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Friday, February 18, 2005

You can't make this stuff up 

My union's staff representatives, CEP local 467, (I gather that's the non-clerical people in the union office) are on strike. This means the union, which is, er, in the role of management in that dispute, is now complaining that the workers are asking for too much, and that the employer (which, in a long-winded way, is me) is strapped for cash owing to having a bad year or seven. As a result, BCGEU offices are likely going to be behind picket lines today.

The fun part is listening to the reversal of rhetoric: the BCGEU wants to tie the CEP workers' benefits to recent BCGEU gains, which is to say they basically are arguing for salary increases based on the organization's performance. The CEP wants a better raise than the BCGEU has recently received, and really, who can blame them? Except that the CEP is specifically the union which represents...the employees who are the BCGEU's primary bargaining and grievance representatives!

Last night I had a short but enthusiastic conversation with my father-in-law about the nature of unionized work, the inflexibility of pay scales in union jobs, and why he hadn't left his union job to go work in Whistler for the $40/hour experienced tradesmen were getting paid up there. Hm. Maybe I should take up painting. But the real answer is this: sometimes, however much unionized employees avoid mentioning it, there are good aspects to the job and the workplace.

I rather like my job, though I understand that I may be unusual for feeling that way. I fear that in some ways the rhetoric of union negotiations and the Kabuki show (or is it a mating ritual?) that goes along with it may have depressing effects on workplace morale. If I may oversimplify greatly, the default mode of a typical private-sector, non-union employee is to believe that their company is doing well, and that their job is good, since in general pay and bonuses depend on the company doing well, and when there are pay issues, you either go to your boss and ask for a raise (normally using the argument that the company is doing well and you are doing your job really well), or you look for another job. Quitting (or the threat of departure) is essentially the non-union worker's strike, but its effectiveness is directly tied to the individual worker's replaceability.

Public-sector unions, on the other hand, can't really argue productivity. Instead, each bargaining session has to be a litany of complaints: how hard it is to do the job, how badly paid the workers are, and what dreadful conditions they labour under. In short, it's the job of the union to make everybody feel aggrieved during the bargaining cycle.

The solution is dead-simple and quite honest: workers have to recognize the kabuki dance for what it is: a game of will, not reality. Just because you're saying your job sucks doesn't mean it actually does suck. If it does suck, you have to quit. Do what you can to find a soft landing, and I'm not saying you have to resign this moment, but if you're that dissatisfied with your job, you have to start sending out resumes.

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