Unions lighting the way towards parity for women and visible minorities

The latest winners in our Why Unions Matter contest remind us that solidarity can be a powerful tool against discrimination and injustice.

Ottawa (08 Mar. 2016) — March 8 is International Women's Day, and the theme for this year is "pledge for parity." The sad truth is that women have not yet achieved parity in the workplace or in politics, but by participaiting in their unions, women from around the world are managing to bridge the gap.

Progress may be slow, as Grade 12 student Julia Richardson points out in her winning essay Passing on the Torch, but it is steady.

"Before I was even born, countless women like my mother not only joined unions in their workplace, but also rose to the challenge of being shop stewards, lighting the torch for the rights of women."

Unions are like an 'invisible shield'

Growing up in Prince Edward Island, Julia compares her mother's membership in a union to an "invisible shield" protecting their family from poverty and gruelling working conditions. 

"As a young child, having her work regular hours meant she could attend all my band concerts," Richardson writes. "Compared to non-unionized workers, she was paid higher wages, had dental and medical coverage and although I was from a larger family, I never did without. When I got sick at school, I could always count on her to be there for me."

While Richardson appreciates the power that unions can give to women like her mother, she also understands that power can be lost if it's not excercised.

"Perhaps it is now, as a young woman entering the workforce, that I tryly realize the gift I have been given," she writes. "With threats of losing ground on past victories of sick leave and wage increases, women of my generation must also take a leadership role in unions and add fuel to the torch so the shield will be strong enough to protect our future daughters."

Unions also a shield against racial discrimination

Fortunately, it's not only our daugthers who stand protected by strong unions. Those who've in the past suffered from racial discrimination and prejudice also benefit from strong unions. 

"In a world where people see colours like black and white," writes 17-year-old Adele Zhang in her spoken-word poem, Life as Minority Woman. "Preconceived judgements thieve my chances."

But like Richardson, Zhang understands that by standing together in unions, visibile minorities like her have been able to stand up for equal treatment and equal rights.

"I cannot do this alone, and in reality, I don't," she says. "The Union is there for me. They protect human rights, wages and all. They know nothing but humans. My union, your union, they stand tall."

Congratulations to Richardson and Zhang for their excellent entries.

New theme for next month

Next month, we’ll be celebrating Earth Day (on Friday, April 22) and we'll also be observing the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job (on Thursday April 28), so we’re asking for entries on one of the two following themes:

  • Why unions matter to the environment
  • Why unions matter to safety in the workplace

Entries just have to touch on one of those two themes. And depending on the quality of the entries, the judges might award prizes for each theme, or just one prize for the best entry in either theme.

We’re looking forward to your responses! And here’s one tiny bit of advice: so far, the majority of the entries have been poems. We’ll continue to accept and consider poetry, but if you want your entry to stand out, think about crafting something other than a poem. 

Please email your entry to whyunionsmatter@nupge.ca (link sends email).

More information: 

Why Unions Matter contest details



The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE