Most of the media’s attention over this past weekend has focused on the state of negotiations between the City and its inside workers (CUPE 15). However, amongst the barrage of stories on stalled contract negotiations, readers of Monday’s Vancouver Sun were treated to a thoughtful reminder of the value of collective bargaining in a democratic society.
Mark Thompson is professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. On Monday, the Sun published his reflection on the collective bargaining process and its contributions to the development and maintenance of democratic values (“Collective bargaining: Democracy in the workplace” – Vancouver Sun, September 3/07, pA11). Thompson writes:
“The place of collective bargaining is debated in primarily economic terms. The parties focus on the costs of demands and concessions. Third parties estimate the financial losses caused by work stoppages. Economists study the wage benefits that unionized workers receive. Employers are concerned about the costs of restrictions on their right to manage.
Little attention is directed at the aspirations, frustrations, satisfactions or fears of workers represented in bargaining.
What recourse do they have if their employer wants to terminate them because it believes that a service can be delivered less expensively by an outside contractor?
How can they respond to a supervisor who treats them unfairly in a job they fundamentally enjoy? If workers are dissatisfied with their conditions, must they resign and start another career to obtain relief?
Democratic societies address these issues through collective bargaining.”
Thompson reminds readers that the Supreme Court of Canada, in its decision on the dispute between BC’s health care workers and the provincial government, “… recognized collective bargaining as ‘basic to the nature of Canadian society’ protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It pointed out that ‘a constitutional right to collective bargaining is supported by the Charter value of enhancing democracy. Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace’.”
He notes that, although less than a third of Canadian workers participate in the collective bargaining process, the impact of the process is felt strongly in other, non-unionized sectors of the workforce.
It is an excellent read!
The Sun also published a number of supportive letters in Saturday’s edition of the paper (Vancouver Sun, September 1/07, pC3). Among the submissions was a letter by our very own Vivian Schmidt: