An electrician’s perspective on why joining a union as a tradesperson is the smartest thing you’ll ever do, and why just paying your dues isn’t good enough.
What’s a union? A labour union is a group of workers who group themselves together to bargain with governments, industry and employers to improve working conditions. Its me, you, and your foreman. But it’s us together being a part of an organization that’s bigger than our little fishbowl lives that will improve all the fishbowls. In our current global market it’s even more relevant to make the conscious decision to become a part of a group of organized labour, because if we can’t make our own communities better, how can we make our international community of workers lives better. Yes, I’m talking about the countries where slavery is still legal, and children are still working 16 hour days, and people are held at gunpoint to work their jobs. Change happens when groups of people demand it, and we need to be organized.
Why should electricians care about being a part of a union?
Money: Union electricians don’t have to fight or negotiate their income. They get paid by the hour, they get overtime and scheduled breaks, and their union negotiates the wages, benefits, pensions for them and group rates on insurances etc. All you have to do is show up to work, be a good worker, and think about ways you can give back to your union and community because hot damn you appreciate your great life so much. You have time to do the job right in a way that will last for decades to come. You don’t have to bring your own power tools and the company includes the cost of power tools in the bid for the jobs.
Yeah, but don’t unions take off some of my money in dues? Well do you think it’s cheap going through all the avenues of bureaucracy to make agreements with companies and governments, so you can afford to feed and house your family? Unions have come a long way and have had to get a lot smarter from the early days of throwing money in a hat on the lunch table to help your co-worker pay for their sick childs’ medication. The money goes towards legal fees, training, and member upkeep, because we’re at a time currently where union members have forgotten all about the sacrifices that got them so comfortable. And you still make more money on your paycheque than none-union people.
Whether or not you are in a union, unions are fighting court battles, battle with companies who are unfair, battle with politicians that would rather see everyone else suffer while they line their pockets with golden tinsel. Or even worse, battles with fellow workers who would under sell their own trade skills just to steal work from other workers.
None-union electricians fight over shitty contracts. They under bid each other just to get the work. This is called a race to the bottom. Sure the principals of electrical work are the same, but if your company is pitted against another company and you don’t have an agreement between your companies that you will not work for less than a certain pre-determined base amount, you start to have to really pinch on quality to save money. You have to bid on the contract lower than the other guy to get the bid. This means you’re requiring the people in your company to get more done in less time, high stress for all. You’ll have to buy shittyer products, hire less qualified staff, have less time to properly train staff, work over time you won’t get paid for because you didn’t bid over time into the job. Your work will barely meet electrical code, and even if it does, the electrical inspector will say that if you’re just meeting electrical code, you’re doing mediocre electrical work. You have no long term retirement plans because you have no pension, you’d be lucky if you’re getting health and dental benefits.
Quality of life:
Union electricians get a higher quality of life bargained for them. This is very related to money, and is also related to forcing the construction industry standards to be raised in health and safety. Unions are responsible for pushing safety on all construction job sites ( union and none union) so that everyone goes home at the end of the day healthy and able bodied. Unions are currently working very hard to make further improvements to construction industry, that will in turn improve the lives of anyone who works in or even lives near construction. For instance: asbestos is a cancer causing product still being imported and used in canadian products, and unions are lobbying for its ban, training and controls of its use to render it a none issue. https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/asbestos Silica dust from concrete is another one. In none union, it’s every person for themselves.
Living with integrity
I am aware that just because you join a union doesn’t meant you live and work with integrity. It is now common for union workers to be seen as lazy, unproductive slackers. This is in part due to workers getting into long term employment positions and thinking that they can slack off because the union will protect them and they can never get fired. This is outrageous. A union is representing workers, essentially selling their skilled workers to employers and they have to sell them as better, more productive, and smarter. It is imperative that a union worker and its union represent themselves professionally in order to make a clean case that union workers are actually the better hire. This means ensuring training is top notch in safety, in expertise, as well as worker moral and ethics. No time theft, no poor workmanship, no disrespecting each other, no pipe bending apprenticeships.
Living with integrity means living your life according to your own moral honest principals. The under valuing ourselves has got to stop. The treating people and ourselves as though they’re disposable, has got to stop. I hate when I see people risking their lives to get jobs done, because I have seen some workplace accidents that would have you regretting even the little risks. Standing on the top of a ladder for instance, yeah sure you can reach now without getting a taller ladder, but if you fall you are not covered by your worksafe coverage because you knew the risk and took it anyways. You can bet your employer is not coming to your house to carry you up the stairs and wipe your butt with your broken bones either. It’s a cowboy mentality left over from the old days and is not a required mentality to get work done efficiently. It is no longer acceptable to bully and harass your co-workers and there is now legislation protecting workers from these things thanks in part to unions. As well, there is always the right ladder for the job.
For those not in a union frustrated that the union isn’t letting them in:
It’s a shame to feel a camaraderie with other none-union coworkers, over how we all know we are being taken advantage of. We laugh bitterly at how useful a union would be to us, but many who have tried to ask for help from the union have had their hopeful expectations slapped. They’re not accepting new members because they have no work for their current members. Hmm, why could that be? Perhaps because the none union companies are underbidding, under valueing their skilled work, willing to sell themselves as less than just to get the work.
Well here is some news. A union will not save you. A union is you. It is a group of workers that is only powerful when the group works as a group. Go get a none union job and unionize the company. That is something a union will never say no to helping with if they have a hope in hell of continuing to function as a union.
If you are asking to join a union because you want a free ride, or you have been in a union your whole life and don’t know anything other than the free ride, here’s a reality bite for you. You are not understanding the full picture. We have a long way to go before we are all treated equally with respect and dignity. Look at our population of down and outs grow, all of them our fellow workers, our neighbors, our family. Our happy middle class is falling into the lower class because we stopped trying to bring everyone up, we just left half the workforce un unionized. Denmark is a great example of a country that has done well with organizing their workforce. ⅔ of the population is in a union, that’s massive! Dishwashers, managers, executives, bankers, programmers, and electricians, there’s a union for everyone. And Denmark is well known as a country that is one of the most successful and progressive countries of the world.
So what i’m trying to tell you, is joining a union and getting active in your union means trying to understand your place in the bigger picture. A union can get you a better life, and why stop there? Live with integrity and aim to bring everyone else up with you. Its sacrificing todays income for tomorrow’s long term goal of long term improvements for more people. We’re up against government, corporations, even other workers who do not want this goal, and who are better at organizing than us. People sacrificed their lives to get you a minimum wage folks, and others are still risking their lives for worker rights all around the world. Why would they do that? Because they know it’s the right thing to do, d’uh. It would be nice if you could stop yelling at your union organizers and show them some appreciation, maybe offer to volunteer your time with a solution to your problem instead of complaining about your self centered problems.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. (r) Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
7 thoughts on “Unions, Get In One and Get Off Your Butt. A Trade Workers Perspective.”
Sometimes a union won’t help it’s members,
I remember a few times in the last 5 years, I’ve had to seek help from outside of the union.
It started 5 yrs ago, once I journeyed out,
Our union has training classes considered continuing education,
I tried to take some of these classes, and was denied..I asked the union why?
“Your classification doesn’t allow you to take them” was their answer.
I took the same California State General ELECTRICIAN exam as the other’s.
I took them before in apprenticeship .
WHAT made it different..
I was legally not the same person i was when I joined the union.
So I figured the union was discriminating , I contacted the federal government’s education branch which just happens to partially fund the trading program.
Gave them my old class completion certs..and then gave them the email correspondence between me and my union regarding refusal to let me take the classes..the federal government made them let me take the classes and other electricians who wanted them.
Then a company I had worked for wasn’t supplying it’s only female out in the field a restroom.
Again contacted the union..
It’s response “they don’t have to provide a restroom “..
You kidding me?
So I began to research all OSHA REGULATIONS..
I found the regulation that required the company to supply PORTABLE RESTROOMS.
Contacted the union again with this evidence so they could help me get ALL crew a restroom.
Again union refused..
So I contacted CAL-OSHA with the violation number..next day the crew had a PORTABLE RESTROOM..
So yes I fight for our rights as a union member.
But union hasn’t helped much.
So to this day even in my new job.
I continue to help my coworkers fight for our rights..cause our union doesn’t want to step in..
Right away they’ll find some loophole in the cba…So they don’t have to help
Thank you for sharing your experience, it sounds like you are doing some great work where you are, thank you! I agree, that just because you are in a union does not mean the union you belong to has your best interests in mind. That is why I was trying to get across in the article that a union is just a bunch of very different people trying to work towards making their lives better, and what that looks like for some looks very different for others. We have a long way to go before all of our voices are heard fairly, and some of us will have to fight a lot harder to be heard than others. What I would like to stress, is there must be some way to seek understanding. There must be some way to not see the union as the union, but as workers that you need to befriend to enable empathy and understanding to blossom. To empathize with the experience of the people at your union hall, Maybe there is more going on behind the scenes that could use some digging. Is there a large court case sucking up all the funds that could end the union? Is there corruption, or nepotism, or misplaced funds at the hall that the membership is unaware of? There is no school you go to become a union organizer, in the trades its just people like you who get smart and start to see the bigger picture.
Maybe you are a voice that is not yet represented in your hall. Do you go to meetings? Do you have a professional relationship with the voices you hear on the phone at the hall? The unfortunate reality for some union halls, is that they will have to adapt to modern ways of thinking, or they will perish. Or perhaps new unions will form to push them out. That remains to be seen.
Yes I went to meetings, I volunteered a few Saturday doing tutoring for prospective apprentices, I belong to women’s empowerment group within the union..
My situation is I’ll always be considered an outsider because I changed my gender from male to female 5 yrs ago..
So the men think I’m a freak,and the women don’t see me as their EQUAL..
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Raquel, I’m sad as well as angry to hear about your experience of exclusion, and I hope very much that things improve in the future. Thank you for sharing your experience, and I am certain you are not alone in this experience. If you can think of any way that I can be an ally to you, or perhaps link you up with other trans trades people, maybe that could be a start. You sound like a solid strong person, keep it up!
I’m so sorry to hear about how you are made to feel on jobsites Raquel. Be strong, you know you’re worth twice what a xenophobe is, your living your truth, and you have a clear idea of your core values and beliefs. That is why you will rise above the petty dingleberries. Love to you friend.❤❤❤
and let’s not forget the underlying and sometimes not so subtle sexism and racism that is commonly accepted by unions who also purport to believe in brotherhood and union solidarity
Hi Carol, apologies for not responding right away, computer access is not always a priority for me 🙂 Absolutely let’s not forget the double standard of solidarity of the workers, but only workers like me. I Do not find this acceptable. What do you think? What is your experience? How can we move beyond xenophobia and elitism?
What I was trying to stress in writing this article is that we can do so much better. We have seen what power a united workforce can have in our recent history, and now we are seeing the decline in organized labour and the increase in working poor. And although I have seen positive effects from the ‘greater good’ method of organizing where some are left behind, I disagree with it and see it as shortsighted greed. I wanted to inspire more workers to care, and more workers to become involved in making working life better for everyone with that article. I’m not interested in divisive politics, and would like to focus on finding the loop holes that overcome.
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