This past week, I had the privilege of dealing with a decertification application from a CLAC-represented long term care home. Yes, you read that correctly: the employees at this home wanted to decertify the union and become non-union. And no, I’m not being sarcastic when I say it was a privilege to deal with it.
CLAC’s relationship with this group of employees goes back more than 30 years, so we were surprised and saddened to learn that they would prefer not to carry on the long relationship we’ve established over the years.
In the days following the application, it became clear that the majority of the employees had no idea that the application had gone in. When my colleague and I showed up at the home to answer questions and explain the process, people were angry—and justifiably so. There were people in that room that I recognized from grievances, former stewards and bargaining committee reps, members who have worked there longer than CLAC had been there, and people whom I had never met or recognized.
We were prepared to give an impassioned speech about why they should stick with CLAC, what it would mean to become non-union, and that we were here to listen to their concerns. But the work was already done for us and we did not have to do a lot of talking. What we walked into was a unified crowd, passionately declaring to one another why they need CLAC. Back to my opener: it was a privilege to be in that space.
One of the questions I often hear, and usually in the form of criticism is: “The union does nothing for me—so why do I pay dues?”
Spend a couple minutes in a crowd of members who are at risk of losing their union, and the answer will start to become clear:
“What will happen with my pension?”
“What about my seniority rights?”
“What about our scheduling language in the collective agreement? Will I have to work every weekend?”
“I have an ongoing grievance. What will become of that?”
“What about the wages we’ve negotiated over the last 30 years. Will we have to start from square one?”
“What if I lose my job and the union’s not here? Can I fight to get it back?”
The privilege of being in that room was that we didn’t need to do a sales pitch or convince anyone that this was a bad idea—they did that for one another. These members were proud to be a part of CLAC for the last 30 years, and were deeply satisfied with the protection and privileges in their collective agreement that they worked hard to achieve. And they weren’t going down without a fight.
My colleague and I left the building that day feeling encouraged and proud that the members were so committed to CLAC. And the thing is, it’s not what we’ve done or the work we’ve put in. The union is only ever as strong as its members. And for more than 30 years, the members at this home have showed up and fought hard for good wages, pension, scheduling privileges, and protection in an increasingly precarious sector. They rightfully demanded good representation from CLAC, and we are so relieved that we will continue to have the opportunity to do so.
The application was dismissed in the end due to a lack of sufficient support, but we will also pay attention to what those members are saying who are not happy with our representation. We are not perfect, there are areas where we can learn and grow, and we’re listening. At the end of it all, I am grateful to our members at this home who so deeply and instinctively understand the meaning and value of union solidarity—and being part of a movement that’s bigger than what we can achieve alone.