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Job Security and Work Ownership

For decades, members of Unifor and our predecessor unions have had great success in our mission to create good, stable, secure jobs to support ourselves, our families, and our communities. But it wasn’t easy. Our successes have been hard won, whether on a picket line in the cold of winter, countless late nights at the bargaining table, or through difficult conversations with our members as we face down a proposed plant closure.

Together, we have organized, sacrificed, and struggled to build more power for working people. At the same time, employers have sought to undermine this hard-earned stability and security in their never-ending drive to cut costs and increase profits. While we are struggling hard to create good, stable, communitysustaining work, it often seems like employers are working just as hard to shrink their workforce, and create part-time, precarious, low-wage, non-union jobs. This unrelenting downward pressure creates a climate of perpetual fear among those left in the workplace, and the feeling of constant threat takes a toll.

Closures and scaling back work

The relentless drive to cut labour costs sometimes plays out in the form of workplace closures, as work is shifted to cheaper and less unionized labour markets, like GM’s unallocation of vehicle assembly in Oshawa, Ontario; or the closure announcement at the Tandus Centiva carpet factory Truro, Nova Scotia. Other times, the employers’ cost-cutting might take the form of decreased hours of operation or the loss of shifts, like FCA’s announcement about their intent to cancel the third shift at its Windsor assembly plant.

Sub-contracting and outsourcing

Sometimes, the employers’ program involves open efforts to break the union, but more often than not, we see more subtle – but no less effective – tactics to erode the collective power of working people. One such tactic we see in every sector and every workplace is the move towards sub-contracting and outsourcing of our bargaining unit work.

Through their decisions to outsource or contact-out work, employers are not so much eliminating jobs as they are deciding who gets them, at what price and under what working conditions. Outsourcing threatens the job security of our members but it also undermines the employment and income standards of other, often younger workers. In some situations, secure full-time jobs are exchanged for precarious part-time ones. In other  situations, regular work is transformed into contingent or temporary work. And in all cases, good unionized jobs are replaced with non-union jobs with lower wages and lower standards.

Contracting out can take different forms in different workplaces, but the common underlying dynamic is the employers’ program to shift work from unionized to non-unionized workers. This might mean outsourcing copy-editing or layout work at a newspaper, bringing in a third-party cleaning service at a hotel, contracting out parts manufacturing to a non-union supplier, shifting airline customer service work to a provider overseas, or sending telco technicians’ work to a non-union subsidiary.

Employers are working hard to shrink their workforce, and create part-time,
precarious, low-wage, non-union jobs.

Technological change and automation

Another factor driving the accelerated threat of contracting out is the increasing pace of technological change and automation. The impacts of technological change can take many forms, ranging from the wholesale elimination of jobs and work tasks, to the replacement of workers by robots and artificial intelligence programs, to new options for employers to access disposable workers on an as-needed basis.

Employers have sought to use technological change and automation to replace grocery store cashiers with “self-check-out” kiosks, reduce their workforce through the implementation of new baggage handling systems at airports (while at the same shifting our work to subcontracted, third-party “specialists”), and exchange customer service specialists working in call centres for artificial intelligence-driven, automated “assistants.” Further, new jobs and classifications created by technological change may not be captured in our existing scope language, leading to the slow but steady migration of work to outside our bargaining units.

The rise of the gig economy

Another troubling aspect of the changing nature of work has been the rise of the so-called gig economy, where full-time, stable jobs have been atomized and broken up into precarious, task-based “gigs,” and the employer/employee relationship is facilitated by an online platform. The gig economy has given employers countless new opportunities to side-step their responsibilities to their workers and undermine the collective power of working people.

Our bargaining priorities

Our union has a great deal of experience in fighting for job security and confronting the challenges of work ownership. Many of these dynamics are not new; we have won inspiring victories in our struggle to build good  jobs and better working conditions. We must continue to build on these victories so the next generation has access to good jobs and the collective power that comes with union membership.

To achieve these aims, Unifor will:

Bargain stronger protections against closures and loss of hours, including outright closure prohibitions, stronger protections for hours of work, and a better process in the face of closures (including advanced notice, the right to bargain, and enhanced severance and benefits).

● Strengthen our scope language, ensuring we better capture and protect our existing work, and aim for wall-to-wall coverage in all our workplaces – including residual units, especially in face of technological change and the new jobs that come with it.

Negotiate sub-contracting protection language, where we explicitly prohibit the shifting of work from inside the bargaining unit to outside.

Bargain successor rights, where the employer commits to maintaining union status and the collective agreement in the face of a sale to a potential new company.

Bargain for membership growth, where we reach “neutrality” agreements with employers to give workers at new, or expanded operations the opportunity to join our union free from interference, ensuring that our membership grows as our employers grow.

Success stories

Irving Shipbuilding (MWF Local 1): Members ratified a new four-year collective agreement following a long bargaining fight where contracting-out was a major issue at the table. The settlement included stronger contracting-out rules.
Bell Canada and Bell subsidiaries (multiple Locals): Members working for Bell Canada and Bell subsidiaries opened another chapter in our ongoing fight against the company’s relentless efforts to contract out bargaining unit work. This led to the submission of a common employer application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB) in May, for technicians and clerical workers at Expertech, the company to which Bell has been sub-contracting work, of which Bell is now the sole owner.
Marek (Local 414): Food service workers at General Motors’ operations in Ingersoll and Oshawa negotiated successor rights to ensure employees and the full collective agreement carried over from former employer Compass Group to the new service provider, Marek. The Committee also ensured that the Markham  engineering facility was added under the scope clause.
Great Canadian Gaming (Locals 1090 and 504): Members at Casino Ajax, Elements Casino Brantford, and Great Blue Heron Casino in Port Perry negotiated an agreement that included provisions for membership growth at a newly-built site owned by the same employer.

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