Labour Unions: The New Leviathan

It seems so warm-and-fuzzy to think of a brotherhood of men and women joining forces to protect the rights of workers against the ravages of savage exploitation by heartless capitalist employers. Well, that kind of image might have made sense a hundred years ago, but it sure isn’t what is going on anymore. Private citizens are now being exploited and abused by Labour Unions.

The “trades” that unions realy represent in the modern economy are largely civil servants, teachers, nurses and hostpital employees. The folks that work for your government – in other words they work for you. Over 80% of union membership is in the public sector. Unions have little to do with the private sector anymore, except in certain industries like autmotive manufacturing, steel and similar old industries which are increasingly disappearing from the Western hemisphere. Less than 15% of private sector workers are members of unions.

Interesting, eh ? So Labour Unions are mainly government employees. These are the people with pension benefits indexed to inflation and based on salary x service (defined benefit plans) rather than the money contributed (defined contribution plans) that create huge funding deficits. These are the people with the platinum-plus health plans for medical, dental and everything else that mortals and private businesses can’t afford. These are the people who never get laid off or early-retired for redundancy when the economy tanks – they are immune to unemployment. And these are also the people who get paid top dollar – union wages are 20% higher on average than the private sector.

How did that happen – that public servants make more and have better benefits than private sector workers ? Didn’t the system used to be that risk and rewards were somehow related ? Not anymore…. because collective bargaining systemically discriminates against the public interest Government officials, especially eleccted officials are beholden to union votes,which are manipulated to act as voting blocs in elections by the tyrants who run them. When a union strikes the government the public at large suffers the consequences of lost services and even health, safety and security risks that are fundamental to the orderly function of society. Politicians can do the math and see that hard bargaining leading to a strike is political suicide.

And there’s more. Since going to a strike is no good, why not go to arbitration ? The interesting thing about arbitration is that it is performed by a whole industry of professional arbitrators whose very jobs exist only to decide issues between unions and management. In other words, the arbitration industry was created by unions. So this means arbitrators are beholden to unions for their very existence. Should it be any wonder that negotiators have consistently found that going to arbitration invariably results in the arbitration decision siding with the unions ? Recently in Toronto the City government settled a strike with the sanitation workers (and others) by largely giving in to their demands because, they argued in public, it is always cheaper to settle than go to arbitration. Game over.

So now we have government in a situation where it is political suicide to fight the unions and they can’t win anyway because the unions are happy to go to arbitration and win everything they want from arbitrators who share their interests. Small wonder collective bargaining has deteriorated into feeding greedily from the trough. The unions can get anything they want – huge pensions, job security. health benefits, paid sick time, and a host of other benefits.

And then they legislate health and safety conditions that work great in a nice safe office but don’t translate very well to reality. I got a letter a few months back from a crown agency advising me that my one-person company (sole employee yours truly) would have to provide wheelchair access to my office to comply with employment standards, or else they would be unable to do business with me. My offfice is in my basement for heaven’s sake ! Welcome to the fantasy land of government policy makers. Funny perhaps ? – I lost a client.  I weep.

Now look at the private sector. It has to compete for labour against this ? Hopeless.  Top dollar wages, unsustainable benefits funded by deficits is not a business model that the private sector can compete with. The solution: one of three choices make sense

  1. Close shop altogether
  2. Take the jobs overseas or
  3. Get grants and tax concessions for “job creation”  from the government to make the numbers work.

That’s what is happening al over North America. Leviathan is here and it is choking us to death.

David McNab

Fact base:

Labour Organizations with Largest Membership—2007      
Name and Affiliation                                                                                                    Number of Public Sector  
Canadian Union of Public Employees – CLC 548,880 548,880  
National Union of Public and General Employees – CLC 340,000 340,000  
United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union – AFL-CIO/CLC 280,000    
National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of  Canada  (CAW Canada ) – CLC 265,000    
United Food and Commercial Workers Canada – CtW/CLC 245,330    
Canadian Teachers’ Federation 219,000 219,000  
Public Service Alliance of Canada  – CLC 166,960 166,960  
Ontario Teachers’ Federation (1) – CLC 155,000 155,000  
Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada – CLC 150,100    
Canadian Federation of Nurses – CLC 135,000 135,000  
Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux – CSN 117,130 117,130  
Ontario Public Service Employees Union (2) – CLC 113,500 113,500  
Teamsters Canada – CtW/CLC 108,510    
Service Employees International Union –  Canada – CtW/CLC 86,860    
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario – CLC 71,690 71,690  
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees –  Ind. 69,000 69,000  
Canadian Police Association 66,800 66,800  
Laborers’ International Union of North America – CtW 65,000    
FTQ Construction – CLC 61,600    
B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (2) – CLC 61,564 61,564  
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation – CLC 60,700 60,700  
Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement – CSQ 60,000    
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – AFL-CIO/CLC 57,130    
Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec – Ind. 55,290 55,290  
Canadian Association of University Teachers 55,000 55,000  
Canadian Union of Postal Workers – CLC 54,000 54,000  
Ontario Nurses’ Association (3) – CLC 51,000 51,000  
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America – CtW/CLC 50,000    
Fédération des employées et employés de services publics inc. – CSN 48,000 48,000  
UNITE HERE Canada – CtW/CLC 46,000    
United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada – AFL-CIO/CLC 45,530    
Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada – Ind. 44,830 44,830  
British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (1) – CLC 44,750 44,750  
Christian Labour Association of Canada – Ind. 42,876    
Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec – Ind. 42,500 42,500  
International Union of Operating Engineers – AFL-CIO/CLC 40,000    
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers – AFL-CIO/CLC 38,700    
Centrale des syndicats démocratiques (directly chartered unions) – CSQ 37,768    
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (1) – CLC 36,000 36,000  
Alberta Teachers’ Association (1) – Ind. 35,310 35,310  
Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union – CLC 34,000    
Fédération du commerce inc. – CSN 33,940    
Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (2) – CLC 33,828    
  4,374,076 2,591,904 Total
(1) Component of Canadian Teachers’ Federation;      
(2) Component of National Union of Public and General Employees ( NUPGE);      
(3) Component of Canadian Federation of Nurses Union.      
Source: Strategic Policy, Analysis, and Workplace Information Directorate, Labour Program, Human Resources and Social Development Canada.      

31 thoughts on “Labour Unions: The New Leviathan”

  1. Arbitration can often make the process much more reasonable than normal negotiating, because it typically drives the parties to be more reasonable than they would otherwise be. For that reason, most unions resist having arbitration as part of the negotiating process.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Joseph. Arbitration has proven to be one-sided in Canada: the union side always wins. Our politicians are on record saying that arbitration invariably costs more than caving in to union demands at the table. This suggests that arbitrators favour the parties towhich they owe their living: organized labour.

    There was a time when labour needed unions. But that time has long passed and it never was appropriate for government employees.

  3. Dave, you’re absolutely right. Unions did have a legitimate purpose at one time…but they are clearly outdated now. It’s no surprise that the industries which still have major unions are largely the ones that are very old with legacy players–auto, airlines, etc. You don’t see unions much in new industries like tech!

  4. I take exception to the idea Arbitrators are backed by Unions, and beholden to them. The state of the American union is so bad, that often the Arbitrators are just there to make sure the boss gets what he wants. Deals are often made before negotiations begin. Moreover, so many officers in the unions are just the sponsored lap dogs of the bosses.

  5. Labor unions can help their members by negotiating collectively for wages and benefits that are often better than individuals could negotiate on their own. A worker would have little chance of success in going to an employer as asking for a pay raise simply because he couldn’t make ends meet. He would likely be fired on the spot, especially in the 19th century, for making such a demand and cutting into the employer’s profits. Unions, however, can make the same requests and have the benefit of representing the entire workforce, with a greater chance of success.

  6. nice information!I agree with you ,i think your opinion is right,It is necessary for us to make good use of labor unions.Labor unions can help their members by negotiating collectively for wages and benefits that are often better than individuals could negotiate on their own. A worker would have little chance of success in going to an employer as asking for a pay raise simply because he couldn’t make ends meet.I think deals are often made before negotiations begin.Thanks a lot for Sharing this great Article!

  7. As a manager in a labor union environment, I love this article. Labor unions have too much power. They have almost as much power as the business. They had their place in society. However, they are abusing their power and rights. They do not even protect their members like they should. So, with all the laws of today protecting others, labor unions should be shown the exit door. They destroyed the auto industry. Jobs are continually being shipped overseas. The funny thing is that union members point at consumers for buying foreign products. But some union members were getting paid $30 hr/ or more just to stand there and inspect garbage. I would look to replace those workers too and hire someone for less.

  8. A worker would have little chance of success in going to an employer as asking for a pay raise simply because he couldn’t make ends meet. He would likely be fired on the spot, especially in the 19th century, for making such a demand and cutting into the employer’s profits.

  9. Perhaps this is so, Mr Johnson, but the 19th century is officially over according to sources I trust. In the 21st century unions have undue political influence because they staff the government of the day and can hold providision of government services at ransom and accordingly they are choking the life out of what is left of the “real” economy – that is the economy run by the private sector… which pays 100% of the bills.

  10. This article really suited for what I’m searching… Thank you for sharing it… I appreciate this post so much… Labor unions is indeed important in our society…

  11. Unions can be of benefit for those battling for better wages and rights in a workplace, however increasingly I’ve seen employers writing into contract that employees agree to wave their right to join a union by working at that company. Good to see a well researched post.

  12. I have learned so many things from your post. This is very informative and educational as well. Yes, I agree that it is no good going to a strike, and go to arbitration instead.

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