Happy Labor Day to everyone living in Canada and the US. It's a day to appreciate and celebrate the hard work we do. It's also an opportunity to reflect on the changing role of unions in our society.
I'll just tell you that, from my perspective, I see the need for unions in our workforce. This comes as a surprise to many of my friends, considering my working conditions. I work for a non profit agency, and I often put in long hours of overtime for which I don't get paid. Last year I lost 27 days of vacaction leave because there was no time available to take them. My work is extremely stressful and I am significantly underpaid compared to what I would receive in the private sector.
Surely, these are conditions to warrant the need for better working conditions, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn't change a thing. I work in the field of advocacy and tenant rights, and it's been my passion for more than twenty five years. As corny as it sounds, the work itself has been it's own reward and I am immensely grateful for the sense of fulfillment and purpose it has given me.
I recognize the fact, however, that the majority of people don't get that sense of satisfaction from their work and they simply need to pay the rent or mortgage and put food on the table. In the changing economy, we see more and more people forced to work several part-time jobs without any benefits just to survive and there are little or no prospects of a viable retirement since they have no pension funds.
Unions continue to have a strong role in our society, but the priorities are evolving over time, as they should. Permanent full time positions are replaced by by part time work without benefits and lower wages.
In Canada, union coverage is down from 40% of the labor force in the 1970's to around 30% today. It should be noted that the number of workers has actually risen from 3.9 million in 1998 to 4.7 million today.
Canada's largest union, Unifor, is changing it's direction to organize people in precarious employment, while several other unions have engaged in recruiting efforts aimed at service workers who are not typically unionized. The long term results of these efforts remain to be seen, but unions are finding more ways to remain relevant to the work force, not just in the streets on Labor Day, but in the workplaces, private sector, and government offices.