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Labour Views: Facing Forward

Nov 03, 2021

This fall sees a flurry of activity for the Union of Northern Workers. We just held our 18th Triennial Convention, which saw some new and some familiar faces elected to the UNW’s Executive. Our team is bringing many years of experience to the table, along with new ideas and perspectives.

What won’t change is our dedication to protecting and supporting workers’ rights and safety, especially in our not-so-new Covid world. Union principles are union principles, and we will continue to build on our past successes as we advocate for fair wages, safe working conditions, and equity in the workplace.

To achieve this, we need to build up our community. In the union, this means starting with our membership. The Executive members are here to support our Locals and help them build strong relationships with members.

There is always room to improve communication and maintain an active union presence within our workplaces, but we also need members to step forward and get involved.

When our members are active and engaged, our union is strong. Strong enough to stand up for our rights, and to force employers and governments to participate in meaningful consultation when it comes to matters that directly impact workers.

Employers often mention unions when running through their list of stakeholders. We need our members to stand up and help us hold employers accountable for ensuring that any so-called “engagement” with unions is meaningful and not just lip service.

Unions represent a large percentage of our territory’s workforce. We work hard to address issues that are relevant to all Northerners – quality jobs, worker retention, and continuation of services. Our workforce needs to not just keep up with the rising cost of living, but also to have the spending power to put money back into our local economy.

And while good salaries are important to a healthy economy, the quality of the jobs that go with them is also important. Retention is a huge issue facing the North right now.

Many workers across all sectors are facing the same issues – increased burnout, lack of affordable childcare, work-life imbalance and, in far too many workplaces, a sense that they are not appreciated by their employer.

When workers don’t feel appreciated, or don’t feel like they’re being heard, it’s hard for them to feel good about coming to work. Absenteeism and turnover directly impact many of the services that our communities rely on.

Although unionized workers have the option of filing grievances, it is also important for Local union reps to participate in joint consultation committees with their employers at the workplace level. In some collective agreements and legislation, different types of these committees are mandated.

Often, systemic issues such as those listed above can be discussed directly with the employer at these committees. This can allow for open dialogue that can lead to ideas for creative solutions – if the employer is genuinely involved in the conversation. Joint consultation committees have terms of reference, entertain motions, and record minutes, which are all important for continuity, accountability, and follow up.

This is why unions exist – to provide the collective voice for workers who are wanting change and deserve to be heard. We are stronger when we work together, and unions are the way for workers to unite to affect change.

The Union of Northern Workers continues to build on the strong foundations laid throughout our long history of serving members in the North. Our members provide that foundation, and we look forward to hearing from workers who are willing to stand and join their voices for positive change.

In Solidarity,
Gayla Thunstrom, UNW President