BUILDING OUR FUTURE
A shift in perspective can mean that young generations will regard unionized roles in a positive light and realize their goal of being fair for all.
Photo: Alberta Federation of Labour

More than any of these, however, the generation now entering the workforce is concerned about one thing: jobs.

To be a high school or college graduate in 2014 means taking on the mantle of adulthood with deep doubt as to whether you will ever be able to enjoy the independence, security, and eventual retirement that the previous generation took for granted. It’s no surprise then that young people are looking at union jobs in a new light.

Unionized labour always falls out of fashion when the economy is booming. But then, the labour movement didn’t form for the good years. It formed to protect all kinds of workers during difficult times. Despite the common misconception, there are union jobs for both highly skilled technical workers and new workers without certifications or significant experience. In fact, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, there are more than 360,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 working union jobs.

Organized labour, fair pay

Interestingly, on average, these workers earn nearly $3.16 more per hour than their non-union peers. That works out to an additional $48 million dollars every week going into the pockets of young workers who chose union jobs. For young women, this effect is even stronger. Though the wage gap between men and women is shrinking in Canada, it is still very real. But the wage gap is significantly smaller for union workers than for non-union workers. Unions have been, and continue to be, a strong force for workplace equality.

Helping youth find and keep jobs

Unions also provide vital job security at times when the labour market contracts. No union can provide a guarantee against layoffs but, especially when there is a labour surplus, union representatives are a powerful safeguard against wrongful termination and intentionally rapid employee turnover.

In entry-level jobs particularly, unions are a strong protective force. The sad fact is that many companies are only too eager to take advantage of young workers. Just look at the growing popularity of unpaid internships. Someone who has been in the workforce for decades knows how to recognize when conditions are unfair, but inexperienced workers are likely to accept these same conditions as normal — unless they have a union to know their rights, and fight for them.

Of course, unionized labour is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Not all jobs are unionized, nor should they be. But for today’s young workforce, more than ever, it’s worth considering the advantages of a union job.