wise – unionize!
Day 2003 editorial
working conditions, low wages, and long work days convinced many
workers to begin forming unions, over a century ago.
lot of people in business think unions are a thing of the past.
However, there is renewed interest in unionizing today. Many British
Columbians are organizing against abusive working conditions.
B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union has signed up close to 4,000 new members
in the past five years. The BCGEU’s recent organizing drives include
casinos, home support agencies, and call centres. Workers
seeking to gain respect and fair treatment in their workplaces are
contacting other unions, as well.
Call centres – organizing on
the new assembly lines
the blunt words of one B.C. tele-centre worker, her workplace is an
The average time a call
centre employee stays on the job is just three months. Alexander
Abbabio has survived longer than most. He’s worked for a call centre in
B.C. for 11 months. But he says he’s received no vacation time, and was
recently denied days off to attend his college graduation ceremony.
Alexander cites lack of
holiday time as just one of the many reasons why he wants the BCGEU to
unionize his workplace. He’s also tired of his employer’s broken
promises to increase wages, to pay commission that’s due, or to make
promotions based on merit.
“The management tells you
that you are going to get a commission if you sell a certain amount,
but at the end of the month – you don’t get it. They change the rules to
suit them,” Alexander says.
“I was due to receive $650
in commission recently, because of my high sales record. But then I was
told I wouldn’t get the commission because I hadn’t followed the
telephone script exactly in one phone call out of 400.”
Alexander, who is originally
from Ghana, says the main reason he
wants to unionize is because of the way he sees new immigrant workers
treated in his workplace. Many of his co-workers were doctors,
engineers, or professional managers in their home countries such as India or Taiwan.
“Now we have high school
students promoted over us as supervisors who yell ‘Sell!
Sell! Sell’ in our ears all day,” he says.
“If you get a high quality
score for performance one day, you get a balloon. I told them never to
bring me a balloon or a chocolate bar. I feel it’s disrespectful and
call centre workers who choose to organize often discover,
union-busting is big business. Rather than pay for fair wages and
benefits for their workers, many employers choose instead to spend
massive amounts of money in attempts to prevent unionization.
Since the BCGEU launched its
organizing drive at Alexander’s workplace, the company has flown in
managers from American offices who sit next to individual workers daily
and lecture them about why they shouldn’t join the union. At
times, negative messages about unions have been flashed on a special
screen set up in the middle of the call centre.
But many of the call centre
workers say they won’t be deterred in their drive to unionize.
Home support workers faced with
TheCampbell government appears to be doing all it can
to de-unionize entire sectors, such as home support.
Watson works a shift scheduler for a home support agency. She’s been a
BCGEU member for nine years.
BCGEU represents 300 members at Flora’s agency. Premier Campbell’s cuts
to funding and his contract-breaking Bill 29 have resulted in 65 of
Flora’s co-workers being laid off in recent months. They’re
just some of the close to 9,000 health workers who are losing their
jobs in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Their few options
include taking non-union health care jobs at much lower wages.
other workers in the health care sector, home support workers need
union support to help deal with the stress and workload issues they
face daily on the job. Flora says the
downsizing means, “Today, I work for two people”. But, she notes she
has some recourse, under her collective agreement: “Workload is an
issue that I will be raising in our upcoming round of bargaining.”
points out that her former co-workers who are forced to take
lower-paying jobs at privatized home support agencies will soon be
looking to unionize their new workplaces, to improve their wages and
Organizing for our future
are good for workers and good for economies.
conclusion comes from a surprising source: the World Bank. It issued a
report earlier this year that found high unionization rates can lead to
lower unemployment and inflation rates, higher productivity, and faster
adjustment to economic shocks.
study also found that union participation can reduce wage gaps between
skilled and unskilled workers, and between women and men.
unionized workers make up the majority of the workforce, wages and
working conditions are better, there are more social services, there is
less poverty, and the standard of living is higher. As workers in
countries such as Canada, Germany, and Sweden know – it’s wise to unionize.