Why Are Unions Needed?

Labour unions formed in the 19th century as a response to wage and time exploitation of workers and dangerous working conditions. Although many people take the 40-hour work week for granted, this standard was won through union efforts. Many people think unions are no longer necessary, but recent discoveries of wage theft among low-wage workers indicate that many of the issues that triggered union formation in the 19th century are still valid issues.

Equalization of Power

Labour unions equalize power between labour and ownership. According to David Edward O’Connor and Christopher C. Faille in their book “Basic Economic Principles: A Guide for Students,” labour unions increase the power of labour to be more on par with management through collective bargaining and strikes. Without this equalization of power, in some cases ownership and management may exploit the power inequality by lowering wages, increasing work hours, or forcing workers to work in unsafe conditions.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining is, according to “Basic Economic Principles: A Guide for Students,” the main source of labour’s increase in power through unionization. By speaking as one, labour has the ability to slow or stop production if a fair contract is not negotiated.

Fair Wages

According to Howard Zinn in “A People’s History of the United States,” pre-union wages were incredibly low, often too low to pay for basic food and shelter for workers and their families. Unionization often led, and leads, to wages that are adequate and more fair.

Workplace Safety

Unions were, and often still are, instrumental in workplace safety issues. According to “A People’s History of the United States,” the Pemberton Mill collapsed in the winter of 1860, killing 88 people. Similar situations were one of the issues leading to the unionization of mill workers and the reduction of many workplace dangers.

Enforcement of Labour Laws

Unionization prevents employers, especially employers of low-wage workers, from ignoring labour and payment laws, a common occurrence in 2009, according to a study cited in a Sept. 1, 2009 article in the New York Times. According to this article, 68 percent of low-wage workers had experienced at least one wage related violation of employment law in the previous week, and one in five workers reported trying to form a union to force labor law compliance. Forty-three percent of low-wage workers trying to form a union reported illegal retaliation, such as firing or suspension as a result of unionization efforts.

By Ma Wen Jie, eHow Contributor

Frequently Asked Questions

How do we achieve unionization of our workplace?

The first step is to sign a union membership card. Once Teamsters Local Union 230 has received union membership cards from a minimum of 40% of the workers of one company, the cards are forwarded to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board along with the Union’s application for certification. The employer never sees the union’s signed membership cards and the board never discloses these cards or the identity of who signed them. This confidentiality is part of the law.
There is a $5 fee, per signed card, for employees of federally-based companies. To certify the union, 50% plus 1 of the federal employees must complete a membership card to join the union. If this is accomplished, the union will be certified.
Employees of a provincially-based company will have a vote within five (5) working days from the time the application is filed with the board. If 50% plus 1 of those employees vote yes to the Union at the polls, then the Union will be certified. When the union is certified, the company is required by law to negotiate with the union about wages, benefits, and working conditions.

What will be in our contract?

This is done through a democratic process. Your negotiating committee is made up of workers and full-time union representatives. The union will hold a meeting and record what interested workers would like to see in their contract. Once the proposal document is drafted, it can be used in negotiations with your company’s management.

Are Strikes Common?

No. A great majority of contracts (approximately 96% of them) are achieved through dispute-free negotiations. By law, employees must be given the opportunity to vote on whether to accept or reject what is negotiated at the bargaining table. If the members at a particular workplace are not willing to accept what has been negotiated, they can vote to strike. A strike vote raises the stakes in negotiations, and contracts are often settled after a strike vote but before the strike begins.

What is a Local Union?

Local Unions are the backbone and vital force of Teamsters Canada. In fact, a Local Union is an autonomous entity governed by the Constitution and by its own regulations. It is comprised of officers (president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer, recording secretary, etc.), business agents, organizers, and staff members.
Due to the Local Union’s autonomy, officers can make decisions while always considering the needs of the members.

What is a Member?

Members are the backbone of our union and without their will to move forward, the union simply would not exist. Only members, in synergy with the other members, can advance the cause of employees in their working environment.

What is Teamsters Canada?

Teamsters Canada is a labour organization with more than 125,000 members. It is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has 1,500,000 members across North America. We represent several industries, including transport, retail, motion picture, brewery & soft drink, construction, dairy, warehousing, and more!