Chris Pickup’s opinion piece ”Using Blackmail Tactics for Selfish Ends’‘ is a bit one-sided. While it is true that unions serve primarily the interests of their own members, they often do so by working with management to achieve efficiencies, the proceeds of which in turn fund improved compensation for their members. There often is no ”cost to others,” least of all to ”helpless citizens,” who on the contrary may be aided by the charity work conducted by unions, which Pickup overlooks.
As for the timing of strikes, that is tightly controlled by labour legislation. They can only happen after the expiry of an old collective agreement. Since teachers’ contracts tend to start in September and end in August, it inevitably follows that strikes happen—and they haven’t happened for many, many years now—in September. If the government doesn’t want teachers to strike in September, postal workers to strike at Christmas, and power workers to strike in winter, then they need to negotiate contracts with different end dates. Governments are, after all, parties to the agreements.
It is true that public sector workers generally have good pensions, but many, such as teachers, have no benefits at all after retirement. Furthermore, while still working, they usually pay a much higher percentage of their wages (like 12%) into a pension fund than typical private sector workers. Therefore, their pensions are not a gift from the taxpayer, but rather earned income that they agree to defer until their retirement years. The real difference in wages and benefits is not between public sector and private sector workers, but rather between unionized and non-unionized workers Unions actually help to solve the problems of poverty and vulnerability that Pickup accuses them of creating.
Finally, the public is not nearly so vulnerable to strikes in essential services as she implies. Again, legislation limits the right to strike in such sectors. Depending on how ”essential” the services are, unions may have no right to strike at all, or are permitted to withdraw only a certain percentage of their workers from the workplace. Furthermore, if a strike really harmed the health and safety of the population, the union would face very serious legal consequences. So, while a power workers’ strike might have caused some minor inconvenience to some people (hospitals and nursing homes have back-up generators), a province-wide blackout was never a likely scenario. And now that the government is legislating them back to work, they will have to go into arbitration, which pretty much guarantees they will not get everything they are asking for.
In conclusion, I do not agree that public sector unions engage in ”the low-life crime of blackmail.” But they have lifted millions of us out of poverty and exploitation.
David McClung, Cayuga