Talking about unions can often be as touchy as a conversation about religion on a first date. Typically, unions are attacked for having outgrown their purpose; Canada has developed legislation that protects workers from the transgressions unions were initially created to prevent. In many industries, workers enter into the social contract not from fear, but for assurance of job security. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, let’s agree on one point: It’s pretty hard to get fired in a unionized environment.
Employment lawyer Daniel Lublin writes in the Metro about a civil servant who kept his job after spending up to 5 hours a day on the internet surfing pornography and trading pictures from his work email. Why did he keep his job? According to Lublin,
…unionized employers must make a much more compelling case for dismissal, all without disturbing their labour relations with the union. As a result, many unionized employers are forced to forgive misconduct for fear of losing the case – or worse, offending their union.
In another example last week, a TTC bus driver allegedly grabbed a man by the shoulder and pushed him against a pole while waiting for another driver who was en route. He was charged with assault, but he kept his job.
Unionized or not, both cases raise an eyebrow. Lublin’s article underscores the inequality that unions can introduce into society by creating a level of “protection” that is not afforded to non-unionized employees. Is this necessary?
Canada has a rich framework for protecting employee rights: the Employment Standards Act, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Human Rights Tribunals, The Labour Board, etc. Even still, employment lawyers exist…and they often get more calls from unionized employees than non-unionized ones.
So what can a modern day union do that our government cannot? Is it fair that an employee of 25 years gets laid off for failing to I.D. a 21 year old, when an employee of four years gets to surf the web for pornography?