Work Union. Live Better.

by Kristina on September 30, 2010 · 9 comments

As DINKs our job categories range from personal finance, to educational institutions, and the technology sector.  One topic we have never discussed in detail is our possible association with unions.  I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of a union to our wages, our professional growth, as well as our job security.

As an employee in the financial services industry I do not have the luxury of being protected by a union.  My friend Tricia who is a former financial services employee now works as an admissions officer for a local college.  She is experiencing the benefits of a union and recently attended her first union meeting.

She was fascinated and impressed with the commitment by her union executive. A union executive is a group of people who are elected by the entire unionized workforce to represent them collectively with the company management. Coming from the cut throat world of finance, it is hard for Tricia to comprehend how the union executive put in an extended amount of time and effort on behalf of numerous employees whom they have never met.

According to Johnny, a former union president for a worldwide cereal manufacturer, the main purpose of a union is to establish and maintain workers’ rights and benefits in a consistent manner. A union also works with management in assuring fair and consistent implementation and utilization of the rules that ensure workers’ rights and benefits. Without sounding too patriotic a Union is an association by the people, and for the people to protect workers’ rights, job security, wages, and overall work environment.

I am the product of a union family.  My Dad was an active (and card carrying) member of his union for over 25 years.  I was marching in protests before I was selling Girl Guide cookies. I am always impressed by a union’s ability to bring people together. I will never forget the cold December day when I was deliberately absent from high school in protest of teachers job cuts. As I marched through my city alongside my Dad, I was impressed to see that almost every union in my town had representation. Alcohol and beer unions were marching alongside grain millers, spice producers, and auto manufacturers in support of protecting teacher’s jobs.

Very often I find that Unions get a bad reputation which I feel is unfair and unjust. My experience is that people who are anti union are either uneducated on the topic or afraid of their power. Johnny is a recently retired union president, who now offers his services as a labour relations consultant.  Johnny has negotiated several Collective Agreements for workers during his time as a union president; it is all because he believes in the institution of a union.  Equality for all people is something that our ancestors fought hard for over many years.  If people are all treated equally, shouldn’t all workers receive the same equal treatment?

It is the union’s responsibility to negotiate a Collective Agreement on behalf of their employees. A collective agreement is an official document that outlines working conditions such as workers rights, rules for health and safety, employee wages, medical dental and health benefits, as well as dignity fairness and respect in the workplace.  Once the union executive accepts a Collective Agreement they present it to their union members, who are the workers of a company, who then vote to accept or deny the Collective Agreement.

A union gives workers a voice. It gives us a voice about our working conditions that may otherwise be silenced in a union-less working environment.  Once a Collective Agreement is accepted by the entire union membership it is the union’s job to ensure that the working conditions are followed and respected by all parties fairly and equally.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave September 30, 2010 at 10:23 am

It’s easy to talk about the benefits that you receive being part of a union. I don’t think anyone that is a member of a union is going to complain that they don’t think a union benefits them. You fail to mention any of the downsides of unions, such as higher costs passed on to customers, or inability to fire employees that aren’t good. Look at the school system in West Virginia where teachers are given tenure after 2 years and the teacher’s union there won’t even negotiate changing that.

2 Scott September 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

Unions are the perfect model of inefficiency and only harm the economic well being of their members and the businesses involved in the long run. You only need to study the impact of unions of the Steel and Auto industry to see where union’s have a severe negative effect on the industry. Union’s had their time and place, but that time was about 50 to 60 years ago before there were viable labor laws. Now, it’s just a form of political activism and artificial labor cost inflation. If business acted in the same manner as unions, they would be charged with collusion.

3 ken September 30, 2010 at 11:36 am

Working at Boeing as an engineer in a union i experienced lots of lazy people that should of been gone, but because of the union they were able to coast it out till retirement.

4 Dirac September 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I do not like unions but I see where they once had value and could again in cases of abusive industries. What I am against are closed shops. I wish we were in a right to work country but we are not. Look at Michigan…they would rather have unions be secure than get a new Volkswagon plant that chose to go to a state where they would not have to employ union workers. I guess they would rather not work.

5 Kristina September 30, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Of course just like any other situation unions have both strengths and weaknesses. However, I feel that the benefits outweigh the downfalls, but that is only 1 persons opinion. I love the feedback on this post, and I would love to read more comments whether they are pro or con unions in the workplace.
I would also like to clarify that I do not feel people who do not support unions are uneducated. It is my personal experience that some people who do not support unions may not fully understand all of their benefits.
Thanks for reading everyone!

6 Al October 1, 2010 at 8:54 am

Well, I see we have some misinformed and somewhat uneducated folks. Only part of what they say is correct; that because of a lack of labour laws to protect those workers who were vulnerable unions evolved. Are there some lazy people out there? Sure. But are they all protected? No. I know of many who are let go from employment in unionized locations. More to the point of most comments, if people would take the time to check out “real” labour costs of manufactured goods they would see that labour is a small portion of the price of goods.In cereal it’s about 10%, hardly a higher cost. The auto industry was decimated by poor management, not labour costs, as they would have you think. They didn’t put enough money away for things they agreed to.But the top dogs still got their bonuses, the workers at the bottom of the food chain got sacked with a sevarance no where near executive bonuses.Don’t you find it strange that the multi billion dollar bailouts to banks and auto companies are being paid back in record time? Suddenly they are flush with cash? The auto industry has shed tens of thousands of jobs, but if labour was a big portion of the price of a vehicle why aren’t prices lower? And you can’t count one time rebates as a true price reduction. Bankers paying out billions in bonuses while being handed a taxpayer funded cheque? So please don’t deride the common worker folk for trying to better themselves so they too, can have part of the Canadian or American dream.Part of that dream is health care and a social network, much of which no one, unionized or otherwise would enjoy here if it weren’t for organized labour. If belonging to a labour organization can help to achieve that, good; no different than a corporation being the only game in town, or taking advantage of their own economies of scale.If companies want to keep driving down the wages of ordinary workers, there’s less money to spend on what you sell or provide.

7 Al October 1, 2010 at 8:57 am

Oops, when I say misinformed and uneducated it refers to the knowledge of organized labour and how it has affected the population as a whole.

8 Bret @ Hope to Prosper October 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I worked union for five years, so I am both informed and educated on the subject.

I agree with the other posters that the union’s time of influence has come and gone.

There are a number of reasons unions are on the decline and will continue to decline. They pit the workers and employers against each other, when they should be operating in partnership. They also add a layer of bureaucracy and contribute to inefficiency in the workplace. Their pension-based retirement system causes huge liabilities, that can make companies uncompetitive. Finally, they cause periods of uncertainty around the contract negotiations and the potential for strikes can disrupt an entire industry.

I am a big believer in a living wage and benefits for workers. I don’t believe a CEO should earn millions per year with huge bonuses, while worker’s wages and benefits are cut. But, the unions are causing jobs and industry to flee. Marching around with signs won’t change that.

9 Tim October 11, 2010 at 12:35 am

unions were at one time a good thing, however, they have become too arcane, bloated, inefficient, and ridiculous. they hijack not only the company but workers. blackballing a person so he cannot work if he/she doesn’t pay union dues? that is normally called racketeering and extortion. when the mob forced businesses to hire on ghost folks on their payroll to do nothing, the govt went after them. when a union “negotiates” terms with a business where employees are paid without having to work, we say yeah labor.

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