Walking My First Picket Line

When I applied for a job as a Social Services Worker with my current employer, I was attracted to the job itself, the nature of the work, and the location. As an Employment Counsellor now, I have always maintained the job is a privilege and one I’ve always tried to do my very best in. I love my job.

What I had no choice in, was my involvement as a member of a union. Oh I understand that I could have opted for a job doing something similar in a company that wasn’t unionized. In short with this employer however, if you want the job, you join the union; mandatory. Okay so for years now I’ve paid some of my salary into the union fund and had no choice about that either. Had I a choice, I’d honestly prefer to not be in a union, and have my annual salary based on performance and merit rather than a negotiated plan that others negotiate on my behalf and those whom are in the union like me. But that’s not the present reality.

So here I am on a Monday afternoon. On Saturday, there was a vote to see if we as a group would accept the offer on the table and return to work, or reject it and stay on strike which went into effect last Thursday. I don’t want to get into sharing what the specifics of the offer are, but there’s a modest increase in wages and benefits over the next three years, and for one specific group of workers in our union, there’s some changes they see as good and bad.

The result of that vote yesterday was 51% in favour of rejecting the offer. 49% of us voted to accept the offer. So by the slimmest of margins, the strike continues.

Today I went to picket not because I support the cause, but for two reasons; the $300 per week for 20 hours of walking a line, and to be seen by my co-workers as having not crossed a line, because apparently there were rumours going around I had. In any strike I’ve heard about from people directly affected, there are rumours aplenty, and because I’d not been there Thursday and Friday, I was apparently a convenient target for a bulls-eye.

As I walked around, I was listening to people either agree with my position who also find the strike unnecessary or people talk about how the it’s necessary to support everyone in our union and not have a small group targeted for different treatment.

One of the people I have great respect for is a co-worker of mine. This person said to me how angry they are, and how it’s affecting them outside of work and right into their personal life. Strikes do that. They can change people’s moods. The people I saw there who were smiling, laughing and appearing to be happy to be there were largely the most vocal of those wanting to reject the offer and strike. Union stewards get extra funds to hold their positions, and so while you may walk beside someone, they might be getting paid to be there while you don’t.

Oddly enough, one such steward paraded around with his megaphone and told all who would listen that the 4 or 5 people he was with drove 3 hours to join us from another municipality where they just returned to work after a 10 month strike. 10 months? No work? And this is supposed to rally support for we who are on the line but 3 days? I hope he keeps telling everyone that I thought. Many on the line who vote to strike probably are looking at a short turnaround, not 10 months. That might bring some reality to our situation.

What bothers me and some I spoke with most, is the loss of control over our own income when we cannot cross a line and work at jobs we love, for employers we respect, supervisors who treat us well, and get paid for doing it. After all, it’s my employers name on the cheque, not the unions. It’s a tough situation to walk a line, look like you are counted as being in favour of the strike, when in fact you aren’t. But you could hardly wear a sign on a picket line that read, “Only here to collect my $300 strike pay. I vote to work.” You wouldn’t be very popular.

I respect people’s rights to walk off a job if they believe they are being mistreated. And union’s have done a great deal of good over the years. So we don’t have child labour or unreasonable working conditions in 2014 North America. But it seems to me that if you don’t think you are being mistreated, and you want to work and you want to serve your clients and get paid to do it, you should equally be allowed to do that too. Unions of course don’t support such thinking, because it would weaken their numbers, and numbers is what it’s all about.

And speaking of numbers, how can a union cry, “Solidarity!” when only 51% vote in favour of rejecting a proposed agreement?

I like my co-workers my boss and my employer. I want to work, I want to provide my clients with support and they aren’t getting this, being caught up in this labour dispute. Hopefully there’s a swift resolution, I just have my doubts. I hope it doesn’t turn ugly.

6 thoughts on “Walking My First Picket Line

  1. Another of those paradoxes here, Kelly. I have never belonged to a Union, never wanted to belong to a Union and never been required to belong to one as a condition of employment. The paradox, however, is this. As a collective, people have far more bargaining power than they could hope to have as individuals. The other side of the coin is that the moment a group agrees to act collectively, each of them forfeits the right to exercise any opinion which goes against the opinion of the majority. Collective action precludes the right to any form of individuality.

    Along with the power conferred on the Union by the collective voice of a large group, goes the temptation to use that power coercively, when it can become little more than bullying. Some Unions abuse this power quite blatantly. Others don’t. The same temptation goes with the power of a management position. Some abuse that power; others never would.

    Some years ago. I challenged the management of the company I worked with over policies that I regarded as unprofessional. I knew that what I was saying was representative of the views of most of my colleagues, but I chose to keep my discussions private because I considered that I myself would have been acting unprofessionally if I tried to stir up trouble among colleagues. The result was that I fond myself isolated and in a very vulnerable position. When I handed in my notice on a matter of principle, I lost count of the number of colleagues who said they wished they had the guts to do what I had done. I thought, “So do I.” Maybe if we’d had a Union, I would have faired a lot better.

    I see a lot of benefits to belonging to a Union.I also see many pitfalls. That is why I believe that the choice to belong or not belong to a Union ought to be a basic human right. It is, after all, a matter of how you want to handle matters of conscience if they arise. That ought not to be a condition of employment.


  2. Certainly a challenge, thank you for sharing, Makes me appreciate more my employer and my non-unionized service provider. As an dedicated Employment Consultant, I would not be able to sleep know my clients could not be assisted and supported.


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