Unions stand up for fairness in Canada

August 29, 2014

Canada’s Labour Day weekend is a public holiday filled with memories of family, friends and community. While work is the last thing most people want to think about before they leave another summer behind, it’s actually the reason why we have a long weekend and the means to enjoy it.

Over a century ago, trade unions marked the day to celebrate their achievements, most notably their push for an eight-hour work day. In 1894, Labour Day became an official statutory holiday for everyone to enjoy. What had begun with unions standing up for fairness, finished with something for everyone to enjoy.

That’s been the story of the labour movement: when unions stand up for fairness, we all benefit. Researchers at the Canadian Labour Congress have demonstrated this fact by showing the link between vibrant communities and the number of union members who live there. We call this connection “The Union Advantage.”

This year, they looked at economic data from 30 major cities and another 46 census areas across the country and found that decent, middle class, family-supporting wages translate into vibrant communities. Towns and cities with more union members support a richer mix of businesses and services which benefit everyone. In short, they are better places to live and work.

The research shows that, on average, unionized workers in Canada earned $5.17 an hour more last year than employees without a union at work, which translated into an additional $823.3 million every week into the pockets of 4.69 million working people. Those extra earnings not only add up, they get spent close to home. They support local businesses and bolster the local tax base, which supports public works, community services and charities.

Union membership is especially important for women and younger workers. Research shows that in Canada, women who belong to a union earn an average of $6.89 an hour more than women in non-unionized workplaces. Young workers aged 15 to 24 earn an additional $3.16 an hour with a union at work, which makes a difference as they build lives for themselves, pay off student loans, take mortgages and start families.

All too often the image of union members is framed by a small, but influential group of lobbyists whose goal is to weaken the labour movement. We can’t allow that to happen. Most Canadians believe that unions have a positive role to play in society. People still expect the labour movement to stand up for fair wages and work hours, workplace safety standards, parental leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination and harassment. Indeed, many benefits first gained by unions at the bargaining table are now enjoyed by all workers, whether or not they belong to a union.

Today, the labour movement continues to push elected officials at all levels to provide a broad range of family-supporting public programs and services. For example, every Canadian should, after a lifetime of work, be able to retire with enough saved to cover the basics. Which is why we are working to convince governments to expand the Canada Pension Plan, so people can retire with dignity.

We in the labour movement take satisfaction in knowing that we have helped to build a stronger middle class and a more secure economy for everyone in our country. That’s what we celebrate every Labour Day.