Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Here we Go! - BDPS Clean Coal Project Moving Forward

By Norm Park Of The Mercury

"The world's been waiting for this. Saskatchewan is playing a leadership role."

With those words, Rob Norris, Saskatchewan's minister responsible for SaskPower, told The Mercury in a hastily arranged embargoed interview late Monday that the Crown corporation and the province were making the commitment to boldly move forward with a $1.24 billion carbon capture project at nearby Boundary Dam Power Station.

By the time it is completed in 2014, Unit No. 3 at Boundary will be emitting at least 110 megawatts of electrical power while not emitting much, if any, carbon dioxide, thus securing coal as a sustainable fuel for the future.

Norris noted that according to preliminary feedback his office had received following the release of a media advisory on Monday, the global power players would be focusing on Estevan late Tuesday morning, waiting for the confirmation of this mega project that should set the gold standard for a commercial sized carbon capture and sequestration practices. It will also be one of the first, if not the first, of this size in the world.

Asked when the carbon capture part of the project would begin, Norris replied, "Wednesday morning."

According to the government and SaskPower news release, the project will transform the aging No. 3 unit into a producer of clean electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emission by about one million tonnes per year — the equivalent of taking more than 250,000 vehicles off Saskatchewan roads annually — in addition to capturing C02 for enhanced oil recovery.

Norris acknowledged that $240 million had been provided by the federal government a few years ago to help pay for the project, and most of that funding had been used in the first phase with the installation of a new generator capable of working in concert with the C02 capture technology that will now be added to the back end of BD3.

Norris noted that the window of opportunity had been closing quickly in terms of having to move forward, or put the rest of the capture program in mothballs, waiting for greenhouse gas emission targets and templates to come from Washington and Ottawa since the federal government in Canada had stated earlier that they were delaying their decisions, pending the outcome of the American government's contemplations regarding the same question.

When it became obvious that neither of the two senior governments were inclined to commit to a formula or foundation anytime soon, the decision to move on was crafted by Saskatchewan's decision makers.

Norris said he felt the decision "demonstrates leadership for the province and SaskPower.

"You have identified it. Delays in Washington and Ottawa and further deferrals as opposed to having the opportunity to make significant gains for the province led to this decision," said Norris. "We secure coal assets, continue to get 50 to 60 per cent of our power from coal of which we have hundreds of years of supply. This is an affordable source of fuel. We can secure the infrastructure while still investing in other sources of power production."

In the meantime, the province has assured citizens of a safe and affordable power supply while providing a commitment to the environment.

"This is especially important for Estevan. It's a significant investment with 6,000 person years of employment. You will have 500 to 600 people working in and around Estevan on the construction phase for some time," he said.

Norris said at the same time that SaskPower will continue to invest in a significant upgrade to the power grid, something, he said, the previous administration had overlooked.

While the investment in BD3 and other alternative power sources will require significant funds, the costs will be amortized over the years and paid for through corporate cash flows and loans so the public will not be faced with huge increases in power bills in the future.

Norris said SNC Lavalin, a leading engineering and construction company, will take the lead in the detailed engineering, procurement and construction activities at Boundary Dam.

Cansolv, a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell Global Solutions, will supply the carbon capture technology while Hitachi has already been awarded the contract and has begun construction of the state-of-the-art steam turbine that will be readied to be integrated with the carbon capture technology.

Norris said the capture of sulphur dioxide should not be downplayed either, since it will have value added capabilities along with the carbon dioxide that will be used for enhanced oil recovery. He added that several private companies have expressed a great deal of interest in buying and using the C02 for that very purpose since southeast Saskatchewan is teeming with oil-rich opportunities.

"We are moving forward with C02 capture in advance of federal publications regarding its value. We could be waiting months for them. We know this is scientifically sound and we can manage it. Our ducks are in a row," said Norris.

He added that outfitting BD Units 4 through 6 will be deferred until 2020 to 2023 and by then the province and SaskPower will have very reliable data and will anticipate technology improvements that can be implemented at that time.

"As others have deferred, we've moved forward and are committed to this environmental and business decision. We're taking a Saskatchewan position and setting a standard and expect the rest of Canada will understand," said Norris.

As far as further federal financing was concerned, Norris said he wouldn't want to contemplate that at this stage but noted that the $240 million they had put into the program in its early stages was very helpful.

In light of the interest from the private sector, Norris said he felt confident in the project.

Boundary Dam is SaskPower's largest generating facility with six units having a combined generating capacity of 824 megawatts. Announcement of the closure of smaller, older Units 1 and 2 has already been made. But with the province's three coal-fired units producing 50 per cent of the company's 3,513 megawatts, coal is still a major component. SaskPower has a total available capacity of 3,982 megawatts when independent power producers are taken into account.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Krugman - Shock Doctrine

What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside. Read More Here

Rallies for Labor, in Wisconsin and Beyond
In Indiana, Clues Future of Wisconsin Labor

Monday, January 31, 2011

Crown Corporation Workers Seek Fair Contracts

Monday January 31, 2011

The Common Front, consisting of the unions representing SaskTel, SaskPower, SaskEnergy, SaskWater, The Watershed Authority and SGI and others, held a joint members’ meeting to discuss the state of bargaining in Regina today.

After negotiating with the Sask. Party government for over a year with no ratified agreements, the members of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ Union (CEP), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Canadian Office and Professional Employees’ Union (COPE) Local 397, representing workers at the major Saskatchewan Crown corporations, are coordinating their efforts to reach a fair ratified agreement for their respective memberships.

“It is indeed an historic day when one sees this level of co-operation and co-ordination between the Crown unions. It is indicative of the level of frustration we are all seeing in the attempt to get a fair settlement for our members,” said COPE Local 397 president, Garry Hamblin.

“There can be no question that the workers at the Crowns are all in this together. Our members work very hard to make our Crowns successful, yet they are treated inadequately, as though they have no value,” said CEP national representative Cam Britton.

Britton added, “This government needs to take a close look at the money-making operations of the Crowns and act accordingly. That means taking concessions off the table and getting serious about a decent wage increase for the people who make the Crowns so profitable. None of the member unions of The Common Front is asking for the moon, we just want fairness for Crown corporation employees.”

The Crowns cumulatively contributed 755 million dollars to the province in the budget year 2009-2010, which helped offset the landmark budgetary shortfall of last year.

Neil Collins Business Manager IBEW 2067 stated that on January 25, 2011 the membership of IBEW Local 2067 soundly rejected the last offer from SaskPower management with a 90 per cent rejection vote. This rejection vote was due to the fact the offer was nowhere near the average of competitive wages in Western Canada and included a number of concessions.

Susan Saunders, CEP national representative at the SaskTel bargaining table, noted that the bargaining unit she represents has not yet begun discussing monetary proposals. “It’s unacceptable that the members are asked to accept concessions when the Crowns are making record profits,” she said. “It is clear from today’s meeting that members are angry at the Crown Investment Corporation’s objectives for concession bargaining.”

Similar issues are found in the post-secondary education sector.

Tracey Kurtenbach of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) representing SIAST employees, notes that their members in education are being treated unfairly as well. She said, “There is no understanding by this government of the value of education workers.” She went on to say that the final offer that has been tabled by management falls far short of being considered fair compensation.

For more information, contact Garry Hamblin, The Common Front Coalition, at 535-4580.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Doctors strike deal

By James Wood, The StarPhoenix

After nearly 22 months without a contract, Saskatchewan's doctors and the provincial government have reached a new deal both sides hope will keep physicians inside the province.Read more: Here

Health execs' pay hikes show 'blatant' double standard: union

By Hannah Scissons, The StarPhoenix

"A lot of us were quite flabbergasted. . . . I think it is a blatant double standard, in light of our negotiations," said Dickson, whose union represents more than 3,000 specialized health-care professionals ranging from paramedics to physical therapists to social workers.
She said the justification used for the out-of-scope pay increases, which range from zero to 37 per cent, is the same argument HSAS has been making on behalf of its employees - that their wages need to be "market competitive."Read more:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why aren’t McWorkers on board with unions?

Like it or not, Reagnomics and Thatcherism has pretty much won the day in mainstream North American political and economic thought. Our attitude towards work — and towards the people who keep the lights on, our streets paved, our homes, offices and stores built — has devolved over the years, to the point where we as a society take it all for granted.

As a result, it’s no surprise that only about a quarter of Canada’s work force — roughly four million people — are union members. Clearly, the labour movement has a long way to go to organize the rest of the Canadian work force.

People join and maintain unions because they want consistency and fairness at work, and they want their health and safety protected. It’s also because they, unlike an increasing number of governments, don’t necessarily define the public interest as the corporate interest. Even the best boss in the world, when the Big Whistle blows, answers to the company — not to the workers.

But the problem is, how do you organize a workplace where people are more used to fighting their own battles — or just leaving them behind, for that matter? Or, a place where people — recent immigrants, high school students, part-time workers and the working poor — are usually so happy to be getting a paycheque that they’re unwilling to rock the boat? For all the complaining about the right-of-centre Saskatchewan Party’s business-friendly labour policies, it seems as though the union movement’s biggest crisis is that it can’t convince the people who should be their BFFs to join a union. Why?

“Listen, the labour movement isn’t a monolith,” says Jim Warren, co-author of the 2005 book On the Side of the People: A History of Labour In Saskatchewan. “Hats off to the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) and the RWDSU (Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union): they’ve always have seen their mission as to organize the unorganized.

“But there are unions that work very hard to advance the cause of labour, and there are a lot of unions that don’t.”

The problems with keeping employees happy in Saskatchewan’s retail and service sector are nothing new. Saskatchewan’s first labour action (as Warren recounts in his book) happened in July 1777, when Hudson Bay Company’s trading post workers in Cumberland House went on strike. Poor pay and lousy working conditions inspired the job action — go figure.

But these days, the Wal-Marts and McDonald’s of the North American workplace are the junior college of the workforce training system. Nobody stays long at most non-unionized retail stores or fast-food franchises. If you can run a cash register or stock shelves at Giant Tiger or Wal-Mart, for the minimum wage or a bit more, you can do the same at Safeway, Sobeys, or Extra Foods/Superstore, where the work place may be unionized and the pay is relatively higher.

And it’s not as if those unionized stores aren’t hiring: the turnover rate at unionized grocery stores is about 30 to 35 per cent annually, says Gary Burkhart, secretary-treasurer of the RWDSU’s Saskatchewan branch. (Which isn’t bad, actually — turnover at non-unionized big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart is often over 100 per cent annually.)

“Everybody I know who shops there tells me they never see the same employees twice,” Burkhart says. “There’s no commitment to the business — and companies like Wal-Mart don’t care: they can always get more workers somewhere else, or so they think. There’s no commitment to your fellow workers — they’re going and gone all the time. And there’s no commitment to the job or the customer, either.”

That makes launching a union drive difficult, of course — because union organizers rarely speak to the same group of employees twice in the same store.

One could argue that the massive pool of McWorkers — drifting from part-time job to temporary job to seasonal work, from store to store and from mall to big-box store — is the 21st century equivalent of “the bunkhouse men,’ a pool of about 50,000 young Canadian men drifting from job site to soup kitchen and back, during the first three decades of the 20th century. Living in frontier work camps, they did unskilled work such as logging, mining, harvesting and construction. Many were foreign born: most toiled for little wages, and even less likelihood that their economic conditions would improve.

But there’s a big difference between the today’s McWorker and yesteryear’s bunkhouse men. The latter formed the backbone of some of the more militant wings of the trade union and labour movement — such as the Wobblies, the Communist Party of Canada, and the CCF. Nothing approximating that class consciousness has seeped into the current pool of McWorkers.

Warren says the McWorker culture is now ingrained in the service industry, more so than in the work places that were unionized a generation ago.

“When you got a job at General Motors, you had a job for life, primarily thanks to the auto workers union. Nobody thinks on the first day of work at Wal-Mart that they’ve got a job for life.”

Burkhard sits on the executive of a union that’s tried, with little success over the past many years, to organize workers in the retail and service industry. There are plenty of reasons for failure, he says. Saskatchewan’s NDP governments were milquetoast supporters of organized labour, and the Sask. Party’s position is about as friendly to the organized labour movement as a flying mallet to the gonads. Bill 6, in theory, gives management as much right as a union to communicate with workers during a union drive. In practice, he says, management now has a way to threaten employees who may be interested in unionization with dismissal.

It’s not only the psychology of the working person that has changed over the years, Burkhart adds, it’s their economic circumstances as well. A generation ago, people had savings to get themselves and their families through rough patches — whether it was unemployment or subsisting on strike pay. But working people’s paycheques haven’t kept up with the rate of inflation. If people today think they have more money, or are able to buy higher quality cars, homes, big-screen TVs or other assorted toys, it’s not because they’re making more money — it’s because banks have made credit more accessible, and people can and do borrow against the rising value of their homes, he says.

Consequently, union contract negotiators are often frustrated by their own members during contract negotiations. When management lowballs an offer, the union executive urges its members to hold out for more money, but the workers — most living paycheque to paycheque — aren’t willing to risk a strike.

“Times have changed. The way people spend the almighty dollar has them overextended,” Burkhard says. “”Organizing those people into a union, when there’s a possibility that the union membership could dictate to a person whether or not they go to work tomorrow — strike vote, majority rule — has an effect.”

Warren also saves some blame for the union movement itself. Since the 1960s, its’ major success has been recruiting ‘white collar’ workplaces — provincial civil servants, Crown corporation employees, health care and education workers. It requires a different mindset from recruiters to recruit potential union members at a retail store or restaurant than it does when recruiting office workers, he says — and so far, union organizers have done a poor job in tailoring their message of solidarity to those workers.

Does that mean unionizing McWorkers will be impossible? No, says Warren: the union movement faced a lot worse — more hostile governments, business-orchestrated picket line violence, that sort of thing — a century ago. It survived those dark days thanks to the dedication of thousands of activists; it’s time for the current generation to display a similar resilience, he concludes.

“The tendency amongst working people to seek collective action won’t die. I think we’re going to see a rebound, because if the organizations in labour that did all the heavy lifting start to disappear, people will find out that there is a reason we got them in the first place,” says Warren. “There’s a reason why there’s a contradiction between employers and employees. It’s all about divvying up the economic pie.”

Is the US Pulling the Plug on Iraqi Workers?

Early in the morning of July 21, police stormed the offices of the Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union in Basra, the poverty-stricken capital of Iraq's oil-rich south. A shamefaced officer told Hashmeya Muhsin, the first woman to head a national union in Iraq, that they'd come to carry out the orders of Electricity Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to shut the union down. As more police arrived, they took the membership records, the files documenting often-atrocious working conditions, the leaflets for demonstrations protesting Basra's agonizing power outages, the computers and the phones. Finally, Muhsin and her coworkers were pushed out and the doors locked.

Shahristani's order prohibits all trade union activity in the plants operated by the ministry, closes union offices, and seizes control of union assets from bank accounts to furniture. The order says the ministry will determine what rights have been given to union officers, and take them all away. Anyone who protests, it says, will be arrested under Iraq's Anti-Terrorism Act of 2005.

So ended seven years in which workers in the region's power plants have fought for the right to organize a legal union, to bargain with the electrical ministry, and to stop the contracting-out and privatization schemes that have threatened their jobs.

The Iraqi government, while seemingly paralyzed on many fronts, has unleashed a wave of actions against the country's unions that are intended to take Iraq back to the era when Saddam Hussein prohibited them for most workers, and arrested activists who protested. In just the last few months, the Maliki government has issued arrest warrants for oil union leaders and transferred that union's officers to worksites hundreds of miles from home, prohibited union activity in the oil fields, ports and refineries, forbade unions from collecting dues or opening bank accounts, and even kept leaders from leaving the country to seek support while the government cracks down.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

“We’re going to show that there is a different day in America — that working people are sick and tired of the bosses getting million-dollar bonuses and the workers getting the short end of the stick.”

Bob King

Monday, April 26, 2010

Premier must keep his promise to consult with the public: TILMA 2.0

Premier must keep his promise to consult with the public: TILMA 2.0

Regina – Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall will be breaking his 2007 promise to the people of Saskatchewan not to sign the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) if he puts his signature to a rebranded version of the agreement. It appears that the New West Partnership will be signed with British Columbia (B.C.) and Alberta in the near future, without any public or legislative oversight.

In an open letter sent today to the Premier, over 30 groups and individuals called on the Premier to release the full text of the New West Partnership. These signatories made presentations in 2007 at the legislative hearings on TILMA, arguing that the government should reject the controversial interprovincial trade agreement. Today they called on the Premier to conduct a legislative review and full and transparent public hearings on any proposed New West Partnership.

“In June 2007, when he was leader of the opposition, Brad Wall listened to the overwhelming voices of the people of Saskatchewan and made the right decision in pledging that he wouldn’t sign on to TILMA,” says Larry Hubich, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. “Now less than three years later he appears ready to sign a secret deal that nobody has seen, that appears to be based on TILMA, and he’s hoping the people of Saskatchewan will be fooled by a fresh coat of paint and a new name. I don’t think so.”

In 2007 over 70 organizations and individuals raised concerns about several provisions of TILMA , including those that would lower regulatory standards and that would implement a private tribunal for corporations to challenge provincial rules and standards.

“Saskatchewan was right to reject TILMA then, and it should reject a rebranded TILMA now,” adds Scott Harris, the Prairie Regional Organizer with the Council of Canadians. “Nothing has suddenly changed to make lowest-common-denominator regulations and standards good for Saskatchewan. Nothing has suddenly changed to make giving corporations the right to sue elected governments for millions of dollars for ‘impeding trade’ – decided on by unaccountable dispute panels – suddenly a good idea for Saskatchewan.”
“Handcuffing the ability of the province, municipalities, school boards and public enterprises to make decisions in the best interest of Saskatchewan flies in the face of democratic principles,” concludes Gary Schoenfeldt, chair of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Trade Committee. “The Premier has an obligation to show the people of Saskatchewan what’s in this new TILMA agreement before he signs anything. Both Brad Wall and Ken Krawetz are on record as saying they would never sign a TILMA agreement without first consulting with Saskatchewan people and we are asking them to keep their promise.”

The groups are asking when the three provinces plan to sign off on the New West Partnership. In his February 9, 2010 Throne Speech, BC Premier Gordon Campbell stated that the “new west partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan … will build on the success of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement” and on March 30, 2010 BC Liberal MLA Douglas Horne tabled a Notice of Motion saying, “Be it resolved that this House support the creation of the New West Partnership with Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

For more information:

Larry Hubich, President, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour: (306) 537-7330
Gary Schoenfeldt, Chair, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Trade Committee: (306) 537-7091 Scott Harris, Prairies Regional Organizer, Council of Canadians: (780) 233-2528

Download the news release here...

Download the open letter here...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saskatchewan Party government flouts ILO

by Joe Kuchta

Employment Minister Rob Norris defies International Labour Organization ruling.