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Tamsin Johnston

Tamsin Johnston (OCSM 2nd VP and Regina SO Delegate) shares her perspective on the millennial generation and its relationship with unions.

Unions and millennials share values, but where is the millennial voice in these organizations? What are unions doing to ensure millennials are heard? During the 2021 federal election, I spoke on the phone to Tria Donaldson, the NDP candidate in my riding, and she shared with me this: younger people have to be convinced that they have a say in their future. They will only get involved in a way that makes a difference to their communities if they feel their efforts will be recognized and taken seriously.

Unlike our baby boomer parents and their storied decades of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll during the late 1960s and 1970s, the millennial experience of the digital age is a lonelier, more fragmented path. Around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, the oldest among us were new to the workforce, and not a single one of us will be unaffected by climate change. Our parents, on the other hand, were able to pat themselves on the back for simply putting out a recycling bin on garbage day. According to Michael Hobbes in his article “Millennials Are Screwed,” we are the first generation in modern times to end up poorer than our parents due to ec-onomic forces that have been building for decades.

Paralleling the stagnation of wages and industry disruption that millennials have inherited is the decline of union membership in some Canadian private-sector industries. This is a result of workforce changes in response to the current demand for goods and services. The unions that have succeeded in retaining membership and in bargaining are those that have evolved to reflect the needs of their members in a changing society. The CFNU (Canadian Federation of Nurses Union) is a good example: today, a union member is more likely to be female and older. While achieving gender equality in the workplace continues to be of paramount importance, the boomer generation has made great strides in attaining pay equity, paid maternity leave, and the banning of gendered discrimination. But where does this leave millen-nial-aged women, some of whom are already in their early forties? Their economic circumstances haven’t necessarily allowed them to buy a house, get married, or start a family — boomer-sanctioned adulthood ideals.

Millennials, without a doubt, have made the best of the cards we have been dealt as a generation: leveraging the emergence of technology and social media to blend our personal lives and our interests seamlessly into our professional lives. We’ve created a flexible structure out of what is so often piecemeal work; we’ve turned the “gig economy” into interesting and desirable living situations that reflect our values; we’ve shaped our identities by being creative about our relationships and finding our communities online.

It’s clear that union values are millennial values. Unions must take advantage of millennials’ desire to engage with their communities, recognizing that we prefer to work in a task-oriented setting rather than a hierarchical one, that we care about representing diversity, and that we value sustain-ability over profit. Our generation is poised to org-anize workers and revitalize an economic force for good so that the workplace becomes fairer for all.