March 29, 2000
It is rare that I write letters to the editor these days for one fundamental reason, history shows that the media tends to only take bits and pieces of information that best suits their needs to sell information to the public.
I would be more inclined to comment if we, the public were afforded balanced journalism that reports on both sides of issues and allows the public to decide which is more credible. However, due to the seriousness of the current CUPE strike and media coverage, I feel compelled to put forward the following comments.
Firstly I would like to say that many CUPE workers are parents as well and dislike the current situation as much as anybody. Not only do they need to find alternate day care, they are also losing their wages during the strike.
If we are going to lay blame and put guilt on people by saying "think of the children," then why not look at the employer's side of the table?
There have been several opportunities over a long period of time for the employers to come to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith to conclude a collective agreement.
However, the employers have decided to drag their heels, put their responsibilities aside and hope the government will intervene, declare education an essential service and legislate workers back to work. I say this is not bargaining in good faith as directed by the Labour Code. It is a form of blackmail and the employers should be held responsible for the current strike and the children being out of school.
One of the main outstanding issues is volunteers in the public school system, CUPE workers are not opposed to volunteers. What they are opposed to is volunteers replacing workers within the bargaining unit, this is their livelihood and their only job security. Today it may be librarians, tomorrow teachers aides and so on. Soon funding will be reduced and the public school system will have to rely on volunteers in order to function.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, it could lead to a two tier system of education, one in the public and one private for profit, similar to what the Alberta government is trying to do to health care. Hence if you have enough money, you can buy a good education.
Here's an option - Get back to the bargaining table, define the bargaining unit and allow for volunteers to assist over and above the job classifications to make a good system better! By doing this, it would be a win/win situation for all of those involved.
(Art Larocque is a member of the NOLC executive.)