The Union and You: A Primer

by Elinor Crosby, Head Editor, INALJ Nova Scotia

The Union and You: A Primer

elinorcrosby01Most library jobs are unionized. What does this mean for the library job seeker? It certainly seems like it can make the job search harder in an already unforgiving economy. However, there are definite perks to landing a union job.

Now, some people are down on unions, I believe mainly because they’re not currently in one. This, sadly, is the prevailing attitude in the region I live in. People envy and denigrate other people’s union jobs because they don’t get the same benefits and perks! However, unions (and the labour movement) are the reason why we have scheduled breaks and lunches, why we work an 8-hour day, why we have anti-child labour laws, why we have medical and dental benefits, OHS, and many other wonderful things.

Unions are hard to break into because one of their biggest benefits to their employees is job security. Unionized employees get first crack at being interviewed for new postings and get preference over non-unionized applicants in hiring. It’s as simple as that. Knowing that doesn’t make the disappointment of missing out on a library job any better, though. Sometime you can only get into the union by taking a job you are overqualified for, or only going up against external candidates. Often, the only way external candidates even get a chance at a job is if no one internal applies, or those who did actually fail the interview process!

Once you’re in, though, you’re in. Oh wait, except for that pesky probation period! It can vary from union to union, but 3-6 months is not unheard of. Near the end of your probation, you’ll likely have a review with your supervisor. You’ll be scored on various aspects of your job performance and if you have anything that needs work, you’ll get the next couple of months to get job coaching to help you improve. At the end of your probation, if you’ve worked on improving everything that needed work, you’re finally a full member of the union.

Unions have plenty of rules. It’s good to get a little familiar with your collective agreement so that you know both your rights and the rights of your managers. You have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. You have the right to work in a non-hostile work environment. You have the right to fair wages. You have the right to rest and have free time. All great stuff! Who wouldn’t want to have that? If you don’t have a library job yet, look to see what union the library employees belong to at the places you apply. A basic search will tell you a lot about the work environment you may find yourself in.

For more information, you may also want to check out the International Labour Organization, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN has included lots of fundamental rights surrounding work in its declaration and it’s a good thing to be familiar with.

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