NBFL Solidarity Awards - Spencer R. Guitard (2005)

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The Value of Unions to Workers and to Society

By Spencer R. Guitard
Dalhousie Regional High School

Spencer R. Guitard - NBFL Solidarity Awards 2005 Anybody who works, no matter who it is, always wants to be treated like any hard working citizen should be; with fair wages, good working conditions, much needed job protection, and mainly just to be treated with respect and dignity.

Labor movements help voice the working people's thoughts and opinions with a chance to put their ideas into action. There are many hard working people that work long days and nights but still do not make enough money for a living, or are working in places with less than acceptable working conditions such as sanitary conditions, for example.

This is why a lot of businesses form unions with specific associations. Unions can help get the people what the people are striving for and offer protection to the union members while this is happening. This happened with my father and his fellow colleagues at their workplace. The workers of the Canadian Gypsum Company (a United States Gypsum company) in Belledune, New Brunswick formed a union with Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEPUC) in July of 2003.

The union was to help with getting a first contract deal on the road. But after much effort, this did not take course as well as expected. Management did not really acknowledge the union's biddings. So on April 19, 2004, with an outstanding 100% vote, workers of CGC went to the picket line to dispute their rights to a much-needed contract. Reasons for the strike, as mentioned by Kim Power, national representative of CEP, touched such topics as job security, workplace concerns, contracting out, and the management's inability to work out a fair deal with the workers for the union's first contract.

Sometimes things do not always work out, as I have seen in this case. It has been 326 days the CEP Local 218 has been on strike (as of March 10th, 2005). I bet my father and the other fellow workers at the CGC never thought they would be in a strike for this long; we are all just here waiting, wondering why management cannot accept the fair contract that has been set on the bargaining table by CEP. The management's response:

“We have been dealing with this strike since April 19 and we've been negotiating since mid-last year. We feel that it is an excellent place to work and our offer is out there. It offers good money and good benefits.” (“Strike at Canadian Gypsum reaches four-month mark”, “Plant not closing: official”, The Northern Light, August 18, 2004).

Well I, myself; say that what you (CGC) are offering cannot be good enough if your workers, some of which have been here since the opening, are complaining about it.

Just as of recently, CGC sent a letter to all its workers announcing its closure, and soon, as said by management, demolition, of the Belledune plant. I think that says something there. It is pretty bad when you (CGC) cannot agree to a deal that is fair. Instead, they did almost nothing all these months and decide to close. But one thing is for sure: CEP Local 218 will stand till that blue and white CGC hits the gypsum covered ground.

This was just one story. I never knew about labor movements and labor movement tactics quite as much as I do now after this happened. Sure I have seen strikes on television, and hearing about companies and their employees reaching contract deals after being at the bargaining table for a while, but it is when you are affected by the labour movement when you begin to feel the full effect.

When my father's company went on strike, I really had no idea what was going to happen. How long would he be out of work while he instead had to walk the picket line? Would he lose his job from the plant? The strike, as I mentioned before, had just started off in April 2004. Everyone had high hopes that it would end soon. I was anticipating my nearing high school graduation, excited about everything, but on the other hand, worried just as much. I had earlier received my letter of acceptance from the university I chose to go to, but I started to think; how am I going to pay for all the fees with my father on strike. I was worried that I may not be able to receive a student loan, since not everyone can always get one. So how was I suppose to get the money with my father's pay cut in half and at the same time himself having to support his family? Well, the last eleven months have had some rough spots, but luckily in this story, the “happy” ending fell through. I received my loan, and am upon completion of my first year of university.

Not that it was an easy one; it was stressful at times. Getting those times half-way through the year, worrying what is in store back home, if I would have enough to pay of the rest of my tuition, and then having to study for midterms and exams with these thoughts running a mile a minute in my head. It is not letting up yet either; my father's going to have to find a job in a place that is not really showing an employment growth at the time being. So with my sister soon going to college and myself going back to university, I am not really sure what is going to happen. Everything lately seems to be one big knot.

Although it seems that only bad things have been happening because the strike has happened, I believe it is a positive example of what happens when the little guy finally corners the giant. Even though they did not get exactly what they wanted, in another view, they did. Even though the first contract did not fall through, the unionized workers all proved that they were not going to let a bunch of men in suits and ties push them around. I hope the union knows how proud I and everyone else is of them for putting up with what company has been doing, and from the looks of it, it has not been enough.

Labour movement mean much more to me now then they ever will before because, just like other people have, I have gotten to see what it is like to live within the “river” of a strike, because every action that is done sends back a ripple effect to everyone that is connected to it. It is, of course, hard to watch the possible side effects of any labour movement, but unfortunately if you want something bad enough you have to stride for it, no matter what the cost. Not everything that is ever wanted can just be given to you on a silver platter, we all know this, and it is the fact that people are willing to fight for what they want rather than willing to take anything that is sub-par or seen as indecent that makes the movements so great.

The problem with non-unionization is that the company gets the final say about what they do with the employers concerning wages, benefits, etc... Unionization is great because it is the best way for control to be taken over the specific factors that affect the employees.

Unionization is an important part of today's working class. It offers support, control, and above all, the ability to voice the opinions of all the workers who want nothing more than to just be heard, but apparently employers are sometimes hard of hearing. If employers cared for their employees as much as they say, they would take more than a moment to listen to the ideas of the people that make up the company, because without these people, the company could not function.

Unions are also great because they give the much needed protection to people who are on strike, like what is happening with my father right now, and can protect the employee's position at work by means of seniority or other methods.

The best thing about a union is the fact that they see you not as another tool in the company, but as an actual working human being. They listen to concerns and apply what ever skills are in their reach to give a needed helping hand at any given time, because that is the main reason of what a union is about.

All in all, unionization is a terrific service to have in any business and can only offer good outcomes. I'd be happy to work in any place that has a union and I feel that people who say bad things about unions, in my opinion, just really do not know about the beneficial effects of having a strong and supporting union on their side. I fully support what unions stand for, what they do, and just plainly how they help out the hard working people in the labor force. I am behind what you guys believe in, one hundred and ten per cent.

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