Letter: Unions still have a purpose

Jocelyn Hunt, columnist for the Gauntlet at the University of Calgary, argues in her Jan.13 column that unions in Canada have lost their purpose. I disagree.

Hunt correctly states that unions introduced wage minimums, improved working conditions and won the battle to give employees (union or not I must add) the 40-hour work week. While these are all true examples of why unions served a purpose, she failed to mention a few other gains organized labour has achieved, including the two-day weekend, which has not even been around for a century, and child labour laws.

Unions in Canada still serve important purposes and have not expired. In addition to working to ensure wages keep up with the rising cost of living in Canada–something not done through the good will of business or government– unions have and continue to be behind many social movements that push for increased equality, universal health care, public services, social justice, workplace safety, pay equity, human rights, the environment, political action and pensions, among others. In fact, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees proudly boasts several committees that do this work every single day on behalf of all Albertans regardless of union affiliation or not.

Unions also help set industry wage standards and benefits, which in turn raise wages for those who work non-union as well, despite Hunt’s claim unions only ensure good wages for unionized employees. Organized labour is also credited with helping lift many Canadians out of poverty and giving them the means to consume. It is this purchasing power that keeps the economy running.

Hunt’s mention that unions negatively affect the economy is simply not true. The reality is the problems most employers are facing are the result of the collapse of global financial markets caused by big finance and greed-driven lending practices, not by employees. The employee should not suffer for the mistakes of the free market.

Perhaps there has never been a time where unions serve more purpose in Canadian society than now. The first thing many employers push for in an economic climate such as ours is to make cutbacks to staff and wages. We are seeing it now at the bargaining table. Unions like AUPE fight to protect jobs, wages and benefits so our members can contribute economically and provide essential services to the people of Alberta. This is purposeful. Unions have not expired.

Without unions, it’s reasonable to believe wage levels would be lower and benefit plans less extensive, which would harm Canada’s economic recovery by taking away the purchasing power of millions.

Our 76,000-member-strong union– including more than 4,400 members working hard at the University of Calgary– is the largest union in the province. I’m proud to say the wages and benefits our members receive for doing the work that make this province and your university run are well deserved. AUPE will continue to stand up for economic and social justice in Canada where unions are still absolutely purposeful, despite Hunt’s claims.

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