Museum opens new exhibit

Exploited workers, unfair wages, picket-line bravery and basic employee mistreatment were all-too common in yesterday's workplace. Today, these are often thought of as issues of a past and less-civilized time. However, this is not always the case.

The Heritage Museum is displaying a new exhibit in honour of the Alberta Federation of Labour's centennial anniversary from April 24, until the end of June, tracing the federation's history. Museum president and CEO Sylvia Larson is proud to host the exhibit. "There are stories that need to be told," said Larson. "The employment situation needed to be straightened out, so the Federation of Labour was necessary." The exhibit describes several of these stories and they are interesting tales indeed.

In 1995, Calgary's hospital laundry workers walked into a cafeteria and were met with devastating news. They were about to be fired. Just two days earlier, the workers had already been forced to accept rather sizeable pay cuts in a desperate bid to salvage their jobs, for a total of 28 per cent in wage cuts over two years. It would be of no avail. In the cafeteria that day, they were delivered the brutal truth in a cold and matter-of-fact manner.

There would be no severance packages even for those workers whom had dedicated themselves to the job for more than a decade. The stunned workers would receive nothing more than a cruel good-bye on their way out the door.

The newly formed Calgary Health Authority decided to force the old workers out, replacing them with Edmonton contractors who were more than willing to do the work for less money. They expected no ramifications for their unjust actions, after all the 90's were wrought with government cut-backs and job loss. They were sadly mistaken. The perceived 'pushovers' decided to push back – and hard.

The 120 workers at two hospital laundries, which included many immigrant women and single mothers, became unlikely heroes during a time when the Klein government commanded a five per cent rollback from most of its employees, sending many Albertans into a state of panic.

The day after the devastating news, 60 Canadian Union of Public Employees, (CUPE) laundry workers from the Foothills hospital took to the street in a wildcat strike.

The following day, 60 members of the Alberta Union of Public Employees, (AUPE) from Calgary General Hospital joined them in the illegal strike.

No one could have expected that the normally docile group's newfound outrage would set into motion the eruption of a subdued Alberta labour movement and be an inspiration to public sector workers across the country.

Wetaskiwin Times, Fri May 4 2012

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