Covered Bridge Chips, who's the bad guy?
Reading many of the comments on social media in reaction to the strike at Covered Bridge Chips, I can’t help but wonder why organized labour has fallen so out of favour with the public.
I’m not overly surprised as unions have grown more and more out of favour over recent years all over North America, and while there are also lots of comments in support of the workers at the potato chip plant, those are definitely in the minority. Which begs the question why?
Here we have a company, that is into its third expansion so it is safe to assume is doing well. And it is paying its employees minimum wages. Just how many are being paid the minimum is in dispute, but obviously some are. No one will disagree that it’s hard to make a living on minimum wage. Most I would hope would also agree that if you are working full time you deserve to make a living wage. So why is it that when they organize and fight for just that, they become the bad guys?
When you pay minimum wage, what you are really saying to your employee is – “I would pay you less if there was any legal way I could, but I can’t, so here’s what I have to give you”. That seems to be the mindset of many employers, but in the minds of many it is the people on the line who are the unreasonable ones.
The point is that organized labour has become the whipping boy for what ails us. When a company sends its manufacturing to China or wherever so it can get its widgets made by slave labour for the cheapest price possible, nobody blames the greed of the company for the subsequent unemployment, but rather it is because of the inflexibility of the union.
The problem is that organized labour has not done an effective enough job with its communication. That’s unfortunate because study after study, including by conservative organizations such as the World Bank, concludes that higher rates of unionization lead to lower inequality, lower unemployment, higher productivity, better social justice, healthier environments and a quicker recovery from economic downturns.
To see the flip side of this you need look no further than the United States. Nearly half the American states over the past few years adopted what is called Right to Work legislation. It sounds good but in reality it is designed to weaken unions. Twenty-one of the twenty-three states that adopted Right to Work now have per capita incomes below the US average, and increased poverty levels. It’s a race to the bottom and a race we as a society should avoid.
I appreciate this is big picture stuff and may be far removed from the labour dispute at Covered Bridge Chips, but the comments that strike has prompted does speak to the overall anti-union attitude that prevails. And yes, I know there are examples of unreasonable unions, but for every old school union that hasn’t yet realized that management and employees are in this together, there is an unenlightened management that doesn’t get it either.
But back to Hartland, I don’t know who is being reasonable and who is not in the Covered Bridge situation. What I do know is that unions don’t get their foot in the door at any place where the workforce is satisfied that they are being treated fairly. And I also know it is quite a leap to be labeling people greedy because they can’t make do on minimum wage and want to be able to provide for their families. Seems fair for eight hours work, or is that just me?
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