Saturday, 12 December 2015

One Year

As of today, it has been one year since the labour dispute between AUPE and SAIL ended.

When I first began thinking of a commemorative post to mark this day, I had at first thought to write that this marks 1 year of freedom.

Unfortunately, I realised that would be a lie.

Yes, we are free from months of picketers invading our private homes, but we are not free of the effects of their actions.

A couple of months ago, there was a white cargo van that parked on our street for a while, in about the same place that AUPE’s Ryder van had been parked for so many months. One member described how, seeing that van brought out feelings of rage and the desire to do violence.

At about the same time, someone rented a Ryder truck. It was parked on our street for only about a day or so. A different member described the PTSD triggered by seeing that logo outside their window again.

Some members of our community were affected less than others. A few were fortunate enough that their work schedules allowed them to miss the worst of the activities. For them, life goes on, I suppose. It is the others that concern me. The ones that, even after all this time, when the topic of the strike comes up – and it most certainly still does – it immediately brings out anger, anxiety and frustration.

In November of last year, AUPE’s complaint against SAIL was brought up before the Labour Board. They had originally asked for five days, including Remembrance Day, but the Board only gave them three.

These proceedings are open to the public, and several people from our community were able to attend on the first day, a Wednesday, and shared what happened. The entire day ended up being SAIL’s lawyer questioning AUPE’s negotiator.

During questioning, AUPE’s negotiator had to admit that AUPE knew that SAIL’s contract with AHS was in process, and therefore did not know how much funding they would get to pay the staff, right from the start. He also had to admit that AUPE knew that they were picketing a community, including families with young children and seniors, and not just those who used SAIL services.

The final straw, however, was when AUPE’s negotiator had to admit that he had told someone that AUPE intended to continue filing complaints with the Labour Board against SAIL, until they succeeded in bankrupting the company.

The thing to keep in mind about that last part, however, is that AUPE’s reason for picketing our homes, rather than the SAIL office, was that they viewed Artspace, the Co-op, and SAIL, the subsidiary company, as one and the same. They used Artspace financial information to claim that SAIL could afford to pay what they were demanding.

So when AUPE’s negotiator was saying that they intended to bankrupt us, they meant all of us, not just SAIL. Now, legally, I don’t think that was even possible, but with rumours and misinformation swirling, it certainly caused a lot of people anxiety.

On top of this, one member who was present recalled AUPE’s negotiator explaining why they chose to target SAIL and Artspace the way they did, early in the proceedings; that they believed those of us who lived here were lacking in intelligence, and they felt we would quickly capitulate.

Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that recollection, since the person who remembered it has since suffered a stroke and is now in long term care.

Once their negotiator, under oath, admitted their intention of filing complaints until bankruptcy, AUPE ended the proceedings, withdrew their complaint, and went back to the negotiating table.

By the Friday, word was that the striking health care staff had voted to accept a severance deal.

We all hoped this meant a deal would soon be signed.

Instead, they showed up again over the weekend at our home, yelling about how they intended to picket for the entire winter.

They then continued to picket for a couple more days, before a complaint was made about how their picketing like this during negotiations didn’t exactly look good.

Then, we waited.

Amazingly, things dragged on for another month, as AUPE continued to make other demands, even at the cost of losing the care staff their severance.

Many of us still remember how excited we were when word got out that the deal was signed. It was over! And yet, we couldn’t say anything. We later learned that, after one person wrote a post in a community Facebook page, late that night, about the end of the strike, SAIL’s president got a call from their lawyer because of a complaint from AUPE’s representative, who had to be scouring Facebook to pick that up at all.

So even though the labour dispute was ended, we weren’t really allowed to talk about it. While the staff striking staff would not be returning, we had to wait another 6 months or so for the paperwork to be processed, and SAIL was no longer unionised. Until then, we felt there was the very real possibility that AUPE would find a reason to return to our home and continue picketing. Only after SAIL was de-certified, would we finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Yes, today it the official anniversary of the end of the strike. Technically, it was over.

And yet it was not over for many months, and even today, the effects are felt. After all this time, many of us have a visceral reaction when we hear shouting outside our windows, especially early in the mornings. After all this time, when all seems fine on the surface, when it comes up in conversation, we quickly discover that it’s still there, boiling under the surface.

I think one of the things that has, in the long term, resulted the most damage is how much we, as a community, have lost trust in those who should have been protecting us. How many of us no longer bother to phone the police when we see something, because we no longer expect them to show up, or if they do show up, to do anything? How many politicians did we write and call, all of whom did nothing? How many of us tried to file complaints with the Labour Board, only to be given differing information and the runaround?

This dispute has had a profound effect on our entire community, and we learned a great many positive things. One of the things we learned is how strong we really are. We learned to turn to each other for support. It brought many of us together, when our paths might not normally have crossed.

Unfortunately, we also learned a great many negative things. Many union supporters in our community were shocked and betrayed by AUPE’s actions, colouring all unions in a negative light as a result.  Union members who did not openly support AUPE were harassed, and some kept quiet, out of fear for their jobs.

We also learned that there is a reason “infiltration” is part of the regulations as a banned activity during strikes. Sadly, we’ve learned not only who we *can* trust, but whom we cannot. 

 We’ve learned the media does a terrible job of getting even the most basic facts right, no matter how much effort their cameramen and reporters on the ground take to get the information accurately. Many of us no longer trust the police, and have found politicians to be pretty much useless.

One thing is for sure. While the dispute is over, the damage it did to our community is permanent.

What happened to us has happened to others, and will happen again, elsewhere, because right now, we live in a culture that has accepted this abusive behaviour; behaviour that, had it not been under the umbrella of a “labour dispute” would normally have resulted in police action, at the very least.

We have somehow come to expect this sort of behaviour during labour disputes. We have somehow turned the laudable goal of worker’s rights and allowed it to become something dark and damaging.

Perhaps, as long as we could say that, since it was happening at the work site, it’s okay. We could tell ourselves that the only people being hurt were those nasty, greedy employers who were taking advantage of poor, downtrodden workers.

This time, it happened at our homes; our private spaces. Most of the targets had nothing to do with the labour dispute, and only a limited number of us had any say in the matter.

But this also happens at other people’s homes. It just happens that those homes are also senior’s residences, long term care centres and the like.

These actions target our most vulnerable; people who are utterly helpless and unable to defend themselves, not so much because they are physically incapable, but because of where they happen to live. 

It targets our mothers and fathers, our grandparents, our recovering ill, and our loved ones who simply can no longer care for themselves and need the help of others to care for them.

What sort of culture have we become, that this sort of abuse is allowed to happen?