Wednesday, October 19, 2011

That's Free Enterprise, Friends

I think Albertans knew that Premier Redford would have a bit of an upward climb to defend herself in the beginning, not only because every politician does but also because her sudden second-place win means we didn't have the time to work around to the idea of her being in power, and society does not move quickly.
What we had not realized was that this climb might be fabricated by a false 'call to action' by an opposition leader.

Suncor's Firebag work site in Fort McMurray allegedly let go of approximately 200 workers and replaced them with cheaper temporary foreign workers, which had been approved by the government when Suncor claimed they could not find appropriate local workers.

The NDP's leader Brian Mason is now calling on Premier Redford to step in and resolve this situation but it seems like he is setting her up for a fool's errand. If she steps in to have the worker's passes revoked she will be seen as anti-immigration and anti-business, if she fails to, leaving the situation alone, she loses the base of public support that put her in the office.

Now, while I am not particularly fond of unions, in this case it is clear they have egg on their face. They tried to demand wages that were obviously too high, and they were outmaneuvered by the company. This is not any different from the usual squabbles of hiring union or non. What would the union have done if the company had hired non-union Albertans? There is no point to belonging to a union if they cannot negotiate these situations without resorting to crying for the government.

On the other hand, the company has screwed themselves over in this situation. Should they ever attempt to return to the unionized employee this has seriously damaged relations to the point that any sensible union would rake them over the coals on the next contract negotiation. The company can't count on the government rubber-stamping these workers again, after this outcry, and the temporary workers are just that, temporary. This was clearly just a power-maneuver to give the business extra clout in further negotiations, but by escalating to sway public opinion the union has already gotten the upper hand.

In essence all that Premier Redford needs to do is wait. Further applications for workers won't  be approved and the union and business will be forced back into their playpen to learn how to play nice. She should not have to micro-manage business interactions, but they should re-examine the application process to hire temporary workers. But that should be it. She's got a province worth of bigger things to deal with.

The title is from a quote by Barbara Ehrenreich: "That's free enterprise, friends: freedom to gamble, freedom to lose. And the great thing -- the truly democratic thing about it -- is that you don't even have to be a player to lose."

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