Guest column: Alberta unions remember lost workers by fighting for safety

“The tragic loss of Bradley Tynski at Syncrude’s Aurora mine is a stark reminder of why our vigilance in regions like Fort McMurray is crucial.”

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As we approach this year’s Day of Mourning, we reflect not only on the 165 lives tragically lost to work-related incidents in Alberta last year but also on the pivotal role that unions have played in our continuous fight for workplace safety. Unions have long upheld the safety and rights of workers, ensuring that each person who clocks in for the day also returns home safely.

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The tragic loss of Bradley Tynski at Syncrude’s Aurora mine is a stark reminder of why our vigilance in regions like Fort McMurray is crucial.

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Despite existing regulations and safety standards, Bradley’s death highlights the persistent gaps in our enforcement and corporate accountability. The $390,000 fine levied against his employer, although significant, omitted a crucial victim surcharge, leaving a gap in justice and support for the affected families.

This oversight is indicative of broader systemic issues that the Wood Buffalo and District Labour Council has consistently worked to address.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Westray Law, introduced after the devastating mining disaster in Nova Scotia. This critical legislation, championed by unions, aimed to ensure criminal accountability for negligent employers.

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However, its application, especially in Alberta, has been disappointingly inadequate. The significant decline in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) enforcement under the current provincial government is particularly alarming—inspections may have increased, but the follow-through on infractions has not.

Here in Fort McMurray, unions remain at the forefront of advocating for safer workplaces. Through negotiating improved safety standards in collective agreements and providing essential safety training to our members, we stand as the first line of defence against workplace hazards. Our role in policy advocacy is also crucial as we push for the enforcement of stronger laws.

As we honour those we have lost, including our own community member Bradley Tynski, we recommit ourselves to ensuring that no worker must sacrifice their life for a paycheck. Our commitment includes:

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  • Enforcing stronger safety measures: We demand the rigorous enforcement of safety regulations, ensuring that violations are met with severe penalties to deter future lapses.
  • Advocating for comprehensive support: We advocate for every penalty for safety violations to include a victim surcharge that directly supports the grieving families, ensuring they do not face the aftermath alone.
  • Empowering workers through unionization: Unionized workplaces have proven to be safer. We are dedicated to breaking down barriers to unionization, empowering more workers to advocate for their rights and safety without fear.

This Day of Mourning, let us honour the memory of those we have lost by reinforcing our commitment to safety. Let’s remind everyone, from policymakers to employers, especially here in Alberta, that unions have been—and will continue to be—a vital force in making workplaces safer.

Together, with a renewed sense of purpose and solidarity, we can ensure that every worker in Alberta, starting with our home in Fort McMurray, receives the protections they rightfully deserve. It’s time for action and it’s time for change.

Omer Hussein is president of the Wood Buffalo and District Labour Council

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