The Legal Aid Rally, organized by AUPE members who staff the agency, has been postponed until further notice due to extreme weather warnings today.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 14), the AUPE bargaining team for close to 60 Legal Aid staff will meet with the employer and an independent mediator to continue negotiating the terms of their collective agreement.
Jamie from the bargaining team says: “We’re going to keep fighting for the workplace protections we deserve because there’s too much at stake to stand back.
Public-sector workers across the province are at risk of losing their jobs, their hard-earned wages and their benefits, and it’s the people they serve who are feeling the fallout. We’re not going to become another casualty of a careless boss.”
Bargaining has continued to be an uphill battle for the group. Since it started, the employer has forced a number of organizational changes onto the frontlines, chipping away at the resources they need to help low-income Albertans navigate the justice system in a timely manner.
“The bosses at Legal Aid are calling their organizational overhaul ‘streamlining,’ but we’re calling it for what it is: an attack. It’s an attack on our wages, it’s an attack on staff safety, and it’s an attack on our clients, who deserve a fighting chance in the justice system,” says Legal Aid Chapter Chair Peter Dubourt.
While the union has raised these issues with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB), members are fighting back against a bigger beast: the $5M cut to Legal Aid’s budget, which will likely lead to even more costly changes to their working conditions.
The rally might be postponed today, but the fight is far from over. Across the province, AUPE members from all sectors and allies are sending words of support to the Legal Aid staff. The message is clear: when we stand together, we win.
“What these hardworking staff members have endured since October is nothing less than a two-pronged attack. They’re getting hit on one side by a boss who’d rather protect their top-heavy structure than the services Albertans need. And on the other, by a government that takes from the penniless and gives to the powerful.
They’re going to find out though that our Legal Aid members are surrounded by a family of over 96,000 working Albertans, and when they’re under attack, we’re fighting back – from all sides."
-Susan Slade, AUPE VP
“As caseworkers in social services, my coworkers and I see firsthand the havoc budget cuts are wreaking on families and everyday people. Staff who are on the frontlines of crucial public services, like Legal Aid, are trying their best with what little resources they have.
But the bottom-line is when they’re left hanging in the balance, Albertans are left hanging in the balance.”
-Jose Reyes, 006/014, Chair
"Legal aid isn't just about ensuring access to counsel for criminal offenses. Legal aid also serves families and seniors and any vulnerable individuals or groups that don't otherwise have the means to obtain legal counsel. As a young mother, I myself was grateful to have access to legal aid when I decided to leave an unhealthy marriage.
By cutting support to legal aid what we are really doing is harming and further criminalizing those who live in poverty.”
-Maigan van der Giessen, Arts Lead and Program Facilitator at the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
“A lot of the same families in Edmonton who need Legal Aid come to Capital Region Housing in need of affordable homes. Staffers like me are their first point of contact, and sometimes we're their last.
More and more, we're having to put Albertans on waitlists, tell them ‘please hold’ and keep them guessing about their future because we’re under-resourced. It's heartbreaking. All the more because we know they probably hear the same thing from other services, like Legal Aid.
My coworkers and I are standing with our fellow Legal Aid members today because we know the human cost of a broken public service that puts bosses first and Albertans in need second.”
-Corine Heffernan, 118/011, Local Chair
AUPE’s Legal Aid members are asking all Albertans to join their fight. Download, personalize and send the AUPE email (linked below) to Justice Minister Schweitzer, asking him to reverse the devastating $5M cut to Legal Aid’s funding.