Thunder Bay has often been called a union town, but some young people aren't sure organized labour has their best interests at heart.
Confederation College accounting students Katelyn Lowery and Raelene Christianson are prepping for exams.
Lowery said she hopes to find a union job when she graduates, as her current workplace isn't unionized.
"I have no dental or nothing like that for benefits, so that's one of the downers with not being unionized [and] why I'd like to be unionized," she said.
Christianson said it was during a human resources course this year that she first heard about organized labour.
"I've never really had any experience before school, thinking or knowing about it," she said. "So I haven't really thought about it."
Lowery said she understands why unions are helpful, but is concerned they favour older workers.
"They’re allowed to hold their position so they get to work until 65," she said. "But [for] the younger people that come in ... it's easier to hire and fire them."
Nevertheless, Lowery said she's hoping good marks on her exams will help her get a coveted union job, but said it could be an uphill battle.
"If you're a son or daughter of someone who is already in the union, it's very easy for you to get a job in that union than it is for someone with no relatives in it," she said. "I find that lots with people in Thunder Bay."
Unions ‘not necessarily’ on young people’s minds
Do unions matter in the modern workplace? It's a question CBC stations across Ontario are asking in a special report on Tuesday.
Unions haven't done a good job connecting with young workers and teaching them about their rights in the workplace, according to labour activist Pablo Godoy. And that has led to young people caring less about union activity compared to previous generations.
Now, union leadership must step up and connect with young people on their terms, so they can fully grasp their rights as workers and understand where those rights came from, he said. But some argue that even if they do, it won't matter — because young people believe they are better off without union representation.
"I think unions are extremely relevant — but I don't think they are too present or prevalent when it comes to young workers," Godoy told CBC Hamilton. "It's not necessarily on their minds."
Godoy is a national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). At around 245,000 members, it is one of the largest unions in Canada. The latest UFCW estimate puts 35–40 per cent of its membership under the age of 30 — and at 27, Godoy is one of them. He wears many hats within the organization, but the majority of his job centres on young worker engagement.
He said that, in large part, young people aren't as cognizant of the origins of workers' rights as compared to their parents.
"Employers didn't sit around and say 'we should give workers time off, and vacations, and pay for those vacations.' These things didn't arise naturally — they were fought for and were won by a faction of workers," Godoy said. "Somewhere along the line, I think we lost the communication with young people when it came to informing them about where these things come from."
To take part in a special online town hall about the role of unions in the modern workplace, go to CBC Thunder Bay’s website cbc.ca/thunderbay at 7:30 p.m. ET for an interactive online chat.