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  • Do we need Unions anymore?
    Jul 07, 2016

    Do we need unions anymore?

    A lot of people say no, we don’t. Maybe unions were a good idea back in the past when bosses were out of control and workers were dying on the job. But, you know, things are different now.

    Are they really?

    Last decade, there was a group of women working in a medical lab at Mission Memorial Hospital. One day, one of them discovered a lump in her breast. It turned out to be an aggressive cancer. The same cancer that had already attacked her best friend and colleague at the same lab. Over the next few years, no less than seven women developed the same kind of cancer.

    An investigation showed that the women were exposed to fumes from a medical incinerator and carcinogenic chemicals, and that the incidence of breast cancer in that lab was eight times higher than would normally be expected. One of the women died. And yet the employer refused to admit responsibility. They argued that there was a chance all these cases of cancer might have come from some other source. Just a big coincidence. If they wanted help, these women were told to provide absolute proof that their work had caused their cancer.

    Despite being sick, they didn’t give up. They wanted their employer held accountable. And so they turned to their unions for support.

    The Health Science Association and the Hospital Employees Union, two unions together representing over 60,000 health science professionals and health care workers, stepped in to provide legal assistance, allowing the women to take their case much further than they could ever have managed on their own as individuals.

    The employers fought back with everything they had. The battle went to the Supreme Court of Canada, and last week, after a decade of denial, the court ordered the employers to take responsibility for what these women had suffered.

    It was a great victory for the women. But it’s also a victory for all workers in Canada who now know that employers will need to take responsibility for protecting the health and safety of their employees or they will be held accountable.

    For Canadians in communities across the country, who are unable to work because negligent employers allowed them to get sick or seriously injured, there is now hope. Thanks to this ruling, many of them may finally get the help they need to get treatment, to take care of their families, to return to productive work. 

    Of course not all employers are so willing to sacrifice the safety of their employees, but we live in a world where cuts and austerity too often make it seem more important to save a few dollars instead of doing the right thing. Where profits are too often more important than people.

    Over the last 40 years the scales have tipped steadily against the working and middle class. Real wages have stagnated. Pensions and benefits have dried up. Job security is under siege. Precarious work in the growing “gig economy” increasingly leave working people completely unprotected by laws needed to ensure safe working conditions, fair hours and minimum wages. At the same time, union membership has declined in the face of political attacks, legal obstacles, and a culture that celebrates individualism rather than common ground.

    Working people are under siege. Economic growth is slowing down, limiting opportunity and social mobility. All of us are threatened by the resulting social and economic instability. No wonder citizens are angry and afraid for their future, and the future of their kids.

    We need unions now, more than ever, to protect people on the job and push to make sure they can earn a decent living. But it’s more than that. We also need unions to speak for working people with a voice that calls for shared goals like a stronger economy and greater opportunity for all. A voice that says we are better when we work together.

    Courtesy of Vancouver Sun.

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