Monday, 10 September 2007

The CUPE Strike at Carleton University: A Student's View

If you ask an honest student, they will tell you they don't enjoy school very much. Homework, tests, assignments, presentations, final exams...and I have to PAY for it? Nevertheless we all grit our teeth, drain our wallets, and study our brains out because we know our schooling is only a temporary displeasure that will help us significantly in the long run. A temporary displeasure that is, until CUPE 2424 started their strike on the 5th of Sept last week.

On this day school turned from a temporary displeasure into a throbbing headache. Simple services taken for granted such as IT support, librarians, lab workers, admin/office assistants, and TAs have been suspended indefinitely pending a favouring outcome in the bargaining process. Although the absence of these services has not been extremely detrimental to the student body as a whole, our tuition (which was required paid by the first day of classes) should ensure these facilities are available. It would be nice, for instance, to have TAs (teaching assistants), librarians, or tech support. CUPE 2424 states that its staff touch almost every part of a student's day on the university campus, and I wholeheartedly agree. I cannot begin to describe how painful it is to call the Registrar with an important question or academic alteration only to find out the entire support staff is on strike, leaving one manager to service the entire undergraduate population; or to email tech support asking for assistance...the printer in the Library still won't print the research data for my 1st presentation.

I know also I am not the only student affected by this strike. While standing in line for some time this morning for a new student ID card (the length of lines on campus now call to mind images of former USSR citizens waiting to buy bread) I was approached by a member of CUSA (Carleton University Student's Association). She was systematically traversing the line, handing out information pamphlets, and ensuring each individual in the line understood the position of CUPE 2424 and the purpose of the strike. When she came to me I mentioned I was surprised to see a student so cheerfully siding with the support staff who deserted students during the second most important time of the year (the first being final exams).

This CUSA member explained to me that she sided with CUPE mainly because, by not adhering to the union's demands and forcing its members to strike, the Carleton University administration was denying student's access to services our tuition has already paid for. She went on (and on) about how the professors and other employees had received 4%, 4% and 4% wage increase over 3 years and the CUPE workers were only offered 3%, 3% and 3%. “This is not about money,” she insisted, “it's about respect, and about Carleton University ensuring that students are provided with the services they have paid for.” She went on to say how Carleton University's employment offer even withheld vacation pay from the workers!

Surely this is a catastrophe! I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at her. I had no idea that the Carleton Administration had threatened to break the law and defy the ESA and the Ontario government by withholding vacation pay to their employees (last time I checked, CUPE members are not Crown workers, farmers, or fishermen). Upon questioning her further, I was astonished to see how vehemently she defended the actions of a group she evidently knew very little about.

Upon visiting I learned that the rally on campus this morning was attended by over 200 people – including 100 students! I am again astonished by the support of students in this strike and upon questioning them further I can only conclude they have notions of “sticking it to the man” and “defying the establishment.” This attitude closely resembles the tactics the striking CUPE members have been taking over the past week – schoolyard bullying. Under the guise of presenting both sides fairly, CUPE members have been bullying the student population into supporting their cause.

Their tactics, which include everything from underhanded internet posts to the disruption of traffic along both the Colonel By Pkwy and Bronson Ave are nothing more than a pathetic attempt to gain support for a lost cause. Susan Arab, CUPE national representative puts it best when she says “We regret the inconvenience to students and the campus community, and encourage students and their families to put pressure on the university administration to return to the table with an equitable contract offer, so we can resolve this conflict.”

This method of bargaining was called bullying back when I was in elementary school, and I fail to see how it can be called anything else at the present time.

CUPE 2424 lost my support the moment they added 40 minutes to my daily driving time, and annoyed the heck out of me in hopes that I would cave and pressure the university to meet their demands. While I do sincerely hope that an agreement is reached soon and that services on campus are restored, this is one student from whom CUPE will never see support.

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