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The pros and cons of being in a union

BF and I often talk about unions and how effective they are. He is part of a union for a very large national company, and loves it. Meanwhile I’ve worked in a union environment on 3 separate occasions (provincial government x2, municipal government), and left all 3 times. Plus, with everything going on with the BCTF strike here in BC, I think the pros and cons of unions are on everybody’s minds these days.

Now, I completely understand the benefits of being in a union. Unions are put in place to protect workers, give them fair wages, and make the workplace safer. But having worked for companies whose non-union employees complain that unions can be detrimental to growth, and having seen so many people abuse the benefits of being in a union, I have to wonder… as an employee, over the lifetime of your career, is being in a union beneficial? Will you earn more, will your career progress, and will you be happier? Or perhaps it depends on the type of work you’re doing.

The pros of being in a union:

  • Health benefits. Most (if not all?) unionized workers are entitled to extended health and medical benefits. This is a huge bonus. Especially if you or anyone in your family has major health issues. Not only are you potentially covered for hundreds of thousands of dollars over your career, but you’re also protected by the union in that your job seems more secure if you have to take extended leaves due to illness.
  • You have job security. When you aren’t part of a union, you can be fired for no reason (I’m reminded of when I was unfairly fired a few years ago). But when you’re part of a union, it’s pretty hard to get fired. It has to be pretty serious, and even then, you can still file a grievance.
  • You can speak up. You don’t have to be scared to speak your mind or stir the pot if you think something is unfair. The union is supposed to be there for advice, and for support.
  • Seniority. Of course this differs between different unions, but for the most part, seniority can be a factor in determining who gets a promotion, or even who gets to keep their jobs if there are layoffs. When a union is involved, employers are usually required to let go of the most junior employees. This is supposed to eliminate favoritism in the workplace.

The cons of being in a union:

  • People know how to abuse the system. There is so much abuse, because people know all the loopholes and know they can’t really be fired unless they do something completely inappropriate. I know someone who spent most of her time at work doing personal tasks (like printing cookbooks off the internet, or reading celebrity gossip websites). I know someone else who requested vacation days, got denied, and just didn’t show up for those days anyway. Neither of them got fired, or even disciplined.
  • It rewards employees that might not┬ádeserve to be rewarded. Even if you put in minimal effort, it’s nearly impossible to get fired. You get your pay grade steps regardless of how hard you work. I found this demoralizing and it made me want to put in less effort, since 1) I would get a raise regardless of how hard I worked, and 2) the person next to me did nothing most days, and still got paid more than me for the same job.
  • It can hold you back. Because seniority plays such a huge role in unionized environments, sometimes the best person for the job gets passed over because they don’t have enough seniority. So I feel like unions can stunt a good employee’s professional growth. Although, I’m only talking about my experience in an office environment. I’m not sure if that’s the case in every organization.

Anyway, those are my big picture thoughts about unions. I can completely understand both sides, and how unions can benefit or stunt an employee. Obviously since I’m choosing to work for non-union organizations, I’m making my choice. But I’m specifically coming from a government background, and I have flip flopped before – and recently. I know plenty of people who work in union environments and love it. So I’m left continuing to wonder about whether the pros outweigh the cons.

Do you work in a union? Do you find unions beneficial?

The first few days on the job

flowers

The days leading up to my first day at the new job were full of anxiety. Sure, I was excited to be starting, but at the same time I’ve been putting an incredible amount of pressure on myself. I want to do well at my job, and I want to succeed. I want to save money, and retire comfortably. I want to travel, and live stress-free with that special someone. Turning 32 later this year has really scared me. I’m nowhere near where I thought I would be at this age, and while I know that the chances of settling down and retiring somewhat comfortable are pretty good, I still can’t help but stress out about where my career will be in 5 years, if my retirement accounts will be where I want them to be, and how I’ll know when I’m ready to do all the adult things all my friends seem to be up to.

I think we’ve all felt like this at some point before. It’s normal. And when I get those feelings, I just need to take a step back and evaluate all the positives I have in my life. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we don’t have, or what we want to have… instead of what we do have. :)

As for the first few days at the job? Well they’ve been great so far. It’s weird to be working within a marketing team – I’ve been so used to working by myself over the last few years, and I missed this team atmosphere we have going on. I imagine the next few weeks will be filled with trying to remember the names of people around the office, getting comfortable with the different tasks I’m given, and figuring out how I can best contribute based on my skill set.

I was unemployed just long enough to receive one EI payment, and that actually happened yesterday. So that means I went 40 days between when I lost my job, and when I got my first payment. I was worried it would take a lot longer than that – the first time I applied for EI it took 11 weeks! The $408 I received isn’t a lot, but it’s definitely welcomed. And I’m actually pretty pleased that I got through my entire unemployment without having to touch my Emergency Fund! Granted, I likely won’t get paid until mid-April, so there’s still a chance I might have to use that cash if I can’t make up the difference with my freelancing.

Speaking of freelancing, I’ve had a pretty good few days. I received a $750 payment, and have billed out for an additional $1,450 just this week. I likely won’t receive those payments by the end of March, but at least it’s putting me on the right track for a decent April. :)

Anyway, that’s the update in my world!

An exciting new opportunity

2014-03-11 19.24.50-2The last month has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. I was really scared that it would take me a long time to find a job that I’d be happy with (in my head I was thinking I’d be unemployed until April), but yesterday the right opportunity came along, and I am thrilled to be able to write that I am now employed. :)

My new job is in a completely new industry to me, but it’s with a company that I have admired for years. I respect the work that is being done, and the role I’ll be taking on is somewhat new to the organization. I can see how I would be able to grow with the position, and that’s an exciting thought. The salary range will end up being around the same as what I was making before, so in terms of my goals for the year, those shouldn’t change too much (aside from the few weeks’ salary I lost while without a job).

I am really looking forward to getting back to work. Spending the last 4 weeks by myself during the work week has been a bit lonely, but my support system here in Vancouver is strong. And I made it a point to stay as positive as I could – even when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and mope. So now I’ve got 1.5 weeks just to relax and get ready – not to mention a trip to Portland in just a few days. :)

So thanks for sticking around during the last month. I needed the break from blogging and social media to focus my energy on staying sane and job hunting. But I am back, and with a renewed sense of purpose. And there’s a lot to look forward to. First up is getting my RRSP/TFSA contributions back on track!

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