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Financial impacts of a labour union

Written by
Written by
Author and Financial Expert

Sandy Yong is a TEDx and keynote speaker and award-winning author of the intriguing and informative book The Money Master: Inside Secrets On How to Make Your Money Grow and Stay Safe.

Sandy Yong
Labour union

Unions and strikes have been making headline news lately. Both private and public sectors are experiencing labour disputes. Among other organizations, strikes have impacted Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers. As such, the labour union landscape is complex and polarizing.

According to a poll from the Angus Reid Institute, two in five (43%) Canadians say they support “right-to-work” laws, which allow employees to join union work environments but opt out of paying union dues. In contrast, two in five (41%) oppose them.

Understanding the financial pros and cons of being a union member is essential. Here we’ll discuss how unions work with the Canada Labour Code and explore the financial benefits and drawbacks of union membership.

Collaboration between the Canada Labour Code and unions

The Canada Labour Code is a four-part Act established by the Government of Canada. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of workers and the federal labour laws. It also provides the legal framework for union activities. Unions play a vital role in collective bargaining and enhancing labour standards for workers. Unions and the Canada Labour Code work together to ensure the needs of employees and employers are met.

The ongoing labour actions across the private and public sectors show the importance of unions in advocating for fair treatment, improved labour standards, and better financial terms for workers. Whether it’s negotiating pay raises, obtaining better benefits, or ensuring job security, unions help to look after the well-being of their members.

Financial benefits of unions

Higher wages and greater equality

Higher wages are the top advantages of being in a labour union. Unionized workers generally earn more than their non-unionized counterparts. 

Recently, Ontario teachers secured a pay raise of more than 11 percent over four years. This ensures their salaries keep pace with inflation and the rising cost of living. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said the wage increase “represents the highest increase over the term of an agreement in over a decade.” Similarly, workers at Nestlé established a new collective agreement that includes wage increases. This highlights the financial equality unions can achieve.

The Union Advantage, a study released by the University of Regina, revealed that unions play a significant role in losing the gender pay gap. In fact, unionized women aged 15 to 24 in Saskatchewan are earning more than their male counterparts.

Job security and stability

Unionized employees have greater job security than non-unionized employees. Unionized employees often negotiate collective agreements that include clauses protecting against irrational layoffs and unfair dismissals. 

For example, Amazon workers in Delta, BC, voted in favour of forming a union with Unifor. This stability can be valuable, especially for Canadians with debt such as car loans and mortgages. Ultimately, a secure job means a steady income, which is crucial for financial planning.

Enhanced benefits and pensions

Unions can also secure better benefits and pensions. This may include comprehensive health insurance, paid leave, retirement plans, and education allowances. The Union Advantage revealed that 82% of unionized workers across Canada had a pension versus only 37% of non-unionized.

Financial drawbacks of unions

Strikes and loss of income

Participation in strikes can lead to temporary loss of income. During a strike, workers do not receive their regular paycheques. They may receive strike pay from the union to cover basic needs, but it’s often much lower than their regular earnings

Here’s a timeline of notable strikes that have taken place across various sectors:

  • In July 2023, Hollywood writers and actors went on strike. After four months, they successfully avoided a perpetuity clause in their contracts. This victory ensured that actors retained control over their image and future earnings. 
  • In November 2023, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists (ACTRA) and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) came to a tentative agreement after a 118-day strike during which they were locked out from working on commercials.
  • In April 2024, airline caterer workers went on strike, limiting Air Canada and West Jet’s meal offerings and causing long delays. 
  • In May 2024, LifeLabs workers went on strike due to labour disputes about sick leave, staffing and providing security services.
  • In May 2024, Waste Management Canada Corp (WM) workers went on strike over disagreements about forced overtime, pensions, and benefits.

Paying union dues

One of the main financial downsides is the cost of union dues, which are set by bargaining agents. They typically range from 1 to 2 percent of a worker’s salary, less than $800 annually. These are mandatory fees that members must pay to support the union’s activities and bargaining unit. These dues pay for essential services such as collective bargaining and legal representation. Yet, they can be a burden, especially for employees who are facing financial hardship

Job stress and potential increase of conflicts 

At times, union negotiations and strikes may lead to elevated workplace tension and stress. Drawn-out disagreements can strain labour relations with employers and create an unfriendly work environment. This can indirectly affect workers’ job performance and mental health. As a result, it could potentially lead to lost wages if an employee’s ability to work is impacted.

Deal or no deal? Deciding if a union is right for you

Being part of a union offers large financial benefits, including higher wages, better job security, and enhanced benefits. However, it comes with drawbacks, such as union dues and potential income loss during strikes. The stability and improved wages provided by labour unions can be a big advantage for Canadians. It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits before deciding whether to become a union member.

Exploring unions with your employer 

If you’re considering the benefits of union membership, research forming or joining a union at your workplace. Unions can offer vital support in negotiating better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Examples of unions include the United Steel Workers (USW), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and the Air Canada Pilots Association. You can take the first step towards improving your workplace environment. Contact your local trade union or the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) for more information.

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