Getting an “F” from the union

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The Union of Northern Workers has now published the results of its survey of NWT candidates. The survey included five questions aimed at protecting union jobs in the face of future cuts, contracting out and public private partnerships. These complicated questions required yes or no answers. Answering no to opposing any cuts to GNWT staff earned respondents an F. Two-thirds of candidates earned an F, either because of their answers or they didn’t do the survey.

Union president Todd Parsons says the survey is a job interview for the people who will run out government. What job interview contains only yes or no questions? When answers are based on speculation rather than information, are they good answers that are worth having? I certainly didn’t intend any disrespect to members of the union. The survey asked for black and white commitments on complex questions. I do not have enough information now to make a promise not to cut the public service in the future. I could have said yes to all the questions to earn an A but that wouldn’t be honest.

If there had been an opportunity to provide explanations instead of yes or no answers, this is what I would have said: I recognize that union jobs are good jobs. My dad was a unionized pipefitter. He earned a good wage, got paid for working overtime, worked in safe environment and had access to excellent benefits. I was also a unionized worker, when I worked at the CBC, and I had access to the same benefits of being a union member as my dad did. It wasn’t all bread and roses; I walked the picket line for almost three months in 2005 when CBC locked all of us out. Sure, the Canadian Media Guild provided moral support and strike pay, but it was a horrible experience, stressful and demoralizing.

My concern about the survey is not the “F” but the union setting up a hard, take-no-prisoners position in advance of negotiations for a new collective agreement. It’s not helpful to start by polarizing participants rather than starting from a place that provides hope for an agreement without labour action. There has to be some give and take for the greater good and that good is ongoing provision of excellent service to the people of the NWT by members of the UNW.

I am a proud union supporter. Don’t let that “F” fool you.