NBFL Solidarity Awards - Hélène Boulay (2007)
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The Value of Unions to Workers and to SocietyBy Hélène Boulay
École Secondaire Népisiguit
Let's set the situation scenario. You are a young, dynamic teenager who wants to make a little pocket money by finding a job. The first job you find does not offer any flexibility and, unfortunately, you need Thursdays off to go to your science club meetings. Your second attempt offers benefits, but you need to work longer than 7-hour shifts without a break. The third employment that you find offers breaks and flexibility, but no possibility of a wage increase. You think this is exaggerated? As a working teenager, I often witness this kind of injustice. People, more specifically teenagers who are the future of out society, should be aware that this treatment imposed on us by employers is unacceptable and that they should fight to achieve justice. Whether it be for better wages, for working conditions that exceed our expectations, or even for longer vacations, it is important that we do not let ourselves get destroyed by authority and that we assert our rights.
How can we achieve all of this? With a union of course!
But, what is a union? According to the Website http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicat, “A union is an organization, composed of individuals, which defends or manages common interests. The term has numerous meanings, but more commonly, it designates the advocacy organizations of the interest of wage earners (workers, employees, or managers), often referred to as “LO” (labour organizations) and protected by a specific legislation (freedom of association, right to strike...) result of a long history.” [Translation] To summarize, unions are assemblies of workers that have the goal of defending the rights of these same workers.
It has been proven that a unionized worker has better working conditions. According to the Web site http://congresdutravail.ca/syndicaliser/, a unionized worker will earn approximately $5 more an hour than a non-unionized worker. Furthermore, a woman will earn up to $6 more an hour if she is unionized. We can, therefore, notice the difference that a union can make towards the way the employees are treated and what a union can do to promote gender equality.
Similarly, a union can bring very interesting benefits. Certain simple things, like a retirement pension plan or a dental plan, can substantially improve the quality of life of workers and their families. Here are a few statistics from 1995 about benefits that Canadian employees were receiving:
- 79% of unionized workers had pension plans.
- 32% of non-unionized workers had pension plans.
- 78% of unionized workers had supplemental health insurance.
- 40% of non-unionized workers had supplemental health insurance.
- 72% of unionized workers had dental insurance.
- 38% of non-unionized workers had dental insurance.
These statistics are from the following Web site: http://congresdutravail.ca/syndicaliser/.
A union can also make a huge difference when the time comes to retire. It was proven that, in the year 2000, a worker who had a retirement annuity earned twice the money during his/her retirement than a worker who did not have a retirement annuity, for example, $28,000 a year compared to $14,000.
I think that not only should all workers be unionized, but unions should also be mandatory in all workplaces. Many employers do not respect certain employee rights and it is time to put an end to it.
As a non-unionized worker, I sometimes notice everything a union could do for me. Many employees fear expressing themselves alone to an authority, but with a union, they could share their opinions with confidence. Teenagers, more specifically, are less aware of their rights and they let themselves be pushed around.
Here are a few problems I noticed at several workplaces, more specifically in companies who employ young teenagers.
- Breaks are sometimes shorter than the recommended time of 15 minutes every 4 hours. Certain companies will allow, for example, 10 minutes for 5 hours worked, which is not much when we consider they are often exhausting jobs, such as in the fast-food industry or stocking shelves in department stores. Another issue is that breaks are offered at inappropriate hours. For example, someone who is working a 7-hour shift and gets his/her break one hour following the start of his/her shift must then work more than 5 hours without another break.
- Often employees do not receive any wage increases. Many teenagers start at minimum wage and, after working three years, they are still making the same salary.
- Sometimes, employers give too many or not enough hours. For example, some teenagers who are employed at a part-time job end up having to work more than 30 hours a week.
- There are often not enough employees for the required workload which, consequently, requires the employees present to work later in order to finish the work.
- Some teenagers who go to school work late evenings and this interferes with their education. For example, some students have jobs that end around midnight on weeknights, which is unacceptable, because even employers should accept that education is the teenagers' priority.
- Some supervisors allow themselves to raise their voice in an exaggerated way only to degrade an employee. This causes an energy loss for workers as well as them being not as lively and takes away their interest to do well.
Those are only a few examples of frequent problems in workplaces for teenagers that a union could improve.
Now, let's take a look at the teenagers' opinions on the subject:
“When you belong to a union you get benefits, like getting paid a minimum of three hours per shift even if you only worked two hours.” Joël Roy, 17 years old, unionized teenager.
“If I were unionized, I would feel a lot more comfortable and safe at my workplace.” Maria Langlais, 17 years old.
“I have worked all day without even getting one break; a union would have never let that happen.” Nicole Hachey, 17 years old, non-unionized employee.
“A union helps to have your rights respected as a worker and ensures you will receive an adequate salary in relation to the accomplished work.” David Saint-Pierre, 18 years old.
“Unions are like the police and our rights are the population. Without that police, our rights would not be protected and could easily be minimized or even restrained.” Samuel Jacques, 18 years old.
Therefore, all of this proves that we need unions to protect us. Teenagers should take a special interest in the subject since it is their rights that are most often abused. Despite numerous efforts from people, many workers are still non-unionized and have to work with inappropriate work conditions. It is time to change this and it is with unions that we will achieve it.
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