Young workers today face many challenges in the workplace.

Entering the workplace is the first challenge. The youth employment rate is almost double the national average, at 13.6 per cent. You hear stories all the time of new graduates who are unable to find work in their field. Unpaid internships and short term coop placements are the norm for many workers.

Job insecurity is rampant. Many young workers have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Part time and contract work is common.

Soaring housing prices, lack of affordable child care and crippling levels of student debt for graduates mean putting off starting a family for many, and struggling to make ends meet for others.

These were just some of the issues identified by young workers at the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE) first ever young workers strategy session. The three day meeting brought together over 60 young people from all across Canada to have their voices heard and discuss getting young people involved in the labour movement.

There is a perception amongst union activists that young people today are apathetic and don’t care about unions, but the conversations over the three days show that young people get it and are ready to get involved.

The words below are taken directly from the young people from across Canada who participated in CUPE’s recent strategy session. They remind me of the vital work that trade unions do on behalf of all society.

1. Unions allow workers to become united and to mobilize and come together during times of collective agreements and negotiations. Unionization is important to raise the standard of living for its workers and for society and social programs.

2. Unions make life better for people everywhere. Even if you are not in a union, you enjoy things that have become the norm are there because unions have fought for that. Unions are there to raise everyone up — it should be a race to a top not a race to the bottom.

3. Unions help put fairness in the workplace. People know when they are not being treated fairly, and equate unions with fairness.

4. In a unionized workplace you have a voice and an advocate. Whether you are a worker with disability or from another group, you have voice.

5. A union is there to be strong and united and to be there for workers in their struggles.

6. We live in a global world. It is important that unions can do international solidarity work and stand up against human rights violations.

7. Unions are instrumental in fighting for workers right to safety in the workplace. It is new and young workers that are often hurt on the job, and unions push for their rights.

In a world where the role of unions is constantly questioned and attacked, these young workers spoke to the heart of the matter of why unions matter.

This meeting was part of CUPE’s ongoing work to engage young workers and honour the Year of the New and Young worker. For more information visit CUPE’s young worker webpage here.   

Tria Donaldson

Tria Donaldson

Tria Donaldson is a youth activist with roots in the environmental movement, the labour movement, and Indigenous rights. Tria is a senior Communications Officer at CUPE National, and on the Member’s...