2017 has been anything but a successful year for unions. For a multitude of reasons unions have a bad reputation, although it’s thanks to unions that we have labour rights and weekends. Unions are really good at helping individuals deal with institutions that want to exploit their work; and history has proven this time and time again. So why all the hate to unions? It comes from boomers and earlier generations making unions the scapegoat for problems that unions didn’t cause in the first place. Now that inequality is on the rise the trend is reversing.
Vice recently published that unions are cool again and it might have to do with the fact that millennials are facing precarious employment with low wages. Yes, unions are good to fight inequality and we in North America should rethink how we talk about groups of workers uniting against exploitation.
Union members may have a good understanding of those values and the benefits they receive through collective bargaining, but what about those who aren’t in a union?
One piece of good news for unions is the striking disconnect between generations in how they are viewed—a poll in 2015 showed that 57 percent of millennials think of unions positively, versus only 41 percent of baby boomers. Maybe that’s because memories of unions as corrupt are finally fading. Maybe young people are more open to left-wing politics. Or, it could be that, in today’s era of income stagnation and freelance gigs replacing careers with benefits, millennials recognize that they may need to band together in order to secure a piece of the economic pie.
Helmi Ansari started a successful business and understands what’s it like to worry about paying the bills – and knows that when you’re stressed about paying bills you’re not focussed at the job at hand. This is why he pays all of his employees a living wage. A living wage is usually higher than minimum wage (min. wage is basically your boss saying they wouldn’t pay you anything but the law says they must) and scales based on location and cost of living from year to year. Indeed, Ansari says he owes the success of his company to his committed employees.
He’s such a believer in living wage that he founded the Better Way Alliance to pressure the government and other companies to pay a living wage. The alliance has quite a few member companies already, including a business school and a brewery!
The message from this group of leaders is simple: being good is good for the bottom line.
“If our staff is focused on how they’re going to put food on the table and how they’re going to pay the hydro bill, they are not going to be really engaged in the business,” Ansari says.
His company, which employs a dozen people, became the first multi-site business in Ontario to pay a living wage — the hourly sum a worker needs to earn to support a family above the poverty line, given the actual costs of living in a specific area. Ansari pays all his Cambridge staff and contractors over $16.05 an hour, while the minimum rate for his Guelph employees is $16.50.
Ontario’s minimum wage is currently set at $11.40, a figure workers’ rights and anti-poverty activists like the Fight for $15 Coalition say is too low to keep families afloat. The Star has also profiled the impact of precarious work on issues like mental health.
Working full time can easily drain one’s life, so don’t do it. The state of Utah now has their government employees work only four days a week and everyone’s loving it. Perhaps during this time of economic recovery we can negotiate a better people-friendly work week for the labour force.
A whole series of unexpected benefits started to emerge. The number of sick days claimed by workers fell by 9 per cent. Air pollution fell, since people were spending 20 per cent less time in their cars. Some 17,000 tonnes of warming gases were kept out of the atmosphere. They have a new slogan in Utah – Thank God It’s Thursday.
But wouldn’t people be irritated that they couldn’t contact their state authorities on a Friday? Did the standard of service fall? It was a real worry when the programme started. But before, people had to take time off work to contact the authorities, since they were only open during work hours. Now they were open for an hour before work and an hour after it. It actually became easier to see them Monday to Thursday: waiting times for state services have fallen.
Think of it as the anti-Dolly Parton manifesto, puncturing her famous song: “Workin’ 9 to 5/ What a way to make a livin’/ Barely gettin’ by/ Its enough to drive you/ Crazy if you let it…” A queue of US cities and corporations like General Motors are following suit, and Britain’s councils and companies should be sweeping in behind them. It’s a win-win-win – good for employees, good for employers and good for the environment.
And once we started on this course, it could spur us to think in more radical ways about work. If this tiny little tinker with work routines leads to a big burst of human happiness and environmental sanity, what could bigger changes achieve?
Read the full article at the Independent.