Are unions a thing of the past?

Published on February 17, 2012

Dear Editor: Is the usefulness of unions in the protection of workers’ rights coming to an end?

My answer is yes.

The truth of the matter is that unions were the best thing that ever happened to the labour movement throughout the world because workers needed protection from being mistreated by employers and they also needed better working conditions, shorter work days and higher wages.

Unions were successful in bringing these essential changes.

This was evident in the loggers strike in 1958-59 between International Woodworkers of America  and Anglo Newfoundland Development Company.

I’ve long supported unions, however, my convictions have changed over the past few years mainly because unions are no longer about the protection of workers’ rights but about power and greed.

Unions are no longer required to ensure that workers have good working conditions, good wages, and a safe working environment because these factors are regulated by legislation and our moral values.

Today, unions are obstructing companies’ abilities to compete and prosper.

Unions are anti-competitive; they have become victims of their own success because of high wages and benefits.

The products or services that union workers produce have become so expensive they cannot compete against cheaper foreign competitors and non-union producers.

Under unions there is lacking of initiative and a noted drop in productivity from its members because there is no incentive to work at your top performance because your job is protected by your union through its contract with the employer.

Now in the 21st century, the tides have changed. Workers are not being exploited by employers — now employers are been exploited by employees. Unions have become more powerful than their employers and that is an unhealthy business environment.

Unions are not willing to give concession to save members’ jobs. Union demands are, when it comes to negotiations, driven by greed which in turn is forcing companies to close their doors as evident at the Caterpillar plant in Ontario, pulp and paper mills in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor, and more recently, at the OCI fish plant in Marystown.

Unions are so set in their ways they are unwilling to bend or compromise to save a company from closing its doors.

Their egotistical leadership is preaching from songbooks of old instead of today’s realities. Unions expect companies to bow to their every whim, however, in today’s economic environment companies are making it clear to unions — ‘if you don’t work with us and only against us we will close the doors and move our business elsewhere.’

Beware workers at the Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill.

Unions seem to think that once a company or government puts forward a positive economic year-end financial statement they are entitled to pay raises and increased benefits.

However, when companies or governments are in the red, unions are not offering to rollback their wages and benefits to help their employer survive.

Unions seem to think or at least give the impression that once they go on strike that a business must shut down when in fact during a strike, by law, an employer has the legal right to continue to operate their business with permanent replacement workers and that the strikers’ jobs are not secure when the strike is over.

This is why replacement worker legislation is an uncomfortable subject for governments because if replacement worker legislation becomes law, more companies will close their doors and take their businesses elsewhere.

Replacement worker legislation will put more power in the hands of the unions and less in the control of the companies/governments.

This type of legislation will handcuff employers to the point where their rights as an employer will no longer exist.

For governments to bring in replacement worker legislation they will have to change the laws of the land to deny an employer the right to operate during a labour dispute.

The question is: can nonunion workers be employed by a company, work for a completive wage and have benefits equal to or better than a union can offer? The answer is yes and without paying out high union dues.

All we have to do is look no further that Michelin Tire in Nova Scotia where the CAW union has tried on several occasions to unionize the plants in Bridgewater, Granton, and Waterville without success because the workers there don’t want a union screwing up an excellent relationship between employer and employee.

Companies must take note of Michelin’s successful labour relations and think hard about how they do business by following Michelin’s blueprint for success.

It is time for governments to take a hard look at the issue of labour relations between employers and employees.

They will discover that unions in general are one of the major contributors to the economic mess that the world is in today.

The European Union is in crisis and mainly because of the demands of unions in countries like Greece.

It’s time for companies to threat their nonunion employees with respect, good working conditions, fair wages and benefits that will in turn keep the powerful and greedy unions outside looking in.


Brian Pollard lives in Bishop’s Falls.