As we prepare for our next bargaining sessions, we also need to prepare for every possible outcome. We understand that this process is new to many of our members, and that the prospect of a strike is concerning.
While going on strike is certainly nothing like, say, laying in a hammock by the pool, we do think that knowing the facts will make it less frightening. So, we'll use this space to share information and perhaps a few opinions. Please remember, you can reach your elected bargaining team by email to ask any questions you might have. Being informed and prepared makes us strong.
Our most recent date at the table was Friday, January 23rd. This was our second attempt at trying to address the financial portions of our proposal package. Prior to that, we met Dec. 19th. At that meeting, it became clear that the Employer was not willing to make any significant moves to deal with our remaining demands, and so we had filed for Conciliation--a special session of bargaining facilitated by a government-appointed mediator.
In the January 23rd session, the employer's position did not shift significantly from the previous demand that CUPE members accept two years of wage freezes (no, there is not a big number in year 3 to make up for it). There has also been no willingness to consider increases to the funding of the Health Benefits plan, to raise the amount individuals can claim from the professional development fund, or to guarantee that current funding will be maintained for scholarship amounts such as the Research Fellowship Award which all TAs currently receive. Because of this, CUPE and the Employer agreed to request a 'no board' report from the conciliator, the official document that starts the countdown to a legal strike/lockout position.
We'll be back at the table on February 25th and 26th. The earliest date a strike/lockout could take place is Feb 27th (technically, at 00:01 in the morning).
Once upon a time, going on strike meant going without an income. The ability of employers to literally starve workers out gave them an enormous upper hand, and so unions began to save member dues to establish strike funds.
As members of CUPE, we are eligible to draw from a very deep well for support. In addition to CUPE National's strike fund, Local 3908 has also saved enough to increase the daily rate of picket pay to $100. Members can receive picket pay for up to 3 days/week. Those who are unable to walk/stand on picket lines for medical reasons may perform alternate duties. The strike committee will make every effort to find picket shifts that don't require you to miss important commitments such as classes.
A group of workers who each, individually, made the decision to strike or not strike would easily be dominated. Our strength as a union comes from our ability to act collectively. The union is not an entity that exists apart from you as a worker--it is you, and your coworkers. The decision to strike if a fair agreement can't be reached is one that is made democratically, through a vote. It is important to realize that the decent wages and limited but important benefits we take for granted were fought for by members of our local in previous rounds of bargaining.
Without their willingness to strike if needed, our working conditions would certainly be poorer. So, if you truly oppose strike action, please consider asking Trent to deduct the approximately 20% of your year's salary that research has established as the 'union advantage'--the amount by which unionized workers' pay exceeds that of non-union workers.
Being on strike means that you withdraw your paid labour, but you remain a student. As a student, you have paid tuition and Trent has an obligation to you. Although you will experience the same inconvenience as everyone else at the picket lines, you are not prevented from fulfilling the requirements of your academic program. Attend class, work on your project, spend time in the library. Then come and talk to your friends about it on the picket line, instead of marking papers and holding office hours.
Ask us. The more you know, the stronger we all are.