Why would I join a Union?

Recently someone asked me why I belonged to a Union, the simple answer is because my employment contract required that I join the union. I was hired into a unionized workplace and as a result automatically became a Union member. The question that they should have asked, is why I would want to join a Union if I was not already a member. So here are nine reasons why I would join a Union.

Most people I know would say money or benefits but the top of my list is representation, over a 40 year period I have worked in both union and non-union workplaces. I know from experience it is very difficult to approach your boss if you have a problem or want a raise, especially if you are a young worker. As an 18 year old I recall having to build up the courage just to speak to my boss. I felt in doing so I was entering dangerous territory and putting my job at risk. In a unionized workplace if you are not being treated fairly or with respect, if you are being disciplined or if you simply want time off, or a shift change, you have a workplace rep who is your advocate and will speak for you.

They second reason I want to work in a unionized workplace is safety. Our workplace has a health and safety rep who meets regularly with management to address safety issues, we have clear rules and regulations about handling chemicals, how to lock-out and operate equipment and we can call the health and safety rep if we have concerns. We also have a grievance procedure we can use if required. When my children went to work for the first time I was more concerned about their health and safety than anything else. Without a doubt unionized workplaces are safer than non-unionized workplaces and you can’t put a price on having more control over the safety of your workplace.

When it comes to money there is no shortage of reports to prove if you work in a Unionised workplace you will be paid significantly more than those in the same occupation employed in non-union workplaces. If wages matter to you, then you’ll want to join a union, because you’ll be paid more as a union member.   A report by the Canadian Labour Congress CLC indicates that on average union members in Canada earn $5.28 per hour more than non unionized workers.  Women earn $7.10 more doing unionized work.  Young workers earn $3.74 per hour more than their non union counterparts.  In Niagara the CLC reports that the union advantage really adds up and pumps $13.6 million dollars a week into the local economy, this benefits local business government and the entire community not just unionized workers. Having to pay higher wages is the main reason employers are so opposed to you joining a union, they don’t like sharing profits with you.

Fringe benefits, not all unionized workers have company pensions, health care benefits such as dental, prescriptions, paid vacation, overtime and shift premiums. But once again there is no shortage of evidence to support the statement “If you work for a unionized workplace you are more likely to have these benefits”. You will also have a Union that is fighting to either get benefits or improve them for you. Incidentally this is another reason employers don’t want unions they know you will gain benefits at their cost.

Job Security & Seniority. The sad reality of the economy today is all our jobs seem precarious in nature, sales are declining, markets are down, production is moving to other countries, it is hard to feel secure at work with all this going on around you. In a unionized workplace there is more job security. The boss can’t walk up and fire you without cause. Management can’t lay you off out of seniority.  They can’t demote you arbitrarily.  They can’t ignore your transfer request for other jobs. The reality is the more seniority you have the more secure your job becomes and you will not be passed by when preferential jobs or shifts become available. Business owners are opposed to unions because they want to keep you feeling insecure and do not want to give up this control over you.

Dignity and respect.  As a unionized worker you don’t have to tolerate harassment in the workplace. There are workplace policies that management and the union must enforce. If you work in a unionized workplace you are more likely to be treated with respect and dignity, sure your boss has authority over the work that you do and how you do it, but management must always behave professionally and follow the rules. I really like that!

Education and Resources. Unifor has a national office as well as regional offices, they have research and education departments that are constantly working on your behalf. If you need more information about your workplace, the sector you work in, or your rights in the workplace there are countless resources, reports and opportunities to attend educational programs. I remember the first day back at work after attending a week long education course, my supervisor was different, he was a little less arrogant, he was not so confident and it seemed to me he was more cautious around me. At first I wasn’t sure what had changed while I was away, then I realized that it wasn’t the supervisor that had changed, it was me. I was more knowledgeable, I was more confident and this had changed his attitude towards me. This feeling of empowerment was one of the most satisfying feelings I have ever encountered in my working career. Education offered by Unifor is the best available to union members in Canada. Unifor Education Program gives union members the tools they need to build a better union and to develop skills to deal with management.My advice to you, every opportunity you have to attend an educational program or information session, grab it with both hands, you will be empowered too.

Democracy & Structure. Over the years I have learned a lot about unions and labour organizations. I don’t want to bore you with all the details about union structure, but I must warn you about the powerful union boss! Management will tell you you’re replacing one boss with another, but that is simply untrue. Unifor has a very democratic structure, you select the workers you want to represent you in the workplace, you vote for the local union Executive Board, and you select the delegates that go to convention who in turn vote for the president of our union. We select who represents us, we have a say in the decisions and direction of the union and we vote on our collective agreements. Every member can run for office and fully participate in the local and national union. We have a good and fair structure that works well and puts workers first. You can’t say that about Non-Unionized workplaces.

The Collective Bargaining Process and the Collective Agreement. Earlier I mentioned how hard it was to approach the boss and ask for a raise. To be honest not everyone has the courage or the skills and knowledge required to do so. If there is a single reason unionized workers get paid more, have better benefits, have more job security and work in safer more respectful environments it is because of the collective bargaining process.  After consultation with our members the union helps elected reps negotiate for you. They use all their resources to research the economy the employer and use collective power to negotiate the best possible contract for you. All you need to do is keep working and support the union. Business owners know this is the most powerful tool available to you and this is why they constantly lobby the government to make it harder to join a union and weaken the collective bargaining process. They will tell you the Union will take you out on strike, but that is not true. Yes Unions will go on strike, but only as a last resort and only when absolutely necessary. Most think strike is all unions ever do, what they don’t tell you is that 97% of contracts are settled without a strike or work stoppage. To put it in perspective after working for 40 years I have only been on strike twice, for a total of two weeks. Because of the union and the collective bargaining process my family has enjoyed a better life and we will enjoy a better retirement. Looking back over my working life I do not regret paying one single cent of my union dues, it was worth every single penny. I didn’t chose to join a union but if I had the choice, I would do so in a heartbeat.

The number one reason I would join Unifor is for my family. Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector Union and has the experience representing workers just like us. Unifor is a union that is helping to create a better future for you, for me and our families.