Should We Protect the Union Job?

By | Jan 15, 2009

I heard a lot of negativity surrounding unions as I grew up. Our family consists of many working-class individuals who almost universally prefer to keep their noses to the grindstone and avoid getting involved in the larger picture. Unions are a sore spot – although none of us (to my knowledge) have been harmed in any way by unions, we’re well aware of the lazy union member stereotype. I’ve never been a union member: I don’t seek to avoid working in a unionized environment, it simply hasn’t come up.

So maybe someone can explain to me why seniority plays such a large role in advancement among workplaces that are unionized? It strikes me as natural that someone who has been working at their job longer than another person would possess more wisdom and a higher technical ability and thus earn their promotion, all things being equal. It blows my mind that someone could feel they are entitled to greater job security or a higher position on account that they have been keeping the chair warm longer. Work harder, contribute more, reap the rewards.

Right now I am looking at the Ottawa transit strike (now in its 36th day) with a great deal of disgust. The exact details of the strike have been so spun by the PR machines by this point that many of Canada’s Capital City’s citizens don’t care anymore. Apparently it isn’t about money, it’s about some vague notion that bus operators should be able to choose their working hours based upon their seniority in the company.

Unions have grown too powerful when they are able to hold an entire city at ransom because of disagreements in technicalities in their bargaining agreements. In their early history unions were not the big business they are today, they were groups of workers who self-organized to fight for their rights and dignity – safer working conditions so they could go home to their families at the end of the day, and enough money to put food on the table when they got there. Union organizers were frequent targets of physical assault and violence; they did not enjoy the legal protection and business status their contemporaries do today.

Before we start clamoring for unions to be dismantled and denied the legal protection they have gained, consider the economic times in which we live. As more businesses strive to save money they will make demands for more concessions upon the non-unionized workforce that they couldn’t get away with if their workers were organized.

Maybe unions are dragging down our nation’s employers and making the environment worse. Maybe the opposite is true – maybe unions protect the earnings of all workers by making managers more considerate of their staff. Whatever the case, we are ill-suited to move forward with a strong bias either way: workers and employers don’t live in separate spheres. The interests of those who provide work is equally as important as the interest of those who perform the labour needed to oil the economic machine.

1 Comment so far
  1. Good Riddance 2009 | Ignorant Mouth January 4, 2010 8:38 pm

    […] Ultimately employees bore the brunt of the economic damage. Greed managed to prevail, of course, as Canada’s capital was held ransom by its transit union in the middle of winter, putting even more of the city’s lowest earners out of […]

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