COLUMN: Value of labour unions slowly wanes

GUEST COMMENT

By Erin Cardone

Following a March column in which I chastized feminism for having taken women’s rights too far in some cases, a reader called me a Southern Albertan Bible-thumper, or something to that effect.

She was right, in a small way. I’m actually from central Alberta. The Bible part doesn’t apply to me at all, though.

Another called me a neo-conservative and some threw other labels at me, which will not be repeated here.

Dear readers, sharpen your pencils. Here comes another tirade from this central Albertan.

Haven’t we grown out of unions in Canada? Generally speaking, those days of appalling conditions for workers and no job security to speak of are gone, aren’t they? And yet, Air Canada employees are on strike and those at Canada Post are locked after after rotating strikes.

Let me clarify that some industries still benefit from unions. Heavy-industrial workers, for example, can still face frightening conditions. But they’re not on the picket lines today.

Both unions are crying about their pensions, which are so comfy, they make those of us in the rest of the middle class green with envy.

Both employers are fighting to change the pensions for new hires to a less expensive, less lucrative system in an effort to dig themselves out of whopping pension deficits, driven by a wave of retirees.

In very few cases do Canadian job sectors need unions. Unionized workers’ conditions are better than most and their safety concerns are already addressed by occupational health and safety standards. Concerns about job security? Yeah, the rest of us have those too.

But the perks of unions reach far and wide. They guarantee annual salary raises, plenty of vacation time and sick days, and, apparently, really nice post-retirement packages.

When Canada Post and Air Canada employees didn’t immediately get their way, they resorted to job action, a term coined by spin doctors which, for the sake of accuracy, should be renamed job inaction.

In Canada Post’s case, putting pressure on the employer could mean postal workers are only shooting themselves in the foot, demanding more in a rapidly declining industry.

Not for the greater good. Not for customer service. Not even for better safety regulations or job security. It’s about post-retirement dollars.

Here, I give permission for you to slam me with dirty labels, like right-winger, neo-con, capitalist (although I’m sure you can be more creative). Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned hard work? Want job security? Make yourself indispensable. Want a pillowy retirement fund? Save. Save early. That’s what the rest of the middle class does.

Three years ago I covered a library worker strike. They wanted better pay and I begrudgingly reported the librarians sought higher salaries and shorter work hours than what many people with their education levels received.

My tax dollars pay the annual wage increase they won in those negotiations (after they locked people out of libraries for six weeks) and I know I’m not the only non-union worker who’s been affected by a wage freeze since the market slipped in 2008.

A teacher strike looms this fall – next week, B.C. teachers vote on whether to accept offers put forth by their employer.

They’ll seek pay raises, of course, but paired with smaller class sizes and more help from teacher’s aides for students with higher needs, making the whole idea easier to swallow for the non-unionized public.

I’m not saying all unions are useless, disruptive, greedy organizations, but some take advantage of their power-in-numbers to keep a grasp on their employers’ silver spoons, in times when many of us are lucky to still have our jobs – and others aren’t so lucky.

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Erin Cardone is a reporter for the Victoria News.

editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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