Times are not easy financially for anyone and I fully recognize that we need to have value for our dollars and we should receive value for our dollars.
Having been a union representative for many years, the number of members who come to us for the 1st time after 15-25 years of trouble-free service in the Federal Government never ceases to amaze me. Generally speaking, the reasons for the meeting are because something changed and that change has negatively affected the member’s work life. The problem may stem from organizational changes or reporting hierarchy, or a manager whose management “style” makes the member’s life difficult, and it gets tougher and tougher for them to get motivated to come to work each day. Finally, the situation becomes unbearable and the member either has to leave (retirement or stress leave) or work with us to resolve the problems and restore respect and productivity.
When I was a union steward for Local 541 of the CAW, representing workers at the ABB plant here in Guelph, I heard nearly every argument you could imagine against unions.
I had my own issues with the union. I didn’t like the culture of unnecessary and unproductive union-management confrontation that did more to hurt our public image than help us. I also had concerns with the growing disconnect between the workers and the union executives who had adopted a lifestyle not unlike the corporate executives they were paid to negotiate with.
Nevertheless, I took my role as a union steward seriously and did my best to protect the rights of the workers.
I am no longer a union member. There is no international brotherhood of freelance journalists that I am aware of, but I still sympathize with the labour movement and recognize the right and, in many cases, the need for workers to organize.
Before we look at the relevance of unions today, it would help to remember the historical contribution they have made to our standard of living.
Guaranteed work hours, guaranteed wages, minimum wage, pay equity, paid holidays, unemployment insurance, workplace health and safety legislation, universal health care, as well as many other benefits and protections we take for granted, were won through the sacrifice of average working people who organized to improve working conditions.
Some say, now that we have these benefits and protections, unions are no longer necessary. My experience suggests otherwise.
Sure, there are ethical employers who respect their workers and pay them a decent wage. Generally, those employers live in the same community as their employees. They shop at the same stores and their kids go to the same schools and play on the same sports teams. In the case of my former employer, ABB, the company had no connection to the community. The senior managers lived in Sweden and Switzerland and had little or no connection to the community here.
Right or wrong, this is the nature of a globalized economy that is driven primarily by the bottom line and anything that interferes with achieving that narrow goal is an obstacle to be removed.
The single biggest obstacle for ABB was the union, as is the case with most multinationals operating in North America. If you can drive down wages and benefits you can increase profits for the company and shareholders.
I suppose we should ask ourselves what is the purpose of an economic system. Is it to generate wealth for the few or is it to benefit the largest number of people and society as a whole?
The gap between the rich and poor is widening and the middle class is all but wiped out. Over the last four decades wages for working-class people in North America have stagnated and even declined in relation to the cost of living. In the same period, the salaries of corporate executives have tripled, quadrupled and, in some cases, risen 1,000 per cent.
Many economists equate this trend with the reciprocal decline in union membership over the same period. Some would argue this is a simplistic explanation for a complex problem but it makes sense to me.
As the average wage declines it becomes harder for working-class people to afford domestically produced goods so we drive manufacturers that can’t afford to relocate in developing countries to make cuts to wages and benefits or go out of business, thus perpetuating the steady decline.
Why do these multinationals relocate to China and other developing countries? It is not to raise the standard of living for the people there. It is to exploit a cheap workforce and take advantage of weak environmental and labour laws.
We are told we are going to have to give up many of the benefits and protections we fought for if we want to compete. Tell me again why we don’t need unions.
What is the value of an active Local for you?
The Local is:
- The equivalent of management’s Human Resource Labour Relations team;
- The member’s resource when personal problems or medical problems interfere with the ability to perform at the same capacity as in the past;
- After a lengthy absence, the Local provides assistance to facilitate an effective and safe return to work with the member’s interests superseding the financial interests of the insurance company;
- The member’s source of information and assistance when situations occur that require impartial assistance through a difficult personal time;
- The member’s resource for protection in Duty to Accommodate situations;
- The member’s resource for protection when reorganizations occur and tenure is threatened;
- The member’s resource for information and protection when legislative changes occur that threaten a members ongoing livelihood;
- The member’s resource when harassment, bullying or abuse of authority occurs;
- The member’s resource when discrimination occurs;
- A friend to their membership no matter what the circumstance is;
- The member’s source of advice and support through the grievance steps.
All consultations are private and no member information is shared even with members of the Local Executive.
Consultations can occur off-site and even on weekends.
All calls for advice or assistance are answered within 24 hours.
No member is without a friend
When problems occur, Managers go to Human Resources!
When problems occur, Employees go to the Union!
Your Local 70713 is there for you when it counts.
Some union members complain and resent having to pay union dues and I wanted to share my perspective on the matter. I invite you to check out our postings on out website about the history and benefits of unionism to all of us. Unions and union members set the bar high for our country so that health and safety standards remain high, wages are within the living range and benefits are part of employment packages.
We expect a reasonable standard of living to be provided by our employer, regardless of the type of work, and that is a good thing. Unions have worked hard to make sure that these benefits are in place and stay vigilant to ensure that they do not slip. Paying union dues allows the union to do this on our collective behalf. It is essentially the best insurance plan you’ve got to ensure a safe and healthy work environment and a reasonable standard of living.
Below I have shared with you some of the benefits to being part of a unionized workforce:
Higher Wages – Higher Standard of Living
Statistics show that union members in Canada typically make $5.09 per hour more than non-union workers doing similar work. The difference is even greater for female employees who generally earn almost $6.00 more per hour more than their non-unionized counterparts. While a third of non-union employees make less than $10 per hour, only eight per cent of union members earn less than that amount.
Health and Welfare Plans Provide Security
Workplace benefits such as a pension plan, medical plan and dental plan have a big impact on a person’s quality of life. The person who has such benefits enjoys more security, both now in the future. Unionized jobs are far more likely than non-union jobs to provide such benefits.
Canadian statistics indicate that 80 per cent of workers with union representation have a pension plan, while only 27 per cent of workers without a union have a pension plan. In the area of health care, 78 per cent of union members have a medical plan – a benefit provided to only 40 per cent of people without union representation. It’s a similar story when it comes to dental plans – a benefit provided to 72 per cent of union workers, but to only 38 per cent of people who lack union membership.
More Time Off to Spend With Your Family
When it comes to vacations and paid holidays such as the May long weekend, Canada Day and Thanksgiving, unionized workers come out ahead again. Seven out of 10 unionized workers receive at least four weeks paid vacation after eight to 10 years of service with an employer. More than seven out of 10 unionized workers have 11 or more days of paid holidays during the calendar year.
Union Membership Gives Strength in Numbers
The major difference in wages and benefits stems from that fact that with a union, people work together for the common good. One person on their own without a union who asks the boss for a raise or a longer vacation has no bargaining power. They’re entirely at the mercy of management.
When all of a company’s employees unite to negotiate improvements, the employer has no choice but to listen. A union allows workers to negotiate as equals with their employer.
Union Membership is a Good Investment
If union contracts were included in the financial news reported in the media, they would be called ‘top performers’. Buying stocks or putting money in other investments is a gamble. Putting money into union dues is always a good investment that will provide excellent returns.