Thursday, January 05, 2012

On Unions

Well, the way I see it, there are legit. arguments for and against unions. I have heard many and will summarize briefly here before giving my opinion.

The arguments against unions seem to focus around pay and work ethic. Naysayers suggest that unionized workers make more money to do the same jobs private or non-union employees make, which is often true. Just consider the auto industry and the GM plants in Oshawa, eh. People who don't want unions suggest that these people don't deserve this extra pay. They also say that unionized workers have too much job security. They are of the belief that unionized workers know they can sit around and be lazy and not work hard because they have the union to protect them and there are very strict procedures that must be followed to discipline/fire someone. These naysayers would rather that these people were forced to "work as hard as them" and want workers to be able to be fired easier if they screw up and/or sleep with the boss's daughter.

On the other hand, the arguments in favor of unions are more about equity and worker rights. People who support unions believe that unions help workers fight for equal treatment and equal pay. They say that unions prevent big companies or organizations from taking advantage of workers or enforcing illegal or extreme work practices. After all, who wants Darth Vader firing them for breaking a coffee mug or tasting the wrath of Palpatine's lightning fingers for accidentally putting 2 left shoes in the same box, Unions prevent workers from being fired without due process and just cause, claim pro-union hippies, and they fight for fair wages and reasonable pay increases over time. In fact, they say, that unions help bring in minimum wages and health and safety standards into all work places in a city, province or country. It's hard to argue that minimum wage laws have benefited from union campaigns and worker actions.

Ok, so, which side am I on? I, in fact, am pro union. Call me a pinko-commie Liberal and all the rest, but I do believe that, in this day of big business and small government and profit at all costs, unions still have a vital role to play. We need groups fighting for livable wages and organizations fighting to keep work weeks under 60 hours. We need organizations making sure that workers are given good working conditions because happy workers = loyal, productive workers. And unions also make sure that all senior employees aren't fired because they are more expensive to keep than young, inexperienced workers or that workers aren't fired on a whim or in the heat of a moment. We don't want to turn into Mexico or China, where workers are often jailed for forming unions or fighting for better wages and shorter work weeks. We don't want to race to the bottom in terms of salary. All those people who say "I don't get that high a salary and that many holidays, so why should those union guys?" should be fighting for better conditions at their workplace, not work to bring everyone else down to them. Let's work to improve everyone's life instead of try to  pull everyone down into the mud. Frankly, I don't want to see salaries decrease and minimum wages disappear like is happening in some places...ahem...America.

And don't think that I am delusional and think unions are perfect. I agree that sometimes bad employees are protected and shouldn't be. I also agree that unionized employees make better wages than non-union counterparts, but like I said, I think the non-unioners should work to bring their salaries up. But, these days, we need unions to make life better for employees worldwide. Are you listening China?

Anyway, that is my opinion. What's yours?


  1. It’s nice to get a different viewpoint on such an interesting topic. Although I’m not aware of the feeling towards Unions in Canada, in Australia there seems to be a feeling of disinterest and mistrust towards Unions. Often I have had friends and colleagues argue against Unions’ despite having safe working conditions, good pay and many other benefits that were established by Unions. I find this very irritating considering that through my love of history I understand the great role that Unions have played in Australia.

    Unions in Australia and hopefully around the world give the working people a voice. This can stop the exploitation of the workforce by either companies or governments. Through the strength of collective bargaining in the workforce, Unions assist their workers in getting better pay, safer working environments and employment security. All these things are vital for an individual to have a better quality of life.

    The arguments against Unions are quite weak and often fall along the lines of Unions being greedy. That they only exist to take your money and do nothing for their members or that they’re just simply there to protect lazy and bad workers. This dribble of an argument is outdated, at least in Australia; since being a member of a Union is not compulsory and so Unions have to work more for their members and ultimately protect those who can’t protect themselves.

    This issue of Unions has also come to the forefront of people’s minds recently in Australia through the QANTAS airline strike. It raised the issue of costs involved in labour, and raised the prospect of the Australian airline being moved offshore into Asia for cheaper labour. This trend of seeking cheaper labour costs will no doubt prove to be an issue for Unions in Australia but also for Unions in other advanced economies. However, through solid and fair negotiations between Unions and employers positive outcomes that don’t sacrifice safety, pay, benefits or company profits can be reached.

    Ultimately, I believe that we need a strong Union movement to stop any race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions. Thus, allowing workers the freedom and the opportunity to have a good quality of life.

    Mark from Oz.

  2. Mark, I agree with your assessment of unions and I think that things are very similar in Canada. With jobs being lost and companies looking for the cheapest possible labour source, unions are more important now than ever before.

    The only problem is that people have become very cynical, and possibly jealous in these hard times, so an anti-union feeling has spread among a lot of people. Many look at unionized workers and wonder how they get steady wage increases and job security when most would kill for either.

    Also, it's easy to see anti-union attitudes in the current mayor of Toronto. First, he is firing or getting rid of a lot of unionized civil servants. Next, he is letting other unionized workers stay out on strike because he wants to break the union and/or bring in scabs. He is a businessman and a bully and doesn't care about anything but the bottom line financially.

    Two problems happen when you race to the bottom. One is that employees then don't make enough money to pay their bills and buy food. The other is that job satisfaction goes down and quality of work follows closely behind. The old adage states that you "get what you pay for".

  3. This topic really resonates with me, not just because I am strongly pro-union, but because of a few people I've met recently who are vehemently anti-union despite a day-to-day life philosophy and career choice that would otherwise indicate a more pro-union stance. Encountering such enigmas has left me wondering the source of their anti-union feelings.

    As you have mentioned, much of the anti-union rhetoric seems to be based in the sentiment of jealousy and envy. I am NOT a union member, nor is joining a union even a remote possibility (because of it's complete lack of effective existence in my work field), but I'll be the first to proudly admit my envy of the strong unions that teachers, electrical works, medical works, etc, enjoy. If a strong union organization with some serious teeth was set up tomorrow in my line of work I would emphatically join up in a second.

    I'd be willing to bet that most -- if not all -- of the demographic that makes up anti-unionists are those not in unions. But, I would guess that if you approached a group of non-unionised workers and offered them the benefits (both in the broad and literal sense of the word) of becoming unionised, they would all jump at the opportunity and thus be transformed into Union Lovers!

    Everyone just wants to belong and of course I can empathize with my fellow un-united who feel that way. I just wish that there weren't public figures in positions of influence using that sentiment as a means to turn us loving homo-sapiens against one another.