26 February 2018

Strike Vote.

Just got a letter sent round from the university regarding the potential of a strike in the coming days by the TA's, GA's and Contract Staff. The gist of the letter is that the administration has bargained in good faith and it will not be their fault if the union goes on strike. That, I am afraid, is BS, but it does bring back memories.

I used to be a TA back in the day. We had repeated strike votes, all of which voted against the strike. They all followed a set pattern. It went like this: weeks of negotiations, no progress made, the administration not only refusing to make concessions but demanding we make concessions and take pay cuts and cuts to our work force. Then, at about 3AM the night before the strike vote, they would make some concession, and a tentative agreement would be reached. Great, right?

Well, no. It was a cunning tactic on the part of the administration, and they used it because it worked. First off, it meant that the team would come into the meeting bleary eyed and half out of it, hand out the agreement, and we would have about five minutes to look at it before we could vote on it- hardly enough time to consider all the ramifications.

Here's what happened at my first vote. I came in, and all around me were people carrying their strike placards and signs. They had already been made up and prepared. The strike was a foregone conclusion.

Then the team came in with the tentative agreement. They recommended we vote on it after a brief discussion.

I should here point out the idiocy of my union and the way it was made. At the time we had only the Ta's and Contract staff. We did much the same jobs, but our interests were completely different. They wanted security. We wanted to be able to live while we finished our degrees. In reflection of our divergent interests, we were split into two units, 1 and 2, but voted together. Lastly, and this was an incredibly stupid idea, the union was set up to be super democratic, so fifty per cent plus one was not enough for a strike vote- we had to have sixty per cent.

A union is not a monolithic group: it is various as the individuals who make it up. Some people were ready to go on strike unless every last demand was met. Some were ready to vote against the strike, no matter what. The rest were varying degrees of wait and see. Because we were in two units, that meant we had two groups of wait and see. Because of the sixty per cent needed for a strike vote, management only had to sway one group of wait and see to avoid a strike.

As we looked at the tentative agreement, I could see that the Contract Staff had made progress in almost all their demands. The TA's, however, were offered nothing, and I mean nothing. We were given a dental plan, which was rolled back in benefits after one year, and made voluntary after two. They never intended on giving us a full dental plan that we never asked for in the first place. It was there to make the Contract staff feel better about selling us out.

Which they did. The people who had been holding up signs and chanting about the Perfect Union, and You Can't Break Us! broke the union themselves and sold us down the river. I had two more strike votes after that as a TA, and the exact thing happened again, and then again. Over the six years I was a TA, my salary increased by 5 cents per year. That's it. I was paid five cents more in my sixth year than I was in my first. Meanwhile, tuition more than doubled over those same years.

I don't blame management. Their job is to try and run this place as cheaply as possible. It is the job of the union to make sure none of its members gets screwed by management as management pursued that goal, and the union failed utterly.

However, in the years after I left, my old union did go out on strike twice. The reason why is because the management stuck to its old plan long after it ceased to be viable. You see, because they gave the TA's nothing year in, year out, it became cheaper to employ TA's than it was to employ Contract Staff, so they began to use a higher percentage of TA's and a lower percentage of Contract Staff. The result? Contract Staff could no longer block a strike vote. They still can't. We'll have to wait and see if the management has learned the lesson, and this time tries to placate the TA's.

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