Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dinner Guest at a Party Where No one Else is in a Union

Last evening at our New Year's celebration, pre-dinner conversation touched on the stand-off between Teachers Unions and the provincial government of Ontario. The discussion was amicable which I appreciated, and in some ways dispassionate even though those who were present clearly had strong opinions.  All dinner guests present were non-union members. They work in the private sector, either in self-employment or for others. It was very interesting to hear their points of view and to be reminded once again that as teachers we often sit in a protected bubble where we don't really have to consider where the dollars that support our salaries and programs come from.

One person's story lingers.

This person had been the Ontario account manager for the largest kitchen cabinet maker in Quebec pre-recession.  The company was profitable and its workers were the highest paid in the industry.  This company had a 300 000 sq foot multi-million dollar new facility that was at the leading edge of cabinet production in North America and had no plans to leave our country.

From unionization to the closing of the facility took 3 short years.

Management never really understood why workers chose to unionize. They were already the best paid, including benefits in the industry. Once workers decided to unionize, though, union leaders became excessively demanding. Each round of contract negotiations was difficult. Leaders assumed that they were in control and that the company needed them to survive. They were wrong.

In the end the company decided that it was not worth the hassle. They shut down their brand new facility and gave up future earnings.

The impact on the account manager was immediate. His salary dropped from $20 000/month to $3 000/month where it remains today.

I believe the number of workers who lost their jobs was around 300.

This company still has smaller production facilities in Quebec but it is slowly shifting its production overseas - not because it wants to - but because it feels it has to.

Since the recession its other facilities have remained quiet. There has been so much job loss in Quebec that no one is demanding anything at the moment. None-the-less, the company continues to slowly shift production overseas because when the recovery comes, it doesn't want to find itself in the same position.

This was a sobering conversation, and not the first time I have heard this kind of story: company driven away by the demands of unions.

As someone who is currently protected by a union this is a sobering tale.


  1. Good for you....love to see teachers who are thinking outside the box and perhaps even realizing our economic reality. I sure hope my Grade 3 son gets you for a teacher in the future!
    Trina Baird

  2. Unions are responsible in looking out for the welfare of their members. If you delve a little deeper into this dinner story you may find out that there was much more going on than a union's demands. In regards to teaching in a profession where one false allegation can lead to time out of work and a lengthy court battle it's reassuring to know that the union will help protect these members. Who has the money to afford a lawyer for any length of time? Unions are not the problems. Corporate greed and 'moving companies overseas' allows for these businesses to make more for less...

  3. I absolutely agree that unions are responsible for the welfare of their members and this is a one-sided account of what happened. I also fully acknowledge the protections we receive from our union and have no interest in foregoing those protections. They are needed. With right-to-work legislation in the pipeline of the Conservative Party of Ontario and spreading across the US, unions' abilities to protect members will continue to be challenged. That delicate balance of protecting workers while engaging in negotiations can only become more and more difficult when even profitable companies are willing to shut down or rather than continue to deal with a union. I continue to be unsettled by that conversation.


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