Think about your work life today. Chances are you’re paid at least the minimum wage. You probably have some days off. Your place of work has safety guidelines that they are supposed to follow, and if they don’t follow those, then there are consequences.
All of those things are possible because of unions. Unions set the standard for wages, benefits and working conditions across North America, but as unionizations declines sometimes it becomes easy to forget.
In an economy with a shrinking middle class and increasing wealth at the top, conditions for workers are starting to decline. Precarious work is on the rise in Canada and workers don’t see the protections they once had.
A recent global example of this is Amazon.
Founder Jeff Bezos is officially the richest man in the world and the wealthiest person in history with a net worth of $150 billion. Amazon is a household name and one of the most influential and profitable companies in the world.
But workers aren’t seeing any of the rewards.
Journalists and activists around the world have discovered widespread abuse of Amazon workers. Workers have been found to ‘routinely urinate in water bottles’ to avoid being reprimanded for taking breaks or falling behind in productivity. There are countless reports of workers being seriously injured on the job and then being fired or not allowed to fill out workers compensation forms. Others have been injured and punished for not coming into work the next day. Other employees have ‘succumb to fatigue and exhaustion’ from not being allowed to take breaks during their shift.
There have been countless efforts to unionize at Amazon in order to gain protections, living wages and basic rights for workers. The New York Times reported that Amazon has direct instructions for managers on how to detect and bust any union efforts. There have also been many documented reports of employees being fired if any unionization efforts are even suspected.
Despite the poor track record on labour right, cities across North America, including in Canada, are desperate for the chance to have Amazon located in their region.
What this shows is that the labour movement is still needed. Collective bargaining ensures pay and work standards for union members and sets the bar for all in the industry. Unions also fight for protections for all workers across Canada, from preventing discrimination in the workplace to ensuring there are up-to-date safety guidelines. Unions are needed now more than ever.