Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Most Benefit, The Least Harm

There was a lengthy article in the Globe and Mail today, the full text of the article can be found here:

It isn’t surprising to hear that unions are struggling, if you think back about 15 years ago we saw unions such as the CAW recruiting new bargaining units from industries that were not related to auto workers at all, such as hotel employees; at that time the auto industry was experiencing many challenges and the CAW went looking for other arenas to grow their membership in.

Now, with a tanked economy, a divisive federal government, and business owners with a public outlet creating incredible pressures against union demands in both the public and private sectors it is little surprise that union leaders are publicly admitting just how devastated their organizations are now. Add a public who have seen their standard of living erode and the increasing loss of a sense of being heard and any advocacy organization will have increased challenges.

Are they out of touch with the workforce of today? Maybe. It is also true that there is a perception of union membership being that of people, who are vulnerable, under-educated and overpaid; or alternately of a ‘thug’ mentality as some would depict union members. This of course, ignores the professional unions but in this case they seem to be categorized as lazy and greedy. If a business owner believes that a union will cut too deeply into their profits or make day-to-day operations more difficult then attributing negative characteristics to the members of a union appear to be one way of discouraging employees to apply for union certification. If a government is closely aligned with business owners then using legislation to essentially negate the bargaining strength of the union negotiators is a way to not only appease those business friends but it leaves the union members with a sense of hopelessness in the bargaining process. It also helps alter the way voters may look at unions that closely identify with unions, making them appear to be ineffective and out of touch. To the taxpayer who is self-oriented, an attitude that they do not want a union member to have a pay scale or benefits that the taxpayer does not already have. Perhaps it creates a negative impression that they are paying for those pay and benefits out of their tax dollars or increased product prices at a loss to themselves. Us versus them is an attitude that we are seeing increasingly in this country. Read the comments after the article and you see an unfortunately typical response, pitting citizen against citizen, without a reasonable solution in sight.

I am not pro-union or anti-union. As I do with organizations that affect large groups of people I look at the facts, the pros and cons, what will produce the most benefit and the least harm, and what takes into account the future, not just today. But when we descend into name-calling and promote adversarial approaches to issues that affect people each and every day and the future well being of many, we lose. No matter what we believe in, no matter whom we support, when we descend into that behaviour, we lose. And so does the well being of the citizens of our country.

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