Companies must prepare for a possible “resurgence” of unions

Unions are about to become bigger than they have been in a long time, business manager Rob Campbell has warned.

“Boards largely deal with unions because they have to, or they don’t think about it at all,” Campbell said at an Institute of Directors course in Wellington this weekend. end.

“With high and growing inequalities and gaps between job expectations and reality, I believe unions will become more important than they have been for many organizations for a long time.”

A former trade unionist himself, and now an experienced trustee and chairman of the board, Campbell told his fellow trustees that he expects a “resurgence” in union organizing if those leading the unions are shrewd enough, nimble enough and active, and that boards need to be prepared for change.

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Workers have reassessed their values ​​during the Covid-19 pandemic, leading many to give up unsatisfying jobs as they prioritized other things in their lives, in what has been nicknamed “the great resignation”. Unions are on the rise around the world, including at Amazon warehouses, and at Starbucks and Apple stores in the United States.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of traditionally undervalued roles, such as cleaners and supermarket workers, and shed light on inequalities. Soaring inflation has also exacerbated the gap between rich and poor, with the lowest paid workers finding it harder to make ends meet.

SkyCity Hamilton food and beverage workers went on strike at midnight in what the Unite union says is the first workplace strike of 2022 anywhere in the world.

Ben Peterson, who is retail and finance secretary at First Union, said he saw a big appetite for unionism in non-traditional areas such as the retail sector.

Peterson said the union was facing increased pressure from members who had more expectations that work could be better and were aware of the gap between company profits and worker wages over time. time.

In retail alone the union recruited 800-1,000 new members in June, and the trend was also evident in other sectors as the union rebuilt after disruptions during Covid when it was difficult to access to construction sites, he said.

Peterson was in the midst of pay negotiations with supermarket chain Countdown at a distribution warehouse in Wiri in Auckland on Tuesday, where the union was demanding a 16% pay rise for its 8,000 members working in physical and online stores.

While that’s a big jump from what was considered ambitious 4-5% just five years ago, some members had said it wasn’t enough, he said.

“It’s not traditionally an industry where there’s a lot of mana in the work and a lot of respect,” he said. However, the lockdown experience highlighted their “essential worker” status, he said.

“They saw that when everyone was going home and working from home under lockdown, they had to keep working because people needed to be fed, clothed and cared for.

First Union is in negotiations with supermarket chain Countdown for a 16% pay rise for its retail members.  (File photo)

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

First Union is in negotiations with supermarket chain Countdown for a 16% pay rise for its retail members. (File photo)

“But so far it’s really only been reflected in goodwill, not in a change in people’s wages and conditions, and I think the workers are increasingly aware of that – they don’t want not go back to the low-wage status quo.Workers.They want to receive what they are entitled to, which is pay more in line with the work they do and that kind of essential worker role.

“If we’re going to tackle inequality, then part of that issue has to be, in fact, we have to improve wages.”

He said most employers were responsive, with pay deals for retail workers reached this year at 6%, 7%, 8% and 10%, which would not have been possible a few years ago. years.

“Despite the fact that we have had higher claims than ever, and even with some employers who have always been very difficult to deal with, we are reaching our settlements much faster,” he said. “Employers don’t seem to want to be the bad guys staring at their workers.

First Union retail and finance secretary Ben Peterson said the union recruited 800 to 1,000 new retail members in June.

Provided

First Union retail and finance secretary Ben Peterson said the union recruited 800 to 1,000 new retail members in June.

“There is an understanding that things cannot continue in the form they are.”

Across the union, 150 people in Auckland were awaiting training to become shop stewards, he said.

E tū, the country’s largest private sector union, was seeing higher pay increases for its workers, but that had yet to translate into increased union membership, Deputy National Secretary Annie said. Newman.

“We are seeing unionized workers and workplaces where they have collective strength are negotiating bigger raises than they have in many years,” she said.

“They recognize they have market power because of the labor shortage and that also encourages employers to say, well, we can’t afford that kind of turnover, it’s expensive. , and this can lead to a shortage of staff, so there is a greater attraction for the employer to pay more money.

Newman said manufacturing workers who had long received 1% to 3% wage increases were now getting more than around 10% if they were willing to stick together and fight for the 10 .

She saw the proposed Fair Pay Agreements Act as a way to change the structure to support workers in the future. The law would see unions negotiate with employers’ associations minimum terms that would apply to all employees and employers covered by the agreement.

Unite Union national secretary John Crocker said hospitality industry workers represented by his union were changing jobs and high turnover was impacting union membership.

The industry had also been hammered by layoffs during the pandemic, but he said he was optimistic about the future as fair pay deals would give the union a mechanism to engage and more easily represent large numbers of workers. workers.

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