As I said in my last post, there seems to be an almost inevitable tendency in the media to report on academic labour conflicts in ways that associate unions primarily with strikes, rather than the work that they perform happily for the vast, vast majority of the time.
One “macro” way to address this might be to recast strikes in terms of their socio-political significance, i.e., in relation to larger social phenomena. The other — “micro” — way would be to place attention on the stories of individual workers, rather than merely talking about “the union” as a monolithic entity that somehow exists outside of the individuals who comprise its membership.
So, in the spirit of that latter approach, I wanted to pass along two messages that I received from support staff workers. I thank them for sharing their stories with us:
I have been a member of the support staff for more than 30 years.
I work as a student advisor, logging at least 10 extra hours every week (with NO extra pay) just to keep up with the volume of inquiries from students, faculty and administrators — trying to make sure folks get the info they need in a timely fashion. Most of my fellow support staff are hard-working, dedicated, kind and diligent workers, much like you describe: smiling, professional and helpful, pitching in to help wherever and whenever needed.
I have 4 college diplomas and certificates. Updating my education and remaining current is essential to what I do. I pride myself on being a college graduate and only wish the council of regents would recognize the value of those educated at the institutes we work in Kind of ironic, isn’t it?
I love what I do, otherwise I would not have stayed in the field. However, there is a time for the college administrators to show their respect for support staff, and the time is now.
BTW, everyone who comes to my office gets a piece of chocolate!
And the second…
As one of those “Why don’t you get a job?” strikers, here are some of my comments from the other side of the cardboard OPSEU sign………….
I started my work supporting post-secondary students 15 years ago as an EA graduate and was considered “casual part time”, meaning that I was to work no more than 24 hours weekly, with no benefits and no guarantee that a job would be there for me at the beginning of each new semester, yet I still stayed in that job, to give support to our students. There was an amazing reward each and every semester from students who found that, with our helpful support, they could in fact be successful, when so many others had told them that they would not achieve success at the post-secondary level.
As a widow trying to raise a son on limited wages, I knew that post-secondary sector was where I wanted to work, and when a full-time position was posted at our college for a Learning Facilitator, in the Learning Support Services area of my college, I jumped at the chance to have job stability, decent benefits and the ability to show my young son that his Momma can rise above life’s challenges and provide for him.
Work ethic I have, my love of what I do is obvious, and when I was asked as part of the collective group to stand up for present and future jobs at our college, I readily agreed. If I don’t do this for our future young people, who will? Certainly not the people who drive by giving us the insulting hand sign as we are trying to get our information out to the community. Certainly not the people who yell out of their truck windows as they speed by…”Why don’t you get a job?”
Why are some people so misinformed and polarized in their anger with us for doing what we believe is the “right thing”? This is our challenge… to keep the lines of communication open to inform those care enough to learn.
My immediate hope is “the powers that be” see that coming back to the table to resolve the outstanding issues is the productive way to demonstrate to our young people that issues can be discussed, modified and subsequently resolved in a timely and mature manner.