For many of us, Labour Day marks the end of summer — a time when kids prepare to return to school, or for one last weekend at the lake and we begin to get ready for the coming fall and winter seasons. It’s also an opportunity to share time with family and friends as we celebrate the one day each year that’s dedicated to those who work for a living.
Labour Day was first recognized in Canada in 1894 and has become an important way to celebrate the efforts and achievements of labour organizations and the rights of workers. Many of the benefits first achieved by unions over the years now apply to non-union workers as well, such as vacation pay, fair wages, protection from harassment and discrimination, parental leave, and workplace health and safety standards. Researchers have found that unionized workers earn more per hour than non-unionized workers in every province and territory, and being in a union is especially important for women and younger workers.
However, unions don’t only benefit individual workers; they are also good for the local community. Unions give working people a collective voice to push for improvements in areas that are important to them and their families. Social programs, environmental action and human rights are just some of the areas where unions have had a positive impact far beyond the workplace. Unionized workers also enjoy more job security and standard hours of work so they are able to contribute to their communities as hockey or soccer coaches, dance and music teachers, church and service club members and volunteers.
Unions also benefit the local economy because members spend their paycheques at home. They support local businesses, from grocery and hardware stores to dentists, medical professionals, and home and appliance repair companies. They have more disposable income to spend on local crafts and artisanal products, in local theatres and supporting community fundraising efforts. In turn, this allows towns and cities with union members to support a broader mix of services and businesses that benefit everyone in the community by stimulating the economy, creating jobs, fostering local industry and attracting entrepreneurs.
I encourage you to take time this Labour Day to think about unions and what can be accomplished when people come together to work toward a common cause, and how those efforts benefit all of us collectively as a community and as individuals. We have much to be proud of as a labour movement, for raising the bar, not only for ourselves in the workplace, but for everyone in our communities. But we will not rest on those accomplishments because there is so much more we can do when it comes to issues surrounding social justice, economic security, equality and respect for everyone in our communities.
On behalf of SGEU and its members, I wish you all a happy Labour Day!