Strike Out

Ottawa is in the throes of a transit strike. It’s very annoying. For some people it’s downright devastating.

Once upon a time, when Simon Legree was the boss of everybody, strikes were important. They were necessary for people working in horrendous conditions who had no option but to withhold services to try and force employers to treat them humanely.  Strikes were the only way to show ruthless bosses that they needed their workforce as much as their workforce needed them. That was back in the 19th Century

Now, 150 years have gone by and, in my opinion things have changed a bit in the wonderful world of work. So, surely-to-god we have more sophisticated ways of settling disputes between employer and employees?

Over time, unions have ensured fair wages, reasonable work hours, safe work places, holidays, benefits and other rights and freedoms for most of the western world’s workforce. Along with the grey pony-tail guy from your office, unions employee legal teams, professional negotiators, PR people, etc.,  — why the hell do they still need the workforce to strike? What does this ever accomplish except save the employer a few days or weeks’ worth of wages?

It’s humiliating to stand on street corners with hunks of cardboard grousing about whatever the union thinks you should be grousing about.

I’m obligated to be part of a union in my workplace. I pay monthly union dues. Is it too much to expect them to negotiate a contract once every 3 or 4 years without hauling me out on the street? Our union calls a strike almost every time contracts need to be re-negotiated. Nobody asks us if we want a strike. Nobody asks us if we’re willing to accept the offer put on the table by our employer. We strike for a while, get legislated back to work and nothing changes. And the union has the balls to tell us we’d better show up on the picket lines “or else”.

And they’re pretty ugly about it. Threats are made. Scrawled notes are left on our desks. Phone calls are made to our homes. Thuggish union types stop you in the hall and tell you what will happen to you if you don’t picket – everything from facing a law suit, to having our homes picketed to veiled, “you better hope we don’t see you out walking on your own some night” physical threats.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the main thing making our workplace unpleasant these days is the union? And that’s before we even look at how they’ve hogtied workplace processes to such an extent that staffing takes forever;  that there is no way of rewarding exceptional employees and no way of dismissing non-productive employees; or that ever-increasing salary costs have driven manufacturing to close up shop and outsource their business.

I don’t agree with taking away anyone’s right to strike, just as a matter of principle, but I see no need whatsoever in the 21st century western world for anyone to need to exercise that right. It’s not civilized. It’s not enlightened. It’s not constructive. The whole process is brutish and thuggish and causes rifts in the workplace.

I still think unions have a place in this world. We just need to find a way to keep them in their place. 

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50 responses to “Strike Out

  1. Hi XUP,

    In this 3+ years I’ve been living in the so called First World I’ve found that Unions are one of the things that remind me most where I come from. It does not matter where you live: Uganda, France, Argentina or Canada they always end up making us, the users, their hostages.

    Do they still shoot to each other during Union elections, as it happens “at home”?

    I hope this ends soon.

    Have a great day my friend!

  2. You are aware of course that some people view the union as the biggest reason for the current fall of the big 3 auto makers.
    Personally I think its BS.
    Some claim that labour represents 10% of a car’s price while many claim that figure is grossly deflated once you include benefits such as health and retirement.
    It is a given that the unions have become so empowered that they do hold us hostage and that in many cases their demands outstrip reason – such as a current demand by teachers for a 12% pay increase over the next 3 years.

  3. And that pretty much sums up why I’m thrilled to not have a union in my workplace. No bullshit between me and my boss.

    They keep employees happy, employees produce, no middle man. I have never even negotiated a raise here, because there’s never been a need – we get yearly raises that reflect how the company is doing and what we’re worth.

    Maybe that’s why, despite periodic grousing, I’m still here after 15 years.

  4. Of course what XUp fails to offer is a single reason why any employer would ever offer a raise, or improved work conditions, or increased safety, or for that matter anything if there was not a deadline and the threat of loss of business for said employer. She says no one asks if they want a strike but I bet there is a strike vote taken. If you choose not to attend it isn’t the unions fault. I suppose she would like to keep working while the rest of the union gets an improvement for her future but it’s hard to get ahead that way.
    I hate to say it but this sounds as if she likes what the union has brought to her work in the past but doesn’t want to contribute to the next generations advancement.
    If your union is thuggish then get involved and reform it. It is democratic. If you don’t like strikes figure another way to finally force an employer to actually reach an agreement.
    I’m not sure if I have this right but I think the transit contract expired some months ago. Why didn’t the city settle before a strike was needed.
    And finally of course if you don’t like unions there are thousands of minimum pay, no benefit jobs just waiting for anyone who wants to work them.

  5. Bandobras,

    And similarly, if you(they) don’t want to work for many times minimum wage, and have 8 un-certified sick days a year (with roll-over), 17 weeks of certified sick-leave (90% salary, and work shifts like everyone else, move over, there are thousands of out-of-work people just waiting for that job…

  6. You are lucky to live in a union friendly country like Canada. Here inthe USA the media have made unions a pariah and the idiot sheep workers believe them. We still need unions and collective bargaining today, even more than we did in the days of Simon Legree.

  7. Bandobras: You bring up a couple of point that need rebuttal. Non-union employers offer raises because people deserve them and the realize the value of their employees. If you don’t get a raise and you feel you are hard working and offer skills then go find a job where you will be appreciated.

    Safety is now mandated by the government. There are plenty of inspections in the shop at my work as well as safety meeting that our insurance company mandates.

    You point about why the city hasn’t managed to reach a contract resolution show’s your one sided view of the matter. What about the union and it responsibility to find a fair resolution. Why when thousands of people in ontario are losing their jobs is the union holding people dependant on transit for ransom.

    I heard to on the radio today that if the scheduling was the big hold up for the union, and also used it scheduling plan they could save 3 to 4 million dollars. (my tax paying dollars). If the schedule is that important why doesn’t the union find a way to make up that cash difference.

  8. Dr. Monkey: Why do we need unions now more that we used to when thier was no minimum wage and no safety regulations and no law suits for people being mistreated?

  9. Of course safety is now mandated by the government. Because unions fought for it. Of course your insurance company wants safety meetings. Because unions sued businesses that crippled or killed workers. Of course the bosses reward good employees. Unless their nephew or son needs a job and then they’ll go back to nepotism and screw you. Sorry folks the unions have always responded to abuse by employers, to demand basic human dignity and value for workers. Yes there are union abuses but if you really believe we would be better off without them little stevie will be happy to welcome you to the conservative party.
    Unions have gained. Work hours, vacations, wages, sick benefits, sexual and racial equality, seniority rights, pensions, the list goes on and on. Each and every time the employers have screamed it will be the end of business if these things are achieved. Funny how that never happens. Could unions and bosses agree without strikes? sure they could but it requires good will on the part of the boss, and in my experience they will screw their workers every chance they get. If your boss values you that’s great. mine never valued me any more than he was forced to by a union.

  10. Ooh, XUP, it seems you’ve hit more than one raw nerve.

    I do have a lot of respect for unions. I grew up in a single-industry, heavily unionized town. There was a strike in 1975 that lasted almost eight months. The timing was terrible: the union had just broken away from its international parent and had no strike fund, and about three months into the strike, Trudeau legislated wage and price controls. So when the strike eventually ended, the workers ended up with 25 cents an hour below the company’s final offer. People lost homes, marriages and the chance to pay for their children’s education. Many never recovered.

    Any story like this has two sides, in which balance is sought between management’s heavy-handed attitude, and the union’s often misguided attitude of “Screw the company! Let’s go on strike! That’ll teach ’em!”

    I have belonged to a union. I currently do not, but work in a union shop. I get the same benefits and raises that union members do, and don’t have to pay monthly dues. I also get other benefits. For instance, just yesterday, I received a bonus equivalent to four percent of my annual salary. However, as in past years, I am encouraged to not talk about it around union members.

    So there is good and bad on both sides. However, when it comes to a public service like transit, hundreds of thousands of people are inconvenienced (I hesitate to use the word “suffer”). Let’s hope that reason enters the equation very soon, and the service is restored.

  11. Guillermo – That’s what I’m objecting to – why do we have to use tactics like this in a civilized society?

    Lebowski – I think you’re, but it looks like we’re going to get a lot of disagreement on this.

    Jazz – What? You mean there are employers who value their employees without being forced to?

    Bandobras – Are you saying employers only value their employees if there’s a gun held to their head at all times? If you read Jazz’s comment above you’ll see that’s just not true. And her workplace certainly isn’t the only one. Almost none of the annual Best Places to Work are unionized. Also, I have never in my life been asked to vote on strike action – I’d be there in a flash, believe me. And of course we should continue to work to improve workplaces, if that were their actual function. And, like someone mentioned below, it takes 2 to negotiate – why should the city settle for outrageous demands in an economic climate where they’re looking at cutting back a long list of municipal services? Why can’t the union at least meet them half way?

    Disgrunted – An interesting point

    Dr. Monkey – I totally agree that there is still a place for unions and collective bargaining. I’m just objecting to strikes and some of the unions’ tactics.

    MG – Many of these benefits we now enjoy are because of hard work done by unions in the past. I’m not against unions. They do have a place. But you’re also right that there are many, many great employers out there that are not unionized. I think we need still need unions because there are still big-ass places like WalMart who treat their employees like crap. Unfortunately as soon as unions get in there, they close the place down and put everyone out of work.

  12. Bandobras – I agree with almost everything you say. Unions have done amazing things for workers. And, as I say, there is still a place for unions today because as you point out there are employers out there who are big shits. I just think there are better ways of achieving resolution than acting like thugs or sending the poor schmoe worker out on a picket line.

    Bob – You’re incredibly reasonable for once (ha ha) and I can only agree with you.

  13. MG, who do you think got you minimum wage and safety regulations and the ability to complain when being mistreated? And do you really think those rights are secure? With this government?

    Why do we need unions now, more than we used to? Because there’s plenty of work still to do. Workers still get killed on the job. Employees are still harassed. Bad managers who don’t pay attention to collective agreements abound. Teenagers working at the Second Cup in your local mall don’t get paid even after they’ve done their shifts. And because we need to maintain the working conditions and labour rights we’ve gained – whether that’s the right to a day off when you’re sick or leave when you’ve had a kid or a pension when you retire or reasonable working hours or privacy in your office or a break a couple of times a day or pay increases from time to time or protection from being fired without due process or or…

    If you don’t like the culture of your union, then get involved and change it. Demand better communication. Go to meetings when they’re called. Become a shop steward or run for a leadership position. Unions are democratic institutions. required by law to represent their members fairly and equitably. They are not something outside of the rank and file membership – the members are the union. Despite your claim that the union doesn’t ask you to go on strike they are legally required to hold strike votes as well as ratification votes on any contract. So I highly doubt they just call strikes as a matter of rote without consulting the membership.

    Yet most people ignore their union, don’t read the bulletins they receive, don’t pay attention to what’s going on…. unless they have a specific problem to resolve in the workplace, or collective bargaining has reached a crisis point and a strike is about to be called.

  14. I totally TOTALLY agree with Bandobras and Miss Vicky. Without unions, jobs and working conditions would deteriorate so fast it would make your head spin.

  15. And another thing!

    [climbing back on my soapbox]

    When you say “I still think unions have a place in this world. We just need to find a way to keep them in their place,” it reminds me of how some men talk about feminism.

  16. will not strike out by coming to this party

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  17. “Without unions, jobs and working conditions would deteriorate so fast it would make your head spin.”
    Hardy har har har.
    Legislation on minimum wages and work conditions go much farther then unions do when it comes to those topics.
    I’ve worked in some relatively dangerous job enviroments and I can assure you a couple of things:
    1) On the job mortality has more to do with employee disregard for safety then an imagined evil corporation that has only the bottom line as its concern.
    2) Union intervention and the union “ideal” are what cause tragedies like the Walkerton water disaster. Seniority – and not ability – were the prevailing factors for their selection to run the water works.

    I have been both a member of the USWA and the Teamsters. Neither union ever did anything for me – as well as having a leadership so entrenched at the local level that it made the corruption at Tammany Hall look like amateurs.

  18. All I know is that if my employer were to decide to unilaterally change my work conditions (e.g. longer/shorter hours, different pay, cutting benefits, or no longer letting me hop off to City Hall), I would have to comply or go find another job.

    Unionized workers are lucky they have the right and ability to strike, and part and parcel of this is that every now and then they will exercise this right.

    When some people (not necessarily here) say that OC workers are lucky to have a union and their pay scale and therefore shouldn’t strike, it reminds me of people who say that we should be lucky to have freedom of speech and therefore should keep our opinions to ourselves (e.g. on the war in Afghanistan, censored expletives, etc.)

    Also, XUP, I think you’re giving “civilization” a bit too much credit. Just because a society is generally civilized doesn’t mean that everything it does is civilized–or humane. Remember how the British Empire “civilized” the savages in various parts of the world?

    – RG>

  19. “Legislation on minimum wages and work conditions go much farther then unions do when it comes to those topics.”

    Um, who do you think pressured the government to bring in that legislation?

  20. Whoa, I am a little afraid to dip my toe in here, but I suppose I will use my voice.

    First off, we had a big transit strike 3 years ago. Nothing too impressive came out of it for the unions and 3 years later the fares have gone up 75cents; a bus ride is now $2. Our public transit is managed by a non-profit, psuedo government program and transit is heavily (HEAVILY) subsidized by the counties and cities and state. The county has so much stake in the light rail that the trains carry the county logo on them.

    Back to the strike, the strike got the union no where and put a lot of the most needy and vulnerable people (who have less influence and voice) in a place of finding a new way to get around. Minneapolis and St. Paul are still heavily car cities, so many commuters just took to their cars.

    Then, I was in a white collar union when I worked for the State of MN. We went on strike for 2 weeks over a health insurance policy. The policy proposed by the state was already loads more generous than coverage that most people get from their employers, but they wanted to increase the premiums for dependents. We were on strike for 2 weeks and in the end, we all lost 2 weeks pay, the union’s demands were not met, and the state took coverage for same-sex partners off of the table. Then of course again state services to the most vulnerable citizens were halted during the strike. (Plus other services)

    Now I work at a huge University where the clerical workers went on strike last year for a month. Only around 20% of that union actually picketed and something like 35% kept working. Some of my friends who are in that union based on job class had never even heard from their union reps until just before the strike. It was a disaster. That union made no headway by striking and non-union employees actually got a little bonus to make up for extra work that had to be covered during the strike. EEK! Well, it was not presented that way, but only the non-union people got the bonus.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that I agree that there is a need for unions and that there is a need to reassess how to use their power and how to organize their troops better at all times, not just when it is time to resort to a strike.

  21. Miss V – I don’t like the culture of our union at all and in my shop at least they are a very distinct entity from the membership. I know very well that not all unions are like this — some of the unions represented in our workplace are great and I wish I belonged to them. But whatever a union is supposed to be and/or obligated to do doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what they actually do. There are a lot of “democratic” organizations that don’t operate democratically It would be extraordinarily difficult for someone like me to become involved in our executive. However, let me say again, I have nothing against unions per se and am very much in favour of their continued existence, but I very much object to some of their tactics. I don’t think they’re necessary in our environment. If they were to get toehold into companies where the environment is abysmal, I could see that perhaps a strike would be the only recourse. But they don’t seem to be interested in or are not able to take on the McDonald’s or Second Cups.

    Zoom – I find it interesting that you assume that all employers are out to screw their employees and are only being kept in line by the union threats. Why do you want to believe that anyone with capitalist or entrepreneurial leanings is horrible? Like I said to someone else above, if you peruse the Canada’s Best 100 Employers list each year some of the are unionized organizations, but many more are not. Many employers are smart enough to understand that making a workplace pleasant and encouraging a good work/home life balance for employees, paying them a fair wage, giving them incentives and bonuses, good benefits and many other perks makes for a productive and successful workforce which equals a successful business. Of course there will always be factions of the business world who just think it’s best to squeeze as much out of people as possible while giving them as little as possible in return. And that’s where the unions are important. But they’re not there. Why aren’t they out there trying to improve workplaces that are horrendous? And I think you parallel between unions and women is specious. Yes, it’s the same phrase, but used by men feeling superior in an effort to keep women inferior. I am saying that unions have a function, but they aren’t necessarily fulfilling the function they should be fulfilling. They take a confrontational stance not only with management, but also with their own membership. I think some (not all) unions have lost sight of their real purpose.

    Lebowski – Yes. I don’t think anyone can argue that unionized organizations have fostered evironments of mediocrity. Efforts to instill fairness and equity in the workplace, while very noble and right, have overswung the pendulum and have resulted in workplaces where there is little accountability and as I said before where effort cannot be rewarded and infractions cannot be punished.

    RealGrouchy – All I’m saying is that striking should be a last resort not a first or second resort. The big guns need to be saved for the important battles, not for every little skirmish or they become meaningless. Just like having freedom of speech doesn’t mean shooting your mouth off and spewing all sorts of viritrol is a good thing just because you have the right to do so.

    Missy – Never be afraid to jump in. From my own perspective I have to agree with you. I’ve been involved in several strikes and all they ever resulted in is us losing several days’ or weeks’ pay. We ended up getting the same or even less than the last offer on the table in the end. Never more. Your last paragraph is bang on in my opinion.

  22. XUP, Miss Vicky, Bandobras: I’m well aware that unions have brought us a great deal of benefits. But their work is done and now they mostly serve to protect the lazy based on the date they were hired. (I had written about my experiences at the Ottawa Hospital, but it was long and boring.)

    The problem with unions now, is the established ones aren’t doing anything other than milking the companies that they are in and they can’t get in where they are really need, places like Walmart and other crap retail jobs.

    The way to solve these issuse now is not through unions, it’s through your government. Get them to raise minimum wage. Get tougher safety standards.

    Does anyone know of a union that has made any a real difference in the last 20 years? I mean a real difference, like getting ensuring safe working conditions, not ensuring bus drivers get to pick their own schedules.

  23. A lot of the people here seem to think that the work of th unions has to a large extent been achieved and therefore they should go away now. 2 weeks ago the “leader” of this country proposed that there was no need for pay equity to be brought in. Something that has been on the books for decades. He also proposed eliminating the civil service right to strike. So how exactly will the underpaid get to force equality on this government.
    All businesses are not evil, but don’t for a second believe that there would ever be a step forward for any workers if you waited for the bosses to propose it.
    There are certainly problems with unions, like any other organization the power they possess can be corrupted and turned from what it should be. They are however the only organizations that are dedicated to bettering the life of the common worker. If you have decent work conditions in a non union shop that is great. You have them because your boss must compete with union jobs in order to hire you. If there were no union jobs around your own conditions would be dismal.
    Oh and by the way Walkerton wasn’t caused by union seniority requirements it was caused by nepotism allowing the hiring of a brother unqualified for his job.
    I’m interested if anyone can name any country that has a reasonable civil rights regime and does not have a strong union presence. I can’t.

  24. “I’m interested if anyone can name any country that has a reasonable civil rights regime and does not have a strong union presence. I can’t.”

    I can’t think of any regimes with unreasonable civil rights regimes without a strong union presence either. I can also name quite a few unreasonable regimes who use unions to keep their population “in line”.

    Unions still have a purpose. Unions will always be an important part of the workforce. I’d rather have a union representing my claims of workplace abuse than have to rely on the government to fix things.

    However… two points.

    One, there are a multitude of NGO’s and government organizations in place, in addition to the unions, to protect worker rights, freedoms and whatever else we can think of…

    Two… for some reason very few of those organizations actually protect the rights of office workers. When I sign a contract to work in a cubicle I know I have less rights than the person hired to clean them. I may get paid more, but if I refuse to work longer than the contracted 38-40 hours I’m going to be shown the door sooner rather than later.

  25. After getting out of the military, I worked in a right-to-work state and never joined the union. Very few of the guys that worked with me did.

    All that the union ever did for me is keep my job specialty from getting better pay and bonuses because they weren’t being offered to other jobs that were much easier to fill.

    I got better pay raises, benefits and bonuses when I took a job that was exempt from collective bargaining.

    Today, there is a higher percentage of workers in that department that belong to the union, but there is also more of a cooperative relationship, generally, between the union and the company. They seem to recognize that the success of the workers is dependent upon the success of the corporation — quite different that what it was in the early 80s.

  26. Great discussion, people!
    I’m a teacher in strike-happy BC, and we are constantly under attack from our own government on issues like working/ learning conditions (class size and composition). This government keeps changing the rules regarding teachers’ rights and we have been designated an essential service, just like police and health care. WTF?? We went on an illegal job action four years ago over working/ learning conditions. We were out two weeks, lost a whack of money in wages, saved the government a whack more money – and ended up with an arbitrated five-year contract that gave us a bit more money in wages (which was not the issue), language to legislate class sizes and composition but no money to actually GIVE us those legislated class sizes and composition. We’re still fighting that battle now – but never mind, Vancouver/ Whistler has the 2010 Winter Olympics, so all is forgiven, right?

  27. XUP wrote: “RealGrouchy – All I’m saying is that striking should be a last resort not a first or second resort. The big guns need to be saved for the important battles, not for every little skirmish or they become meaningless.”

    How well did that tactic work for Stéphane Dion in the last parliament? All that did was let Harper chip away. Once they started chipping away, it would have looked foolish for Dion to start opposing him at any given point, even though the collective effects of the chipping away were severe.

    Also, the contract expired in March. Is this really a first or second resort? Alternately, if they hadn’t set a deadline, would the City have let this drag on for five years like they did with the firefighters?

    Lastly, I’m not a bus driver, so I’m not going to presume what is or isn’t a reasonable offer to a bus driver. A lot of people have been doing this and it annoys me that they do.

    – RG>

  28. Enough of this trivial crap about bus strikes and errant teens losing their privacy what the hell happened to the smiling beaver awards? Are those bastards on strike or something? Who are the winners? Enquiring minds want to know.

  29. MG – I think your last question is most interesting and one I’ve been kind of wondering about, too.

    Gabriel – I’m not sure a transit system is an essential service – certainly not akin to police or firefighters. It feels that way to a lot of people right now, but when you get right down to it, eventually we would all find a permanent way to carry on with without a transit system. When your house is burning down, you pretty much need a fire-fighter right away.

    Mike – There’s a point, too — where I work, a good bunch of the workforce has been “designated”..mostly upper management, HR people, etc.. which means they don’t pay union dues and are not expected to picket, but still benefit from whatever contract the union negotiates.

    Pinklea – I hear ya! Sometimes, during my most paranoid hours, I even suspect the unions and management are in cahoots. The union agrees to keep it’s membership out for 2 weeks, saving management salary dollars and salary costs; management agrees to a paltry salary increase equivalent over the year to what the workers have lost in those two weeks. The union wins because they look like they’ve accomplished something. Management wins because they look like they’ve given in on something. Workers get screwed.

    RealGrouchy – I don’t think I’m really following your analogy here. Dion looked real stupid staging that so-called “coup” and it didn’t accomplish anything except lose him what little support he and the NDP had left. Is that what you’re saying? Do you think Larry O’Brien cares that there’s no transit for a while? Do you think it’s going to change City Hall’s mind about giving in to their demands? What’s going to happen is they’re going to be left out picketing until Larry thinks “enough is enough” or until December 26th when the World Juniors start and then he’s gonig to have them legislated back to work and they’ll have to end up taking a package that was less than the last final offer. Will there be a public outcry? No, because the public has no sympathy for the bus drivers. But I do agree with you that we don’t know enough about what goes on in a driver’s daily life to know what they should and shouldn’t settle for. I’m not angry at them. I feel sorry for them having to go through this. Which brings me back to my point that I don’t think striking helps anyone but the unions and employers. Bigger, more important negotiations than this are managed all over the world every day without resorting to such archaic and ineffective tactics. When strikes are the only way available to resolve a dispute, fine. Otherwise behave like grown-ups and sit down and talk things through. I always think of strike action like a war where the only way people know to solve a problem is to duke it out.

    Bandobras – Thank you. A fine ending to the discussion and please stay tuned for today’s “back to the trivial” post. The Canadian Blog Awards take a long time to sort out apparantly. So far they’ve only calculated one category. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when they get to mine. OR you can go to the website and follow the progress yourself.

  30. Bandobras: I’m interested if anyone can name any country that has a reasonable civil rights regime and does not have a strong union presence

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    Bandobras: All businesses are not evil, but don’t for a second believe that there would ever be a step forward for any workers if you waited for the bosses to propose it.

    Hey I just got a promotion last week. Getting more money, and more responsibility. My boss brought it to me first because he thought I could do it rather than hiring outside the company. No union saying it had to come to me first.

    If unions are so great how come they can’t protect young workers in retail or Wal-Mart employees.

    Unions go into places where they are needed (or try) and if they get in, they improve conditions at the start then just leach off both the employees and employers.

    Oh, and if you don’t like what the our PM is doing. Do what I do and try and convince everyone you know to vote against him.

  31. Threats are made. Scrawled notes are left on our desks. Phone calls are made to our homes. Thuggish union types stop you in the hall and tell you what will happen to you if you don’t picket – everything from facing a law suit, to having our homes picketed to veiled, “you better hope we don’t see you out walking on your own some night” physical threats.

    This is really disturbing. If it were happening to me, I would secretly make some recordings and then go to the police.

  32. MG – I think I’m in a agreement with this except I don’t think unions necessarily go into places where they’re needed. They only go if they can see enough $$$ coming back to them out of the exercise. There are plenty of poor shmoes working for minimum wage in pretty bad conditions and no union would ever touch them — they’re after the governments, manufacturing and other big-ass places like WalMart.

    Milan – It’s incredibly disturbing, but fellow employees just say most of it’s just hot air, though the union has followed through with the law suit threats and have gathered in front of houses of people they knew weren’t picketing when they were supposed to and they’re really rude to non-picketers in the workplace and often will refuse to work with them on anything. They are outnumbered by far by reasonable people, so we mostly just ignore them. Until the next strike when it starts all over again. Some people use strikes as an excuse to be bullies and be nasty — another reason why I think they’re a really bad idea.

  33. Milan – Oh and it’s very difficult to get the police to do much against unions, especially during strike situations. Police, for the most part are very strong supporters of unions.

  34. Milan – I’ll try to catch everything on tape or video next time they threaten a strike. We just narrowly avoided one this year, so it will be a while

  35. When I read these things reinforce that I would not work for a company that has a union, I’m very happy to be with my employer. I don’t get paid huge $$ and don’t get set yearly increases but the working conditions are good. We are expected to do our work but nobody is around to manipulate us or control how/when it’s done. We’re treated like adults.

    I do agree that some industry need the union because employers are greedy and think they can get away with murder. However, I do think that many people have become complacent within the union environment. But it’s difficult to get rid of it once they’re in place.

  36. UA – It doesn’t pay to be anything but mediocre and complacent in a union envrionment. Overachievers are not appreciated.

  37. XUP, I NEVER said all employers are always out to screw their employees. But you keep holding up the “100 best employers” as the standard. Obviously they’re the 100 best because they’re the exception rather than the rule.

  38. Zoom – I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the purpose of the list is to help good employees find a good employer; so I would think any company interested in having good employees would strive to get on that list. Being a workplace of choice is a big thing to employers who are interesting in being competitive in the marketplace. Of course retail, fast food, seniors centres, homecare services, daycare and the like are in a whole different area — they don’t give a crap what kind of person they have working as long as they have a body filling the spot. Those are the places that just squeeze people for as much as they can get and give as little as possible in return. Unfortunately, unions aren’t too interested in most of those professions. That’s where they’re needed.

  39. One last thing XUP – have you considered filing a grievance against the people who are threatening and harassing you at your workplace?

  40. Zoom – Grievance with who? The union? Many of us spoke to our local rep one year who just brushed us off. We then sent a letter to the national president, but never heard anything back. Not that we had much hope anyway. They took a whole bunch of us to court for not showing up on the picket line and tried to get us fined, but it was eventually thrown out — years and years later. And way before any of this happened a group of us had a case that the union should have taken care of involving some shady practices with a competition, but they just shrugged and said there was nothing they could do. Soooo, the union has never been my friend.

  41. Retail: UFCW (among others) organizes in this sector, and not just with Wal-Mart (although I don’t think the impact of that effort should be underestimated). The Steelworkers had a whole retail division – I think they may be with the CAW now. There are others as well.
    Daycare workers, homecare workers, seniors centres: CUPE, SEIU and other public and private sector unions do a lot of organizing and advocacy in this sector
    Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees: UNITE/HERE Canada has done a ton of work, especially some amazing stuff in Toronto with new Canadians in the hotel sector. In the US, there’s the whole Jobs with Justice Campaign: http://www.unitehere.ca/pages/default_en.php
    Teamsters and other unions have worked with fast food employees over the last 10 or 15 years or so, with some success and plenty of push-back from the employer side. CAW organized Starbucks workers in Vancouver. I could go on. Thing is, the media doesn’t cover labour issues the way it used to, unless there is a strike or some major conflict. Run-of-the mill organizing and collective bargaining doesn’t merit attention these days.

    What have they been up to the last 20 years? Aside from the run-of-the-mill collective bargaining and organizing, a couple of things come to mind.

    One concrete achievement in recent years is the Westray bill, named for the men who died when the Westray coal mine exploded on April 5, 1992. It allows for companies to be held accountable if senior officers fail to protect the health and safety of their employees or the public health in general.

    Labour has also been trying to hold the government to account for the misuse of the EI surplus back int he 90s. There wouldn’t have been a supreme court ruling had the quebec unions not taken the government to court over it: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/12/11/scoc-eu-ruling.html

    Then there’s pay equity, a fight which is still not over, it seems.

    Unions have been leading the fight to protect public services, through coalition work with community organizations – for public health care, for national child care, for municipal services, for public education, for investment in job creation and infrastructure…

    Internationally, unions monitor and expose what happens at international trade talks, and work with governments and international organizations to protect labour and human rights. They’ve worked with community organizations to expose conditions of work in sweatshops all over the world and have campaigned to end child labour

    Harassment in the workplace is an issue that has really only been addressed in the last couple of decades – now this has been broadened to include bullying and other forms of personal harassment in addition to sexual harassment

    Here in Ontario, unions have gotten laws changed to allow workers previous barred from organizing and bargaining collectively to gain access to those rights (specifically, migrant farm workers and, if you can believe it, part-time community college instructors). There are also some recent victories for temporary foreign workers in BC: http://canadianlabour.ca/en/migrant-workers-rights-equal-pay-upheld

    I could go on. You may not feel your union is your friend, XUP, and I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience in your workplace. I do not think it is a typical experience, though. (and I still think you should be able to deal with it internally).

    My experience is that most people’s complaints about unions are actually complaints about management – take the whole “deadwood” argument. Most collective agreements have ways to get rid of workers who aren’t doing their job. But they require due process and management is not always willing to follow it. If they don’t follow the process correctly, the union is obligated by law to defend that worker. The trade-off for collective bargaining rights is a “Duty of Fair Representation”, which means they have to treat all their members fairly and equally. If the employer has not followed the collective agreement (which is not the union’s document, as employers like to describe it, but terms that both parties negotiate and agree to), and the employee has a case, the union has to take it forward. The union can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do management’s job for it.

  42. Vicky – Thank you for the links and the added information. You obviously know your union stuff. I have no dispute about unions being valuable in the past, now and in the future. I know we’d be in a sorry state if unions hadn’t revolutionized the workplace and if they didn’t continue to fight for workers’ rights. And I also know that the union in my workplace is not representative of unions everywhere or even of my union everywhere. This post was really only questioning the value of strikes. I think there are very few instances today where strikes accomplish anything good. I think we, as a society in the western world, have moved beyond the need for this type of activity to settle a dispute. We have so many resources – experts trained in everything from labour negotiation, arbitration to labour law. Why can’t contracts be settled at the board table? Like I said before, worldwide much bigger issues are settled in discussion than whether or not one side will be allowed to create their own work schedules. We’re grown ups. Marching around on the street carrying big signs, shouting at people and making life hell for a whole lot of people who have nothing to do with your argument, doesn’t seem like a rational, responsible way to behave. And what’s to be gained? The public almost never supports strikers. There is so much antagonizm right now against OC Transpo; even some drivers are angry at their union. They’re losing wages over Christmas, stores are losing money, volunteers can’t get to jobs where they’re most needed, seniors and the disabled are suffering needlessly, workplaces and streets are chaotic. Mayor Larry is laughing his ass off because he’s saving $3 million a week (even after lost transit fare revenue is taken into account), everyone is blaming OC Transpo. And when it’s all over, the drivers will have lost much, much more than they could ever hope to gain. And our strikes go the same way. Treasury Board saves millions in wages and we end up getting whatever they were offering in the first place. I just think unions need to get smarter about the way they conduct business in the 21st century — not keep resorting to 19th century tactics which can’t hope to win against a very savy corporate management structure. Thanks again for taking the time to post this information — it’s very much appreciated.

  43. Strikes really are a last resort, despite the bluster of some union leaders. And though they get a lot of attention, they are still pretty rare. Thousands of collective agreements are negotiated and signed without having to take that step. But it really is the workers’ only recourse if the employer refuses to negotiate, or does not negotiate fairly (say, by dumping a proposal to completely rework the way scheduling is done right when negotiations are supposed to be winding down). Now, if the ATU had a smart PR team that was working on public opinion much earlier in the process, perhaps this could have been averted. But Larry really does seem to want a strike. He desperately needs a victory. That’s what’s so sad about this whole thing.

  44. Vicky – I can see why unions strike… It’s really their only powerful tool. My problem with this strike in particular, is the could have done it at a time when it wouldn’t have been so inconvenient for their customers.

    You combine that with the fact that they are striking over an issue that very few people can relate and the mayor says would be safer for drivers and could save the city over 3 million dollar at a time when taxes are going up doesn’t make me sympathetic to the bus drivers cause.

    At a time when alot of people are worried about weather they will have a job I think it’s small minded strike because you don’t like how your schedule is made.

  45. Vicki – Well you’re definitely right that this whole strike thing has been the one and only feather in Larry’s cap. He can’t lose. But I’m not sure that unions use striking only as a last resort. I’ve been through 3 strikes in the last 17 years with the federal public service and we have 3 and 4 year contracts each time — do the math.

    MG – Yes, it’s a really bad time to be greedy. Even our union settled for less than their original demand because of the times. And our union never settles.

    Elliotross – I’m appalled that this is dragging on so long — and over such a non-issue that affects such a small minority of the employees the union represents.

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