Toyota Workers Should Unionize

This article was published in the Waterloo Region Record on April 5, 2014

David Zalubowski, Associated Press

Toyota workers would make the company a better employer by voting for a union

Thousands of Toyota employees — members of the "Toyota team" — have signed cards asking Unifor to be their union and act as their collective voice on workplace issues.

As Unifor continues its campaign, the Toyota Canada workers in Cambridge and Woodstock have a final decision to make.

Ultimately, Toyota workers' opinions will be the only ones that matter. As a union member and leader, however, I can speak to how a union can help improve working conditions for Toyota employees and help Toyota become an even better company than it already is.

During the union drive, people have told me Toyota doesn't need a union because it is a good employer that pays decent wages and has an esteemed reputation on issues such as environmental sustainability. Most Toyota workers agree the Cambridge and Woodstock plants are good places to work.

I also work for what I, and many others, consider to be a good employer who pays good wages. And I can assure you that my union still plays an important role in representing the interest of the workers. Management has all the power in any employer-employee relationship. But with a union, workers can counter this power and have more of a say in decisions that affect them.

Unions enable workers to have a collective voice in discussions with their employer as a way to reduce favouritism, address employee concerns, set health and safety standards, and challenge management decisions that seem arbitrary. Union representatives are in constant communication with management in workplaces, and the majority of those interactions are civil and productive.

Unions actually help reduce employee conflict and discontent, because employees have someone on their side to talk to. In my experience, most conversations I have had as a union representative with fellow members resolve the issue without needing to speak to management. Of those issues that require discussions with management, most get resolved without filing formal grievances.

But bad decisions still happen at good employers, and Toyota is no exception. On Feb. 16, I was part of a solidarity rally for the workers at Toyota who are organizing, to encourage their fellow employees to join Unifor.

At the rally, several Toyota workers spoke about issues that convinced them to advocate for a union. Some cited health and safety concerns that were not treated seriously, others a lack of employee consultation on decisions, and others cited cuts to pension benefits and an increasing reliance on contract workers. As it now stands, Toyota can make such arbitrary decisions. With Unifor in the house, Toyota workers will have a say in such decisions.

Yes, Toyota employees are well paid. (We can thank unions for this, by the way, as Toyota has chosen to pay wages comparable to unionized automakers as a way to attract and retain employees, as well as to convince workers not to unionize.)

But the company has shown, through its increased use of contract workers who have had their pay and benefits cut, that could change at any time. With a union, the company would need to sit down with team members, explain why any changes in employee remuneration are needed, and negotiate what to do and how to do it.

To a Toyota worker who is deciding how to vote on this, I would say this: you won't lose anything by voting for a union. Over 90 per cent of Toyota workers outside North America are unionized, and Toyota has developed good working relationships with these Toyota workers' unions.

If you vote for Unifor, you're simply voting for the chance to make Toyota a better employer.

Marc Xuereb is president of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council.

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