Is this the end for public service unions?
It's tough to be a union man in the U.S. these days. As unionized private-sector jobs continue to disappear, the burden of paying for the seemingly lavish benefits of public employees has fallen on a shrinking base of disgruntled taxpayers.
That’s why Wisconsin and several other cash-strapped states are in the midst of turmoil as their Republican governors attempt to rein in spending by checking the growth in public employees' benefits.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill, for instance, would make civil servants – excluding local police, state troopers and firefighters – pay substantially more for pensions and benefits, and would, since it hopes to subject salary increases for government workers to a state-wide referendum, likely cripple public service unions as a force in both collective bargaining and politics.
Under the bill, state agencies would also no longer deduct union dues from workers’ paycheques, forcing unions to collect them on their own. And the legislation would also require unions to hold recertification votes annually.
The measure has prompted widespread protests at the state Capitol and seen some public sector workers walk off the job. Several Democratic senators have actually gone into hiding in order to hold things up on the Senate floor.
Nonetheless, unless Walker relents — and there’s little sign of that — Wisconsin’s populist attack on unions seems likely to succeed.
Could the same thing happen on this side of the border? Probably not, since a Supreme Court decision a few years ago guarantees Charter protection to collective bargaining.
Despite this though, there is a growing sense here that the public service has flourished during the recession, while private sector wage and benefits have withered. And the gap seems to be increasing.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for instance, claims public servants enjoy a premium of something like 35 per cent in wages and benefits, compared to their private sector counterparts.
Would you like to see a Wisconsin-like policy shift here in Canada? Is the public/private gap simply too large?
By Gordon Powers, MSN Money
Posted by: Ed Repka | Feb 28, 2022 5:46:57 AM
Always attacking the working guys never the big guys in big companies and big goverment How about get rid of things like the the Canadian Senate to cut cost or maybe a few MP seats why not put a lid on salaries of CEO's
Posted by: carl | Feb 28, 2022 7:03:14 AM
These recent events have been orchestrated to accomplish the end of unions and benefits. The global crisis was created by the powers(bankers, etc) to create additional wealth through fictious means such as sub par mortgages etc. These ideas and policies were destined to collapse and these miscreants were only concerned about their own profit to the determent of the common Joe. If we think clearly and wade through the fog created by these miscreants we quickly realize their ultimate goal- the ratcheting down of our standard of living so that competition on a global scale can be accomplished. Therefore we had to have this crisis for people to demand less pay increase and eventually lose their benefits in order to compete. We are quickly becoming a class system again with only the rich and the working poor. The problem seems to be that the ordinary person is focussed on their own personal plight instead of acknowledging the bigger picture. One would wonder that after a politician such as Flathery( our finance minister) promised to leave the Income Trusts alone he went about destroying them as quickly as he could after getting back into power. That single act destroyed 20+ billion in equity values sending a lot of elderly and institutuional investors out the exit gate. This action destroyed pension values reducing the actual value and the incoming funds to a portion of what they were and placing these pension funds in a underfunded position. Is this not strange???We are systematically being maneouvred into a 'fear for your job and settle for less' position in Canada. Mulroney started free trade but Harper is going to finish the job with these rounds of propanda. It is self evident that to agree to free trade with countries whose standards are less would only serve to plunge our standards to compete. I was against free trade from the start and until there is some mechanism to level the playing field with our competing countries then the idea of free trade is a misnomer because we will always be the losers. But these are the idiots that most people voted for and these sheep have a wolf for a sheperd. A country so rich in resources there is no acceptable excuse for it to be where its at, plundered by the friends and families of the so called elite of society.
I can tell you one thing, if this government ever gets a majority remember this rant. The economy cannot flourish without a middle class to fund everything--- Middle east is a prime example---plundered
Posted by: riff | Feb 28, 2022 8:15:25 AM
Nice rant, Carl. But you didn't answer the question. Is the public/private gap too large, and should we in Canada re-think the role of unions? Answer to both is yes.
Unions were convceived to protect workers, mostly young and children, from employers and health and safety were the sriving factors. Today, the principles under which unions began are irrelevant. Talk about class difference: unionization makes everything more expensive for me, but i cant get a truly lousy teacher at my public school fired (or probably even wrist slapped) because 'Teachers' has a union that is more powerful than god. Jobs for life are a thing of the past, as are company pension plans (though good empoyers will co-contribute, it is an individuals respnsibility to plan for the future). I like the Wisc, proposal. Why shoulc employers have to do work for the union in collecting dues, and re-certifying yearly will give unions and the workers a regular reality check. Because, they need one.
Posted by: Trixie | Feb 28, 2022 8:33:56 AM
An excellent comment Riff. I agree with what Wisconsin did. Great idea. I also strongly agree that the Teacher's have a union that is stronger than God. That definitely needs to stop. No question. Yes, we need that idea in Canada in the worst way. Great article.
Posted by: Teets | Feb 28, 2022 9:21:54 AM
The key issue is the disparity spoken about in the blog. It seems it must be a union for all or a union for none. Riff is 100% correct in his point that unions have outlived their usefulness. Their history is evident of the absolute need that they filled at one time - that cannot be argued.
The fact is the unions are going to dissapear one way or another. Private sector unions are dying out as we speak. Globalization will continue to take its toll. Whether the guy gives 110% sweeping the floor at an auto plant deserves $40 an hour or $20 an hour becomes irrelevant when someone in a foreign country will do it for $2 an hour.
Public sector unions in Canada seem protected, but the way out for the governement is to outsource. It is happening every year. Smaller government service branches are being privatized all the time, as happened to a friend of mine who works for MCAP. If the governement can't control wages and pensions, they will continue down this path until they hit a big union like the teachers. All this means will do iscreate more over paid, greedy CEOs. The rish will get richer and our government loses control over vital services (let me remind everyone of the first big privatization that has caused all of this - world governments giving the private sector control over making money by giving them the banking system).
Sadly, as long as the common man (and count me as one of them) wants big houses, nice cars and all the best of "things", this is wat I see as the future for Canada. Consumerism and greed - we are our own worst enemies.
Posted by: Steve | Feb 28, 2022 9:43:52 AM
"growing sense here that the public service has flourished during the recession, while private sector wage and benefits have withered"
This is because the public service unions wages have kept place with inflation while all of the people working in the 'free' market have seen their wages fall to what the corrupt wealthy can get away with paying them.
If your wages had kept place with the growth in productivity and company profitability you would be making much more than public workers. You can act like the people in Zimbabwe or the people in Libya, either way you've gotta make a decision because the people plundering Canada's wealth have already made their decisions and it is rewarding them richly.
Posted by: p-nut62 | Feb 28, 2022 9:56:32 AM
Unions are past their time?This is the time unions are needed most.People are quick to say unions don't deserve what they get but what they are really saying is I'm not getting it so why should you. The corporations eat this stuff up.Let the workers fight amongst themselves until the unions are working for a dollar and non-unions do it for free.Everybody complained about autoworkers making 80,000 a year for doing their job but nobody complained about gm's ceo making 16,000,000 a year(160/ 100,000 a year jobs) and couldn't run the company properly.If a person chooses to run themselves into the ground so be it but don't complain about people who choose not to.Don't begrudge a person for doing well,strive to be like them.
Posted by: mischief | Feb 28, 2022 10:19:28 AM
The average family spends 50% of its income on assorted taxes......taxes are the single biggest expense for people and for business and 85% of government spending is on salaries and pensions.....want more jobs in this country? Its easy-get the taxes down by controlling government pensions-not just for front line workers but for swine Like Dalton `Mistaken` McGinty and former Toronto mayor `Muddle`Miller and therir assorted vile cronies! One third of Canadians have gold plated pensions and another third dont have any pension at all....take two guesses which side the civil service is on?????
They take too much and they take too often and they give back too little.....simple as that.
Posted by: down and out | Feb 28, 2022 11:12:12 AM
I have seen many changes over the years and unions need to change or disappear. I have seen useless people hide behind unions to keep their jobs when they should not have been protected for theft, drinking on the job, harrassement etc. Keeping these people costs us all money some where along the line. Unions pushing for ridiculous benefits etc. Someone pays down the road and in the case of government jobs it is the taxpayer who pays. I think when the economy is bad everyone should tighten their belts. This includes union employees especially government. Why do we expect private non union staff to take pay cuts, wage freezes, temporary layoffs etc and the government should do the same. Why do they continue to get raises etc while the rest of the country is forced to lower our wages and benefits?
Government positions should not be allowed to strike (essential service). If they are allowed to strike then they are not essential which means phase them out. We dont need them. Many government employees make more than the average taxpayer which is not right. I think we need to get unions under control and lower the cost to run the government. We also need to get the government under control in general. There is a lot of money wasted on high salaries and idiotic regulations, idiotic services, idiotic benefits and dead wood within the government. The unions are one thing to blame but they are not totally to blame for our high taxes. Put some common sense back in the government at all levels. Think of the taxpayer or your customer the one who pays your salaries. There are uprisings taking place around the world due to citizens being over controlled, we may have a vote here in Canada but we are over controlled in many ways.
Start making the changes now to give control back to everyone not just a select few.
Posted by: Greg | Feb 28, 2022 11:31:38 AM
The first thing to consider is that the teachers in Wisconsin have agreed to all of the cuts in pay and benefits that the governor asked for. One would think that this would be enough, but the goal was never to balance the budget, it was clearly to break the union. We hear a lot of complaints about teachers. Let see what kind of education our children receive when their teachers make the same as someone flipping burgers at MacDonalds.
The bigger issue though is globalization. Corporations, aided by governments at all levels, have been outsourcing to the third world which has lowered the standard of living of workers in Canada and the U.S. Unions to some extent have protected workers from this erosion in pay and benefits which makes the gap between union and non-union workers look larger than in the past. As globalization continues to grow, and there is no reason to think it won't, we will be left with two choices...work for third world wages or don't work at all. Blame who you will, the outcome is likely the same.
Posted by: ordinaryjoe | Feb 28, 2022 11:39:47 AM
Wow. This is not such a simple topic. One has to look at ALL the facts, not just pick the ones which suit the means.. From a CBC report it was suggested that there are some 700,000 public sector workers and, here's the good part 350,000 managers. Let's add up the salaries AND benefits and see where that takes us. Nevermind the signals of incompetence. 1 manager for 2 workers? That has me shaking my head. WHere is the accountability in that? Private sector workers, in my opinion,
are a much maligned group, in need of representation, to improve their plight, their wages, benefits and dare I say it???? Even PENSIONS!!!!!
I have not been one to give in to conspiracies, nor do I think this is one. I think, much like what has come to light in the preceeding days in WI, there is simply a business plan. Our public services are for sale, and much like the private sector, the wages need to be driven down, legislated down, rights and benefits taken away, in order for corporate profits to succeed.
People are being sold out for profits. That is the real bottom line.
Check your history people, some groups are even blatantly advrtising their wish to return to the conditions that existed in pre WW2. Life expectancy was a third of what it is today. Child labour was abolished in North America in 1915!!! Less than 100 years ago.
These are the conditions that await you. When they privatize Healthcare in Canada, the rich will be
able to access care, others will simply die........
WAKE UP PLEASE!!!!!ordinary
Posted by: Balance | Feb 28, 2022 11:40:48 AM
I work in the private sector but I come from a family who worked for unions. I have worked on jobs with union employees where I have shook my head in disbelief. I agree that alot of union employees get paid too much and do have too many benefits. BUT I do not believe unions should be destroyed or eliminated completely. Unions do act as a check to the private sector. They have forced companies to work more safely and adopt a safe work culture. As long as private companies are motivated only by the bottom line then there will always be the temptation to cut budgets from safety systems and take on more and more risk to their employees. You only have to look at working conditions in the 1800 and 1900's or talk to your grandparents to really see how far corporate safety culture has come.
You only need to look at the banking system to see what can happen when you remove the check systems in place. The SEC was dismantled and regulation watered down in the US so that the banks in the US could do whatever they want and now look where we are....the world was brought to the edge of financial destruction through risk taking and to date with the exception of Bernie Madoff none of them who were responsible has gone to jail.
We can all complain about unions as much as we want but the private sector is no angel either. If you want a raise you have to fight for it. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you could be put into unethical situations that may not have happened if a union was present. I think we need to embrace the fact that both is needed. If you take one away the other gets too powerful and the system falls apart. If you take the unions away the employers get too powerful and working conditions WILL detereriate. If you take the private sector away innovation and competition WILL suffer (Just look at what happened with GM). We need to find a way to make both work or no work will be done at all.
Posted by: Dan Venables | Feb 28, 2022 12:49:04 PM
You people always point to the union guy and say they are making too much . You need to think a little longer about your moronic comments. We are your last defense and as Barrick Obama said
part of the solution.
Posted by: Chip | Feb 28, 2022 12:59:18 PM
The vast majority of higher paid "employees" in the public sector (EX and other categories) are NOT unionized. And they're the ones making 6 figures... and NOT paying unions dues. These (and excluded managers) are the ones who still get their paycheck and don't need to join the picket line at $50. per day... yet they still reap the "bargained" benefits. Are CEO's unionized ? Is your local Walmart unionized ? Notwithstanding being unionized or not... layoffs and positions being declared surplus also happen government. There are certainly pros and cons for unions AND pros and cons against unions.
Posted by: Victoria | Feb 28, 2022 1:23:42 PM
Top 100 Businesses over half don't have a union in Canada Why because they treat their Employees(Humans not slaves) with respect. We are not in the Industrial Revolution when child and Adults were slaves.
We are in 2011.You have Municiple run Nursing Homes with a union affliationThese Employees recieve good Benifits The for Profit run Nursing Homes Benifits are not as good.Why when the Employees in both Facilities do the same jobs and both have union affiliation.
Posted by: Ryan | Feb 28, 2022 2:21:47 PM
The reason the Top 100 Businesses treat their employees with respect is because of the pressure unions apply on non-union companies to stay competitive in our workforce. Once the unions are gone, be prepared to see worker rights being taken away with little resistance.
I'm not saying unions are perfect. But they are definitely not the reason we face recessions and god forbid our working class children will have opportunities for good paying jobs in the long term future.
Posted by: Nowoolinis | Feb 28, 2022 2:57:31 PM
I say no to a policy shift here in Canada. The whole intent of this proposed changes in Wisconsin is to make those employees working under the protection of a union poorer to free up funds to answer for poor decision making at the administrative level of government (A level whose employees are not union thus won't be impacted by the realignment of funds) These same people will then squander those funds for the greater good(Corporate America) and the human taxpayers who they should be answerable to, will not get any benefit in the long run. (Corporations by law need to be profitable so Governments should not be accountable to them, they should pay their share of taxes and if they fail then there should be no bailouts, others will fill the gaps)
Also consider this, The question is also worded as follows "is the public/private gap simply to large" implying a reduction is in order but it is agreed by most respondants that the private sector has not kept up with inflation and the key is to ensure that Corporate America/Canada closes that gap 'up' by increasing wages and benefits. This will keep the wealth here, not going overseas to support foreign and emerging economies.
We can't and shouldn't consider reducing the wealth of our citizens to balance the books. Engagement and better productivity along with sound fiscal management is the only answer to solving the deficits created by our Governments.
Posted by: kootkid | Feb 28, 2022 3:11:14 PM
Iam 61 years old, started working in a union setting when I was 16. I have been a strong union advocate for many years. I believe in what they did for Health and Safety issues, job protection
(lets face it, some people dislike each other.) so supervisors couldn't fire you because they did not like your demeanor and everyone is equal under the contract. Having said that, I now believe that the people running certain unions are soley there to protect thier jobs because without the union they are out of a job.. I believe in unions because without them we will be working for a lot less and be grateful to our slavemasters for it. We still need them to make sure that job sites are save no matter where they are. Without such measures you can bet that to saving money would be more importent then saving a life. The middle class is disappearing fast and when it goes say good-bye to every thing that makes life worth living. The system will keep you afraid,hungry and again grateful for being alive. I truely believe that unions are needed, without them welcome to the third world.
Posted by: Glendude | Feb 28, 2022 4:26:57 PM
As the economic pendulum swings so will the need for unions.
Posted by: Tenacious Otter | Feb 28, 2022 4:54:16 PM
The question here is about public-sector unions. Not private sector unions. They are distinctly different. One negotiates with business, the other with government. There are extreme differences in bargaining with a business, which is somewhat free to move, reduce size, pursue opportunities elsewhere, and government, which has non of the aforementioned opportunities, and is hamstrung with the problem of getting re-elected. It's just something I wished to point out.
Posted by: Shawn Dickson | Feb 28, 2022 4:55:58 PM
Are unions necessary.....you bet they are. There would be no middle class in this country if we didn't have unions. Please name me one large corporation in Canada where its high paid executives sit down and discuss how they are going to give more to the people who actually do most of the work ?? You have to fight for your pay and benefits. Maybe the ex-CEO of Enmax that just resigned with a 5 MILLION dollar adios wants to share. Perhaps the CEO of BMO that made almost 10 MILLION bucks last year wants to give up some of his cash!! I worked in aviation for 17 years and have been around the world many times. You lose the unions here in North America and there will only be the very rich and very poor....just like India, Nepal, Indonesia ,Peru, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bolivia, Egypt or Honduras, to name a few. I have been to all these countries and trust me......it isn't pretty!
Posted by: Brian | Feb 28, 2022 5:26:53 PM
We need protectionism!!! The WTO has brought us to the point where we cannot continue to live at our standard of living. I don't see how ensuring that Microsoft can move anywhere it likes to make more profit while its employees are barred from doing so improves the lot of the working person. Perhaps a policy shift to the " good old days" of protectionism is needed to save what is left of our economy. Make thw Chinese work hard for their money, and give political aid to our industry. Why is it fair that anyone can own our companies while China and India have native majority control policies?
Posted by: Quarmby | Feb 28, 2022 5:37:39 PM
The question is; Is the public/private gap simply too large? The answer is a resounding YES! The public service employees should be making 20% less than their private sector counterparts. Why you ask? Due to the ridiculous level of job security they enjoy for one, lack of accountability for another and finally...because we in the private sector are paying their salaries with our hyper inflated taxes. As for Senators, abolish that cess pit! The CEOs...pay them a stipend of no more than $100,000 per annum, with a bonus system designed to reflect their "further contribution to profit", maxing out at 3% of profit to be split amongst all management. If they have an annual loss....they get zero bonus. Now cut the MP pensions in half and to zero for service under 20 years. Teachers...make them fully accountable by annual parental/grade curve review and introduce a 48 week minimum work year, in line with the real world.
Posted by: Josh | Feb 28, 2022 6:28:26 PM
What options will governments and corporations have if the "little people" have no one to advocate for their position and they become upset? At the moment in the Middle East the unarmed 'little people' are destroying the political and business structures because their voices have not been heard.
Now think of all the guns that are owned in America. What happens when people lose their faith in the rules of 'fairness' we live by at the moment. Should be "interesting".
Posted by: Jack | Feb 28, 2022 6:44:01 PM
As a retired business owner I gave my head a shake after reading some of these comments.Most business people will pay what they can afford to pay and still remain profitable and stay in business. Some people seem to think that businesses have a bottomless bank account , well I have news for them they don't. Also how many union members have ever lain awake at night because the bank called about the overdraft ? I have done so many times ,and as a taxpayer I am very tired of unions that keep demanding more and more from me . Also most of the wage demands anymore are based on greed and NOT on need.
Posted by: DDD | Feb 28, 2022 7:07:20 PM
Can not say more than what riff and Trixie had to say.......well put
Posted by: Dave | Feb 28, 2022 7:10:18 PM
The public unions have to be forced to halt any wage increases and benifits until the vast majority of private workers wages catchs up
Posted by: Rob | Feb 28, 2022 7:13:39 PM
To generalize things a bit, unions were originally created to protect employees from their employers' greed by giving them power in numbers, correct?
But in the case of public unions, there is no "greedy" employer taking advantage of people for the almighty dollar - the employer IS the government. It's ironic that these public union employees will be the first to tell you that the government is a benevolent entity working for the good of us all on one hand, but then demand protection from that same entity through a union on the other.
This begs the question, if public employees need unions to protect them from the government, what's protecting the rest of us from government? If government is insensitive to even its own members' needs, are we really to believe that the government acts for the "common good"?
Those who are scared of mankind's lust for money and want unions as a form of protection generally don't look at the other side of that same coin: lust for power. People in government are human, and are just as susceptible to vices, corruption, and self-serving motivations as the rest of us. The person with the drive and tenacity to succeed in the political sphere is one that lusts for power to control the lives of others, even if they've managed to delude themselves into believing that such power is required to "do good" (from which money is easily attained as a secondary benefit).
My concern is not the existence of unions, which I believe can be a great tool for society. It's the tendency for unions to rely on institutions and practices founded on the use of power to force others to bend to their will through violence and intimidation instead of voluntary cooperation. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Posted by: Fubar | Feb 28, 2022 8:30:43 PM
I can agree with both sides of equation that has been put forth..The basics boil down to the almighty dollar(both cost and profit).Don't blame the unions but rather the governments and corporations that gave them the world in the 80's and 90's all to avoid a strike,or most importantly profits,It all turned in these current years to bite them in the ass,so pay up and shut up,you guys laid the ground work now do what people have had to do in 3 or more recessions and learn to run your finances adequately.Stop or impose tarrifs on the product built in China and charge corporations a levee when they move their manufacturing to overseas location and exploit the labor market in offshore countries for their gain.Too bad we are all stuck on the almighty dollar but the corporations and the goverment push us this way.Look at Ontario,we have had in the past a manageable deficit,then thru this current reccesion,the current pinheads in power"don't vote Liberal again" spent to the tune of 25 billion dollars and introduced taxes that have hard hitting effects on the average great Ontarians,HST,car insurance hikes,extreme hikes in hydro rates"for more Tax Dollars" Hell,there are states that produce next to nothing and their hydro rates are half of ours if not more.Green has a place and time but this is definitely not the time to rape a province.If we vote the numbnut liberals back in it will be game over for the tax payer.I can just see it now,,,a tax on water from the ground orlakes for cottagers or small town landowners..Don't vote goof again people,8 years of taxes are ENOUGH
Posted by: Bryan Vogler | Feb 28, 2022 8:49:50 PM
From a railway historians point of view
The stae of Wisconsin was the first place William Corneilius Van horne built a railraod into Canada. He had joined his republican power house from his Headquarters in Chicago before and during the Civil war to LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
He was non-union man all the way, hiring the cheapest labour he could, including the Chinese who later built the Fraser Canyon section of the C.P.R. He would not supply a hospital or any benefits, and made sure the wages for the work done was the poorest in Canada.
He was a Republican and President Lincoln,s right hand man, blocking all traffic west of the Mississippi through political wil and criminal solutions the Republicans refused to make. The gang of the Central Pacific, were granted the first railway across the U.S and were all Republicans using imported chines labor, and some the same ones used by the C.P.R.
When the C.P.R. came along into Canada, the Republican Party came with it along with its attitudes toward the working man. Today it is has become historic, and has the republicans of today want to wind back union wages, Van Horne and the C.P.R. have to remember one thing.
John A.MacDonald, Canada,s first Prime Minister appointed Van Horne to build a railroad, he also passed a law allowing trade unions and others to unite Canada to make a better country for all.
Van Horne claimed bankruptcy during the building, and canada stood behind him with necessary finances to join the Country from Sea to Sea. Now the C.P.R. is the largest transportation company in Canada, and they owe every canadian citizen the same benefits of there workers, which are pretty damn good.
By the way people wonder why the Conservatives of today likje to hold hands with the Republicans, nothing but history. its not enough that the C.P.R and Canada agreed the debt was paid, the union end was held up also, through wars and depressions, through negotiations and arbitrations and direct back to work orders for the good of the country. Today Wisconsin takes an ugly turn toward there history of a slave free state giving poor wages to all and calling it equality. they were free, but without funds its civil war again.