily cleaning and disinfecting
of an occupied patient room will take 25 to 30 minutes per room, while
terminal discharge cleaning
will take 40 to 45 minutes and up to 60 minutes.
In a pilot project, a two-person team at the
Hospital is expected to clean 10 - 15 discharge beds and 33 patient
rooms during their shift. Even at the low end of recommended times, the
staff is being given only about half the time recommended
by infection control specialists to perform
Workers are demanding a say in upholding the
quality of the
services they deliver as well as the right to bargain their wages and
working conditions in good faith, a right denied by the drive to
privatize everything and criminalize the workers' struggles and make
strikes illegal. Hospital
support staff fighting for their rights
and dignity play a crucial role in defending the public good. Control
over public services is an important part of the movement for
democratic renewal and control over the direction of the economy.
More Layoffs at Owens Corning Fiberglass Plant
In January the Owens
Corning fiberglass insulation
plant in east
Edmonton further cut its production and is now at half capacity. A new
round of layoffs put another 16 workers on the street. As well, the
jobs of almost the entire office staff, who are not part of the union,
were eliminated without notice. The
work performed by the office staff was sent to the Owens Corning plant
in Toronto and to the Owens Corning head office in Toledo, Ohio. The
production workers are represented by the Communications, Energy and
Paper Workers Union. The U.S. monopoly Owens Corning is the world's
largest manufacturer of
fiberglass and related products.
Automation has greatly reduced the workforce,
which stands at
about 125 workers at full production. There are about 85 workers
still at work.
In 2010, Owens Corning forced pension concessions on the
workers at the
Edmonton plant. Only workers with 30 or more years of seniority
retained their full defined benefits plan. Workers with less seniority
will receive a defined benefits pension only for the years of service
they have already accumulated,
and are now enrolled in a savings plan which the company calls a
defined contribution plan. New hires will be enrolled in the savings
In addition to the cuts to
production and pension
U.S. global monopoly is carrying out a campaign to eliminate higher
paid positions in the plant, disregarding language protecting job
classifications and forcing workers in lower paid classifications to do
the work. The union is opposing
this attempt to run roughshod over the workers' rights and create
conditions where the company has free rein to do whatever it wants.
The workers at the plant are being subjected to a
barrage of anti-worker arguments from the company as to why production
being cut back and why the workers have no choice but to accept
concessions and violations of work rules. Owens Corning claims that
cuts to production and concessions
are necessary because of the downturn to the housing industry. The
facts are that Owens Corning is making these threats despite increased
profits in 2011.
Owens Corning cites the rising cost of
electricity as a reason
why its Edmonton plant is not profitable. The cost of electricity there
to be the cheapest of all its plants, but following deregulation it has
become the most costly. The company claims that the insulation
division lost millions through
most of 2011 although they reached "break even" in the fourth quarter.
Workers at Owens Corning consider the cuts
to production, the
arbitrary elimination of office jobs and the escalating refusal to
abide by workers' contractual rights as indications that the large
U.S. monopoly may be preparing to shut down the plant in spite of the
fact that the Edmonton plant
has a superior product preferred by U.S. customers. This is
creating extreme insecurity for these workers and their families.
This fiberglass insulation plant has been
operating in Edmonton
since 1960. The replacement of the old Foreign Investment Review Act by
the Investment Canada Act,
one of the first acts of the
Mulroney government, opened the floodgates to foreign control of
Canadian companies. By
the early 1990s the former Fiberglass Canada plant was wholly-owned by
The Owens Corning plants -- in Canada in Edmonton
and Toronto -- at one
time produced over 80 per cent of the insulation used in Canada as an
essential component in residential and commercial construction. Owens
Corning found it most profitable to use the Canadian plants to serve
the U.S. market,
especially when the Canadian dollar was well below par. Now it is
reversing course, moving to serve a diminished U.S. housing market
from its U.S. plants. Owens Corning has bought up small plants in the
U.S. and converted them so they will be able to supply the U.S. west
Owens Corning is also responding to the "Buy
American" policies of the
Obama administration. This is leading to the wrecking of Canadian
manufacturing, so western Canada will now be forced to "Buy American"
as well. One possibility will be that the company retains only a
warehouse to ship product from the U.S. while it closes down Canadian
production. This wrecking of manufacturing
which is being dictated by arrogant foreign monopolies like
Owens-Corning and subservient federal and provincial governments is
thoroughly irresponsible. Canadians cannot permit governments to cater
foreign monopolies like
Owens Corning which slot production into their global needs while the
human-centred needs of
the workers, their families and the Canadian economy do not factor into
Our Water Is Not for Sale!
Honouring Nestlé Chairman Dishonours
University of Alberta
Against Honorary Degree for Anti-People CEO
March 1 -- 2:30 pm
for the Arts, 87th Ave. and 112 St.
(SE corner of
University of Alberta campus)
Join University of Alberta students, staff, and faculty
in the rally
just prior to the award ceremony.
University of Alberta students, staff and faculty are
university's decision to confer an honorary doctoral degree on Peter
Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO of Nestlé from 1997-2008.
Switzerland-based Nestlé, the world's largest multinational food
corporation, is notorious for its anti-worker,
anti-people practices. Nestlé has been denounced by unions and
for exploiting workers, union busting, breaking collective agreements,
contracting out, factory closings, exploiting farmers, attempted
extortion of the government of Ethiopia, unethical marketing of
artificial baby milk, illegal extraction of groundwater,
pollution, promotion of untested genetically modified foods, fraudulent
labelling and attacks on fair trade. Nestlé's chocolate
long been supplied with cocoa produced by exploiting child labour under
conditions of slave labour, forced labour, beatings, exposure to
dangerous pesticides and sex trafficking.
London, UK protest against Nestlé over treatment of its workers
in Indonesia, October 13, 2010. (IUF)
the CEO of such an organization and one who bears major
responsibility for its policies, Brabeck-Letmathe dismally fails
to qualify on even one of the three criteria for an honorary
University of Alberta degree: extraordinary intellectual or artistic
achievement; service to the University and to the wider
society; and to serve as an example to the institution's student body.
University of Alberta President Dr. Indira Samarasekera
the university nominates individuals of different views for degrees so
the Nestlé CEO cannot be condemned as an unacceptable choice.
stated: "We give honourary degrees to intellectuals of distinction,
controversial or not." This so-called
"balanced approach" is a conscious strategy: select some individuals
acceptable to the community, then under that cover also select
individuals who are outright agents of the monopolies such as
Brabeck-Letmathe. Another blatant example of this occurred in 2007 when
U.S.-born Hunter Harrison, former CEO of
Canadian National Railway, received a degree after putting 9,000 CN
railworkers on the street.
President Samarasekera claims Brabeck-Letmathe is being
honoured for putting a future global water crisis "on the global
agenda." She notes that he helped found and lead the 2030 Water
Resource Group, made up of the secretive and scandal-ridden McKinsey
management company, the U.S.-controlled
World Bank Group, and various water-dependent monopolies, including
Nestlé and Coca Cola. She fails to mention that the Water
Group operates wholly in the interests of the monopolies. The group's
November 2009 185-page report, Charting
Water Future, concludes
that there is too much demand
for water, that water is not a human right, and that water must be
As part of the award ceremony, Brabeck-Letmathe will be
participating in a debate on water policy with two other individuals
receiving honorary degrees. Clearly his contribution will centre on
doing propaganda for the claims in the Water Resource Group report.
Giving Letmathe-Brabeck an honourary degree
appears to be one way of softening up public opinion for the
privatization of Alberta's water. All Albertans should indeed be
concerned about the future of our water when Alberta Premier Alison
Redford has stated that everything is on the table for discussion when
it comes to privatizing public resources and services.
Brabeck is no stranger to Alberta. A May 13, 2011, Calgary Herald
"Alberta in talks with Nestlé to
quoted Letmathe-Brabeck as telling Reuters that he was "actively
dealing with the government of Alberta to think about a water
exchange." The Edmonton Journal
reported that Brabeck had stated that
Alberta is a good place to consider the concept,
in part because there is expected to be increasing competition for
water between agricultural producers and the petroleum sector. In other
words, a plan is afoot for Alberta's water to be commodified and traded
away for some Nestlé product such as cocoa beans. The assault on
right to water is also being launched
as part of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
negotiations which Canada is conducting with the European Union.
Europe's private water monopolies are pushing for the inclusion of
drinking water and wastewater services and the EU negotiators are also
asking that Canada's municipalities
and their water utilities be included in a chapter on public
The Council of Canadians points out: "The
that Nestlé is
one of the biggest global voices pushing for the privatization and
commodification of water worldwide, is the largest player in the
bottled water industry and is depleting aquifers in communities
throughout North America to bottle and sell, is the
target of global boycotts for its marketing of breast milk substitutes
in violation of international standards, has a long list of labour
violations in countries all over the world, and is currently involved
in a court case in which Nestlé has admitted it hired agents to
the French activist group ATTAC."
The university has a social responsibility to serve the
This award shows that instead of upholding this responsibility, the
public good is being equated with what serves the monopolies and not
the people. This is why the conferring of honorary degrees is kept
under such tight control. There is a fraudulent
process of calling for open nominations which are then reviewed by a
small, select 20-member University Senate Committee that makes the
final choices in secret, with no appeal process available to overturn
selections. This nomination and others like it shows the need to put
the whole process under public control.
First, the community should definitely put people forward as nominees.
Second, the full background of all nominees should be made public to
everyone for a period of time so that the candidates can be discussed.
Third, the final decisions to confer such degrees should be made
through a university-wide referendum.
Send a message to University of Alberta President Indira
Samarasekera and Chancellor Linda Hughes telling them that Peter
Brabeck-Letmathe and Nestlé do not deserve the University's
honour. (Sample letter at:
http://canadians.org/action/2012/nestle.html). Join the rally on March
1 to protest the
unacceptable awarding of Brabeck-Letmathe's degree.