When I came to Simon Fraser University as a newly minted assistant prof without tenure, I had been a private sector entrepreneur for 10 years, and was not pro union. Used to teach the usual anti-union cases business profs commonly do.
Then a very senior full prof in my faculty took a dislike to me. She accused me of research fraud to the VP Research. I was investigated. The first meeting with the VP was scary and threatening, even though I was sure I’d done nothing wrong. He wasn’t listening to me.
That’s when I turned to the faculty association. Second meeting with the VP, the association president came with me. Totally different. The VP admitted the charge seemed false. It was dropped.
A year or two later, I came up for contract renewal. The senior prof tried to get me fired, with secret written accusations to my Dean. After a few more years, I came up for tenure and she tried to ensure I didn’t get it. Both times the union rep guided my appeals through the system to successful outcomes.
I became a big believer in the faculty association. Left to myself, I would have perished, probably on all three occasions. I told the rep that if I survived the tenure process (it took 2 years) I would join the association executive. The day the final decision came through, the nomination form appeared on my desk. I’ve been on the executive most of the last 17 years, was the official rep helping people with tenure problems for about 14 years, and was president for 3 one year terms. I was the president who organized our successful drive to become a legally recognized union four years ago, against the opposition of the university administration. Before that, we were a “faculty association”.
Individual workers have no defence against the capriciousness of administrators and senior personnel who violate the rules to gain what they think right, or efficient, or in their self-interest. The union exists to see that the rules are followed, that justice is balanced with mercy, and to campaign for wages and benefits that are in line with industry standards, to the best of their ability.
This I know, absolutely: Unions are all that individual workers have, if they hope to be treated fairly, or even humanely.
Addendum, March 14, 2017: In terms of Neil’s sentiments, remembering the help offered by Michael Hogben, murdered in 1992.