Good wages, great futures in the trades

Improving safety is one of the many ways that trade unions help create a better workplace.
Improving safety is one of the many ways that trade unions help create a better workplace.

The Manitoba Building and Construction Trades Council is a non-profit organization representing 13 building trades unions with over 6,500 members working in the province’s construction industry.
Our aim is to make sure the construction industry workplace is safe, people are well-trained, payment is fair, and to promote trades union membership throughout the construction industry in Manitoba.
Following are a few myths and facts indicating why unions are still relevant in today’s society.
MYTH: We don’t need unions anymore – working conditions are fine and everyone makes good money.
FACT: Unions have been setting the bar for wages and working conditions since they were first created. Before unions, most people worked 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. Children did the most dangerous work in factories and nobody got paid when they were sick.
Yes, things are better today. Everyone enjoys benefits – such as maternity leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination – that unions won first.
But not everything is rosy. Employers keep people working in part-time jobs to avoid contributing to government benefits. Young people work without pay as interns without the protections paid employees enjoy. Unions still have an important role to play in building a fair and equitable society.
MYTH: Unions make it impossible for employers to fire incompetent workers.
FACT: Actually, anyone who can be hired can be fired. No contract requires an employer to keep workers who are lazy, incompetent, or chronically absent.
Unions do try to make sure that employers have “just cause” for dismissing employees. They also try to ensure that people are treated fairly regardless of race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
MYTH: Unions make companies less efficient and profitable.
FACT: Unions know very well that there are no good jobs without successful, profitable companies. Workers have a stake in keeping companies competitive, and unions play an important role in developing cutting-edge training and ensuring that people work in a safe environment. These are important factors that contribute to efficient, profitable, competitive companies.
The most successful construction companies in Canada are unionized – so much for the unions dragging them down!
MYTH: Non-union construction workers make the same money as union workers and they don’t pay union dues.
FACT: With the high demand for construction workers in Canada today, employers are paying high hourly wages. But, recent studies show that union workers still earn about $5 more an hour.
And that’s not the whole story. Workers who do not belong to unions are often expected to work long shifts for weeks at a time without earning overtime. They rarely have benefits such as dental, extended healthcare coverage, and legal insurance. Pensions are almost non-existent.
MYTH: Construction unions are old boys’ clubs – you need connections to get in. If you are a woman, forget it!
FACT: Teachers, lawyers, doctors… A lot of people follow the same career path as their parents. It’s not surprising that, in the past, construction workers often arranged for their sons to be apprenticed with journeymen they knew and trusted.
Yes, it was a man’s world (so was law and medicine!), but that’s not the case anymore. Today, many women are enjoying great careers in the building trades.
Unions strongly support workplace equality and fair hiring practices to ensure that job applicants are judged on their merits – not their gender or on the connections they have!
MYTH: People who don’t want unions are often forced to join and pay dues.
FACT: That may seem unfair, but the fact is unions negotiate contracts on behalf of all employees, not just those that voted for them. And everyone benefits when wages increase or benefits improve.
Taxes may seem unfair, too, especially if you didn’t vote for the party that forms the government. But we all benefit from the laws and services that governments provide and we all pay for them. The same holds true in a unionized workplace.
The vast majority of our members come to the union hall, sign a card, and pay an initiation fee to join the union, allowing them to benefit from training, education, mentoring, and other support.
MYTH: Construction is for big, muscle-bound guys who don’t have the smarts for other work.
FACT: Some trades did need strong men in the past, but technology has changed everything.
Today, the trades need bright people who are good with computers and can handle complex mechanical equipment. Modern tradespeople have strong math and writing skills, and can analyze problems and come up with creative solutions.
These jobs take skills, but they are not “guy” skills, just skills. Today, intelligence, creativity and training are highly valued – most of the muscle is provided by machines, and more women are finding rewarding careers in the building trades.
MYTH: Unions only care about themselves and don’t mind inconveniencing everyone else by going on strike.
FACT: Strikes make headlines and can be inconvenient, but the truth is that today about 99 per cent of all labour agreements are successfully negotiated without strikes.
No union wants a strike, and no one is more inconvenienced by a strike than the workers themselves – think of picketing in a snowstorm or trying to keep up with your bills without a regular pay cheque!
Strikes develop when two sides cannot agree and workers believe that the issues at stake are important enough to justify the sacrifice.
Far from caring only for themselves, unions have always worked to make gains that would benefit the whole community.
The labour movement fought for the weekend, public healthcare and education, minimum wages, safe working conditions, pay equity, sick pay, and pensions.
To learn more about Manitoba Building and Construction Trades and our 13 affiliates, please visit http://www.mbtrades.ca for more information.
-Manitoba Building and Construction Trades Council

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