The unusually enthusiastic support of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association executive for part-time employee unionization is setting a precedent.
On Oct. 30, around 30 part-time workers of the UWSA – people working in the Info Booth, at Index, the Food Bank and the Bike Lab – officially joined the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) as UWSA Non-Admin-Local 433.
UWSA president Peyton Veitch, who has worked previously as a union organizer, recognizes the relevance of having a union.
“I know first-hand the kind of intimidation, the kind of coercion and the unchecked power that management can have in a non-unionized work environment,” Veitch says.
“Unions are critically important because they provide workers with a voice and power in a workplace, they provide workers with an opportunity to bargain collectively for improvements in a workplace.”
“And with unionization rates stagnating or in decline in Canada and the United States, we’ve also seen a corresponding decline in job quality, a declining middle class and decline in quality job opportunities for young people.”
Robin Bryan, the general coordinator for the Bike Lab, proposed the idea for part-time staff to unionize.
“Looking at the work part-time staff do for the UWSA, we felt we deserve to have the same benefits as our full-time counterparts. Also, by bringing this large group into the union, I felt we could achieve a higher sense of shared purpose within the UWSA,” Bryan says.
What made this particular union push unique is the UWSA management was actually supportive of the unionization. Typically, employers aren’t so gung-ho to work with unions, Bryan says.
“When speaking with the experienced employees of MGEU, they could not recall another instance in which the employer was so supportive. I believe this union drive represents a unique step forward in labour history because it challenges the assumption that unionization involves an atmosphere of tension, intimidation and secrecy,” he continues. “I think the UWSA’s handling of this union drive should be held up as an example of supportive management and progressive labour relations.”
UWSA Non-Admin-Local 433 is still figuring out when it will vote on a union representative.
Although the union formed only recently, there have already been changes instituted that benefit the employees since its inception.
“One of the big changes that we already made was putting in place a living wage policy for all our UWSA staff. So part-time staff now make at minimum $14.10 an hour, which is in line with the living wage guidelines that the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has adopted for Manitoba,” Veitch says.