Seeking Justice in the Workplace

September 9, 2015
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Labor unions have existed for more than 100 years. However, the necessity of their existence is still often questioned. Some people think that the conditions of employment have improved considerably and express the opinion that labor unions are of no use anymore. Others think that labor unions are harmful to the development of industry.

Labor unions were set up in the age of the rising industry, when the leading men in industry, blindfolded by their desire to maximize profits and led by a false notion of freedom, did not often take into consideration that their employees have rights. This can still be true today as well; it doesn’t occur to all industry leaders and their shareholders that the interests of employees should be their concern as much as the interests of capital invested in the industry.

The labor relations situation in Canada in the early 1950’s reflected the notion that labor and management are natural enemies. Strikes, lock outs, violence, and corruption were all too common, a natural consequence of the dog eat dog mindset of those unions and employers who had little respect for the dignity and wishes of workers or tolerance for different points of view. In Canada the union movement won the legal right to form unions, but some continue to fight on as if they had lost. They believe the war between labor and management will never truly end.

CLAC founders knew there was a better way. In 1952 they established a new union, one based on the European model of Christian Labor Unions, which stressed dignity and respect for members of the workplace community. The Christian Labor Association of Canada based its program and activities on the Christian principles of social justice and charity as taught in the Bible.

The Bible does not directly address labor relations matters, nor was it written within the context of a modern market economy. CLAC has taken relevant principles and adopted them into its Constitution. For example: “People bear the image of their Creator and, as such, must be treated with dignity, respect and love”; “The resources of the world are not to be used for gain of only some individuals, groups, communities, or nations but are to be developed and stewarded for the benefit of all humanity.”

One of the CLAC’s core values is a belief in Freedom of Association. The concept of Freedom of Association says that in a free society anyone should be free to join (or not join) an organization. Membership should not be forced. Membership in CLAC is not required to work for a company represented by CLAC. This is different from many other unions, where membership is often required to work for companies they represent. These unions have what are called closed shops. In a closed shop all bargaining unit employees must be members of the union to be employed.

Another core value for CLAC is a commitment to an interest based approach to bargaining. An interest based model of labor relations requires the development and nurturing of a positive relationship with management and members. Rather than focusing solely on my rights, an interest based relationship takes all sides into account in order to find solutions to the problems that occur.

The workplace is a community of workers. It is comprised of skilled and unskilled workers, managers, and owners. Each important in a unique way, the focus of a union is naturally different than management. Everyone in that community brings their unique skill set (gifts) to serve others.

CLAC is a labor union that seeks to do justice in the workplace based on Christian principles that recognize the dignity and worth of each individual— whether worker or manager. These principles mean that we see the workplace as a community that is best served by labor relations based on cooperation and trust, not class struggle and militancy.

We manifest our commitment to Christian principles in the daily representation of our members, whether in helping them to negotiate a fair collective agreement, handling grievances to resolve workplace disputes, helping them find work, or providing them with the training they need to succeed. We try to instill in our collective agreements language and clauses that support a Christian understanding of work— work that is not merely a means to earn a paycheck, but is rather a gift from God.

I’m frequently asked: “Do I have to be a Christian to belong to CLAC?” The answer to that question is “NO.” Many bargaining units are made up of individuals from different faiths. I do not force members to accept my belief system; however, when asked I gladly share the faith that I have in my Savior Jesus Christ. What brings meaning to my work is that I am able to use my gifts to bring honor and glory to God by providing a service to those who are vulnerable in the workplace. The CLAC approach to labor relations works and I get to witness it every day. It’s exciting to be part of an organization that is transforming the labor culture in Canada.

About the Author
  • John Taekema lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with his wife of 39 years, Marvel. They have 5 grown children and 14 grandchildren. John has worked as a CLAC Representative in the Edmonton office for the last 10 years.

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  1. Thank God for the CLAC and the excellent work you do! Thanks for this article John. Sometimes I wish we had the CLAC in Iowa.