A recent report from the Canadian Labour Congress has ignited a debate on whether unions truly benefit the community.
Researchers at the Canadian Labour Congress released a report Wednesday revealing the average unionized worker in Windsor makes $6.34 more an hour than workers who aren't unionized. The figures are similar in other communities across the country.
The report goes on to say higher wages benefit the entire community and researchers say that should be celebrated.
"No matter how you add it up, our payroll advantage is almost $800 million a week. That goes right into the communities. It gets spent within a week of being earned," said Ken Georgetti, who is head of the CLC.
Union steward Tom Bain has been a custodian at the University of Windsor since 1980. He spends his lunch hour protesting outsourcing on campus every day.
"Everyone wants to compare wages. For me it’s about respect. I get a lot more respect from bosses than I ever did before I worked a union job. People treat each other with respect here and I think the union played a big part in that," said Bain.
However, others point to the high rate of union membership in Windsor as a possible explanation for the city's high unemployment, which was 9.2 per cent in July.
"The opposite side of the sword for the higher wages has been a loss of a lot of jobs to lower wage rate areas," said auto expert Tony Faria.
Faria is not alone. Windsor lawyer George King says "mathematics is pure, but numbers lie."
King says he’s represented dozens of companies – mostly automotive – who have left Windsor because of workers who make $6.34 an hour more. He has specialized in labour issues for more than 30 years.
"They've gone to the southern U.S. where they pay wages which allow them to be competitive," he said.
"It’s a fine piece of marketing and that’s all it really is," said King. According to King, the CLC is trying to rally support for the labour movement, at a time when they are losing members.
"At one point the Big 3 had a huge imprint in this community ... GM is completely gone now. They just sell cars here. Ford is down to a couple plants, and Chrysler is down to one plant when they used to have three," said King. "Are there other factors besides unionization? Of course, but as someone who has sat in the room with people who are thinking of coming to Windsor to do business and when they hear the stories and don’t come, I have some firsthand experience in the matter."
He said most union jobs are in older, more established, workplaces and public services. But when unions target new workplaces – many of which he represents – they may turn away from Windsor.
For Bain the CLC report only strengthens the need for unions.
"I don’t know how much more proof has to be out there. You have an organization that fights and talks for people. Your voice as a collective is going to be heard more," Bain said. "People can say that unions have out served their purpose but I think they’re needed more than they ever were. More than ever we need a collective voice to be heard and try and improve everybody’s standard of living."