During tough economic times as we’ve been in since late last year, people tend to do whatever it takes to ensure they keep their pay cheques coming in.
That is, unless you have the luxury of being in a labour union. Or so it seems, as this summer is being called the summer of the strike as more organized labour unions in Canada are walking the picket lines at any one time.
Earlier this year, city workers for the City of Windsor, Ontario, Canada walked off the job – just this week they ratified a new deal.
Image via Wikipedia
But Canada’s largest city remains without the basic services that make a city liveable, as 24,000 inside and outside civic workers continue to walk the picket lines. Garbage collection is the most visible victim in this strike, as non-unionized city employees have had to establish temporary trash heaps in community center parking lots, parks, and children’s playgrounds.
But other essential services are affected, one of which are paramedics which aren’t allowed to walk out completely – thankfully – but are working to rule. An investigation is currently underway where a man that died from heart failure could have lived, had the working to rule paramedics reached him sooner.
Image via Wikipedia
And today, Canada’s national passenger rail service, Via Rail Canada added to the picket lines popping up across the country, as their 350 locomotive engineers and yardmasters went on strike, over wages, benefits and scheduling changes.
Unions at Canada’s national airline, Air Canada were in a legal strike position, but going against the grain of many other unions, actually came to an arrangement with management, and have renegotiated their collective agreement, averting a strike.
Organized Labour -- Out of Touch with Today
Labour unions have done good things in the past. Without the labour movement, our employers would most likely still be severely underpaying us, forcing us to work unreasonably long hours, and in dangerous and non-productive workplaces.
Labour unions have lobbied for, and won us decent wages, reasonable expectations for hours of work, and compensation in money or time of overtime, and have helped pave the way for safer, worker-friendly environments.
They have also assisted in preventing the abuse of children in the workplace, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the workplace through their lobbying and negotiation strategies.
However, maybe the labour union is like an old shoe beyond repair
Image by Beige Alert via Flickr. No matter how many times you patch an old shoe, there comes a time when there just isn’t anything left to attach the patches too, so it’s time to go out and get a new pair.
The shoe once was comfy, cozy, maybe even stylish. But now it lacks the padding and support necessary to safely be worn.
Labour unions were once comfy, cozy and stylish too. They provided comfort to their members by standing up for their rights, to negotiate fair and equal wages, benefits and working conditions. It used to be a cozy arrangement working in a union shop, as it almost guaranteed no matter what happened, you’d always have a job. And it could even be said that union membership was stylish, as those not in ‘em tried to get jobs at places where unions ruled, so that they too could benefit from the union’s representation.
But like our old shoe, unions are beyond repair. They don’t negotiate anymore, they dictate, command, order, and then hold their members employers hostage by walking out “in solidarity” as they go out on strike, until those orders are fulfilled.
Unions don’t take into consideration the needs of the employer, and what is and isn’t really possible in today’s economy.
They no longer need to fight for fair market value wages – most unionized workers earn on average about five to 10 per cent more than those who are non-unionized doing the same job elsewhere.
They no longer need to fight for better benefits, again most unionized workers have more benefits than their equivalent non-unionized workers. And as the economy has shrunk over the past decade, there has been a consistent decline in the numbers of full-time staff employees in the workforce. These jobs remain, but instead of being on staff, with benefits, companies are hiring people on contract arrangements, so they don’t have to pay for benefits. Not so if you’re in a union – you’re
Image via Wikipediapretty much guaranteed benefits.
And unions no longer need to fight for safer workplaces. Thanks to years of lobbying, governments have taken on the responsibility of ensuring employers provide safe working environments, through legislation, inspections and where necessary, fines and enforcement.
So, what do today’s organized labour unions do?
They still have all the fight left in them from the initial labour movement, but instead of putting that energy to good use, they use it to bully employers into backing down to their outrageous demands.
Case in point, in both civic employees strikes in Windsor and Toronto, the cities offered counter-offers to the unions demands. They didn’t offer everything the unions wanted, but that’s not the point of hammering out these things.
The whole collective bargaining process is a negotiation – where all sides discuss what they can give in exchange for what the other wants.
But unions these days, still led by labour movement fighters loaded with piss and vinegar don’t want any part of it – they either get exactly what they want, or they walk away, taking their members – and the employers workers – with them into a strike situation, which benefits no one.
As of today, the 24,000 civic workers for the City of Toronto have been on strike 33 days. Millions of residents in Canada’s largest city have gone without garbage collection, maintenance of public spaces, and reduced ambulatory services for over a month.
Image by Doug McG. via Flickr
Thousands of restaurants across the city have gone without their regular inspections, possibly endangering those who frequent the few bad apples of the bunch.
The city’s health department hasn’t seen a day of work in over a month – yet the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned all major urban centers to be on alert and ready for another outbreak of the deadly H1N1 Swine Flu. Medical experts have come out against the Toronto Strike, saying the city may not be ready for this outbreak, possibly resulting in hundreds of preventable deaths.
Countries around the world have placed Canada’s largest city on their watch lists, warning their citizens not to travel to Toronto, because of the unsafe conditions caused by the labour dispute.
Add in today’s strike at Via Rail Canada, and the entire tourism industry is a right-off.
Yet, Toronto Mayor David Miller and his team have offered the city’s unions contracts which are balanced and fair. They don’t give the unions everything they demand, but the compromises fall in line with what other similar sized cities provide to their employees.
But unions these days don’t want to compromise, they want it all – or nothing.
And that is why unions – like the old shoe – should be tossed out with the trash.