What Is a Trade Union?

A union is an organization that represents employees’ grievances to their employer. The primary purpose of a union is to reach collective bargaining on issues related to its members. By 1999, 3 million out of a possible 11 million employees had joined trade unions movements in Canada. This figure represented 30 per cent of the paid labor force. There are different types of trade unions in Canada, and they include the one that represents public employees who work in schools, hospitals, state-owned enterprises, and the other one which represents those working in private sectors.

History of Unions

Skilled artisans were the first employees to be unionized in Canada because their skills were on high demand. In the mid-19th century, they saw the need to protect their jobs and decided to form a craft union since there was an introduction of machines that would replace them. To ensure workers controlled the labor supply chain, American Federation of Labor was the first union to be established in 1886, and it worked hand in hand with Canadian unions, which were later established in early 1881. The craft union ensured that its members were trained and understood the work roles. To appreciate the efforts of the Canadian workers, Labor Day was gazetted in the Canadian constitution as a holiday and is celebrated during the hot days of summer before students head back to school.

Importance of a Union

Trade unions have contributed immensely to the development and welfare of workers in Canada.

Better Working Conditions

Before the establishment of unions, employees worked in unsafe environments and with fewer wages. For example, an organization’s management would fire an employee without proper procedure, and this illustrated a lack of job security. For a unionized organization, employees work under well-negotiated conditions that favor both parties. An employee can understand his or her job, workday length, safety measures, rates of payment, and work distribution through collective agreements. Through the agreement, an employee is also provided with procedures that outline the modes of settling conflict whenever they come up.

Employee Security

A union negotiates with an employer to determine the procedures that are needed for an employee to join the union and how to fund it. Union security agreement is divided into three, thus the union-shop agreement that does not require one to be a union member to be employed. Secondly, the closed-shop agreement requires one to be a member of a union for him or her to get employed but must join it once he or she is employed. Last is the Rand Formula, which does not allow an employee to join any union but has to pay union fees since he or she benefits from the union members at their workplaces.

Collective Agreement

A collective bargaining agreement lasts for a certain period after which renegotiations are done when objectives set between the union and the employer are not met. When a collective agreement is not achieved, the pressure is put between the two parties causing a work stoppage, which is commonly known as a strike. It should also be noted that a stoppage can be caused by the employer. This is called a lockout, and it occurs less often than the strike. Before workers go on strike, the union and the employer apply for conciliation, which paves the way for the government to form a team of mediators that help the two parties reach a reasonable agreement. During the cooling-off period, parties continue to negotiate, and workers continue with their day-to-day activities. The strike commences legally after a period of 10 days if the union and the employer do not reach a consensus.

The Bottom Line

Although unions and their members face lots of resistance, they beat all odds to thrive and become important institutions for workers across the world. And with this in mind, they should be respected based on the roles they play. It should be understood that unions bring workers together, and this helps in creating a peaceful working environment and ensure that workers are paid their deserved dues in time.