PRESS RELEASE: JULY 21, 2005

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Hey, Ralph!- Alberta screws Lakeside workers

By RICK BELL
Here he is. Fresh from insisting for the thousandth time he isn't leaving office this year or next, Ralph rides to the rescue.

But he gives no helping hand to the little guy and gal he claims to represent as a self-styled man of the people, an out-of-date image based on faded tales of bygone booze-ups in a beer parlour two decades ago.

No, once again it's the same sad script people should see through by now, another boost for the boys with the bucks.

Once again, Ralph's populist-in-name-only regime acts against the interests of those actually getting their hands dirty, or in this case, bloodied; those toiling in a slaughterhouse for the modest amount of $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

For a dozen years, Ralph says his government won't pick winners and losers in the marketplace. Then, late Tuesday, the Klein Tories pick a winner and a loser.

They use the heavy hammer of Big Government and call off a legal strike at Lakeside Packers in Brooks, a walkout slated to commence early yesterday morning.

Winner. Lakeside Packers, a slaughterhouse owned by the world's biggest meat merchant, Tyson Foods of the U.S. of A.

Losers. The employees at Lakeside Packers.

Kind of sounds like Ralph's plan to help the cow-calf operators in the mad cow mess. Then the winners are the packers and their ballooning bottom line. The losers in that case are the cattle crowd and taxpayers who fork over $870 million.

Ralph snuffs out this strike through his sidekick Mike Cardinal, the minister of human resources and employment, who frees himself up from watering down labour laws and giving Tory senior snivel servants 27% pay hikes and huge bonuses.

In fact, Mike's deputy, one of those who will score that big cheque, notifies the workers. Strike and you're breaking the law. Huh ... Are slaughterhouses now an essential service?

Finally, after years of trying, Lakeside employees are on the brink of an agreement and NOW the province gets involved.

But there it is. Cardinal names a one-man Disputes Inquiry Board to try and come up with a deal in 60 days.

What this really means is for the next two months those at the Lakeside plant must go back to work without union protection, since this strike is about getting a first union contract.

Doug O'Halloran, head of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, who says this weekend if unions work within the system in Alberta and succeed then the system changes the rules, is shown to be a prophet.

Doug fears that with a free hand Tyson will just hire more non-union people and weed out union supporters, the tried-and-true technique of union-busting. And then, not long after the 60 days elapses, the union can be tossed by a vote.

The workers are willing to go to binding arbitration. After all, they're looking for a contract similar to the Cargill plant in High River and would probably get it. But that's not happening and a strike is not happening.

Tyson is happy. Their plant is operating. Reports surface of supervisors telling employees the union is powerless.

Doug is left to calm down his members, more than half are new Canadians and most are from Sudan, fleeing from a full-scale human slaughter by a dictatorship bent on genocide.

They don't understand what is happening. Why is the government in this democratic land not protecting them? They are also angry with the union for not fighting, not realizing the union has no choice with the province playing favourites.

Doug advises them to obey the law and go to work. The union asks Cardinal to address the rank and file. He passes.

"This move caught us completely off guard, a terrible curve ball. We heard rumours and we begged the government not to do it. Right now, it's pretty tense. We're trying to do damage control. It'll take weeks to build back support," says O'Halloran. "I feel pretty disillusioned."

Then O'Halloran speaks words no one with any sense of fair play wants to hear.

"I think they screwed us," he says, of the province.

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