Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why do we even need unions?

While thousands of Canadians have lost their jobs and many more wonder how long theirs will last, powerful labour unions withhold their labour in an effort to coerce management to add to their already rich wage and benefit contracts. Has our society outgrown its need for unions?

Earlier this year, residents of the City of Ottawa had to endure a 51-day strike by transit workers of OC Transpo, the transit company owned and operated by the City of Ottawa. The main issue of disagreement between the city and the union was the city’s proposed new scheduling system.

Having dragged General Motors and Chrysler to the very brink of extinction, the Canadian Autoworkers were forced kicking and screaming to give back millions in the form of contract concessions. Yet even now that same union balks at Ford’s request that the union match recent labour deals with General Motors and Chrysler so that Ford can remain competitive.

In Windsor, workers responsible for road work, gardening and garbage and recycling pickup walked off the job April 15, while workers in daycare, social services, bylaw enforcement and clerical work went on strike several days later. A key sticking point in negotiations has been the city’s bid to remove post-retirement benefits for new hires. They are still on strike.

In Toronto, Canada’s chief financial centre and largest city, 24,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are trying to use their enormous clout and considerable financial resources to force the city to concede to its demands regarding, among other things, job security, seniority and a bitterly contested proposal by the city to change its employees’ sick plan that would mean scrapping their ability to bank days and cash them out at retirement.

CUPE members are among the highest paid workers in Canada, relative to the sort of jobs they do. These people already have a wage and benefit package most private sector workers could never even dream of, yet, here they are five weeks into a city-wide strike.

Up in Sudbury, unionized workers voted overwhelmingly mid-month to reject Vale Inco’s contract offer, balking at issues like bonuses and pensions. This at a time when most of Vale Inco’s operations have been halted because of weak nickel demand. CVRD, Vale Inco’s Brazilian parent company, chief executive Roger Agnelli recently told media in Brazil that Sudbury is the company’s highest-cost operation and is not sustainable.

This morning I read that Via Rail Canada is on the verge of having its operations disrupted and, in some cases, entirely shut down by a strike by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union—strike deadline is in two days.

A pattern emerges: the workers involved above are already among the very best paid in Canada, relative to their types of jobs, and enjoy benefit packages that exceed the highest expectations of most Canadian workers. Yet they want more. And next year they’ll want more again, and more again the year after that.

And, one way or another the average Canadian will be the poorer through higher taxes and government fees and higher product prices. In the past fifty years or so, we’ve seen unions virtually bankrupt corporations, cripple essential services—remember the post office strikes—interfere with private companies’ ability to go on about their businesses, block access to government property and otherwise carry on as though they were above the law.

And you and I must take it all in our stride and shell out to pay whatever the unions’ greedy actions cost.

With the body of labour and job-safety laws we already have in place in Ontario, one might justifiably question the need at all for labour unions. With some adjustment to our codes, I think we could get by without them. The days when labour unions served some useful purpose to society as a whole have long passed. Now they are just greedy, often corrupt, self-serving bullies.

At a minimum, we need to curtail the power of our public service unions and eliminate their right to strike. If a public employee, including a police and fire department employee, walks off the job or refuses to perform normal duties, fire them and hire someone who really needs the work.

We need a Canadian with the mindset and courage of Ronald Regan to run our province. Someone who will legislate some sanity and balance in to our union-management system. Someone who’ll fire workers who withdraw their services and hold the public hostage while they extort ever greater demands.

And we need someone with the courage to demand and legislate that city mayors and other elected officials cross the damned picket lines, enact/enforce legislation that prevents picketers from barring or in any way impeding or slowing access to public and private property, hire replacement workers, contract out garbage collection, ambulance services and transportation (with no-strike provisions) and otherwise get on with doing the jobs they were elected to perform.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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  1. unfortunately the welfare state is ingrained in the minds of the people. we probably will never see a politician with cahones to see it through. remember how "scary" stephen harper is eh!!