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Unionized workers rejecting more deals as fight for wage gains presses on

Unionized workers in Canada are becoming more assertive in rejecting proposed deals as they strive to secure better wages, experts suggest.

According to Barry Eidlin, a sociology professor at McGill University, there has been a noticeable increase in workers turning down agreements recommended by their bargaining committees. This shift reflects rising expectations among union members and a growing willingness to take a stand.

Recent events support this trend. Workers at a Nestlé chocolate plant in Toronto went on strike after rejecting a tentative agreement. Eamonn Clarke, president of the local Unifor branch, notes that it's become challenging to secure approval for these agreements due to heightened cost-of-living concerns.

Larry Savage, a labor studies professor at Brock University, observes that rejections of tentative deals have become more frequent, driven by workers seeking to improve their financial standing amid a cost-of-living crisis. Factors such as inflation, a tightening labor market, and pandemic-induced inequalities are contributing to this phenomenon.

Eidlin and Savage agree that the current climate has fostered a sense of union militancy, evident in both strikes and rejected agreements. Workers are emboldened by successful examples of resistance in various industries.

Clarke emphasizes that worker expectations have risen substantially, leading to a rejection of deals that would have been considered favorable in the past. Employers, caught off guard by these rejections, are now being forced to offer more competitive packages.

The rejection of proposed agreements isn't solely about wages; workers are also advocating for improved job security and fair benefits. Instances such as the Airbus Canada workers' multiple rejections highlight a growing trend of unions strategically leveraging failed ratifications to strengthen their bargaining position.

While government data on tentative agreement votes is lacking, Eidlin points to a surge in union militancy in 2023, as evidenced by increased strike activity. This shift underscores a broader movement among Canadian workers to assert their rights and demand better compensation and working conditions.



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