Thursday, September 8, 2011
Unions: Past their Expiry Date?
The Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) rejected SIAST (Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology) latest offer. They walked away from the table and rather than find a settlement, decided to strike. Rather than look at who is right/wrong in this specific instance, I would like to look at the larger issue of--are unions still relevant.
Over the course of this strike, I commented to one person that it seemed that the instructors--compared to their counterparts in Western Canada, were adequately compensated, so why the need to strike. The reply was "To keep it that way." And, I suppose that is the main reason that unions exist. The utter distrust in the free market. And, to a certain degree, I would agree that left completely unchecked we will see serious abuses--people are greedy and corporations sometimes do evil things that affect their employees.
HOWEVER, what we are talking about in this case is a union in the public sector (and most strikes recently have been from unions in the public sector). These are unions whose members are paid from our tax dollars. These are not evil corporations looking to squeeze every last dime of profit out of labour. These are elected governments who are trying to maximize our tax dollars while providing the best service possible.
Additionally, we are not talking about unskilled labour. We are, for the most part, talking about instructors with specialized fields of training. Much like nurses and doctors, these folks have options. No longer is Saskatchewan faced with the "Brain Drain" of the 80's and 90's. Our public sector employees now choose to stay in Saskatchewan because the pay IS equitable. If it were not, they would simply indicate so--as they did in the past--by moving.
Now, if SGEU were striking for reasons other than "pay" then I might have sympathy. If their members were facing unbearable working conditions or were being phased out early...but, of course, we now have Labour Standards enshrined in The Canada Labour Code (thanks to our union brethren) and none of those things are possible because we've already achieved pretty fair working conditions...but they are striking for "pay."
But, they refuse to negotiate. Generally, in cases where "pay" is involved...the worker doesn't benefit. The negotiated settlement will be so small that the back pay will not be enough to cover off the lost wages of the workers while they're on strike. So, the union MAY prove a point, but the worker WILL pay the price.
No, don't be fooled. Unions don't strike for "pay" they strike for "power." This is all about who calls the shots. And, in the game of power--victims be damned. So sorry students, but your future might just have to go on hold for a few years because this union wants to flex its muscles.
This strike is not about making enough money to feed a family. This strike is not about decreasing the work week to 40 hours. Unions already did that. And, we all THANK you for that. I wish for once, unions would simply acknowledge that things are pretty good here right now and just be content. But, no...this is about power. They don't have it right now...and they want it.