Strike At Carleton: Personal Statement

We are now three weeks into the strike by CUPE 2424 workers at Carleton University. They provide utterly essential support work for students and teachers alike. The University, which initiated this dispute by trying to change well-established language on pensions in the union collective agreement, seems to think it’s “Business as Usual”. It isn’t. My students have had labs cancelled. We regard these as an essential, hands-on, part of a physics course, and usually around a third of the course grade goes on performance in the labs. This term, my students have had either one or two labs cancelled so far, out of five lab experiments scheduled during the term. They are missing out on valuable lab experience as a part of their degree. In addition, many essential student services are also not functioning. I do not agree with this at all, and I call on the University to get back to the negotiation table and resolve the situation.

The University is also putting me into an impossible moral dilemma. One of the jobs carried out by our CUPE 2424 colleagues is to collect and enter lab and test grades into the central gradebook on the University Learning Management System, cuLearn. Without those grades, we cannot calculate a final course mark for the students at the end of the semester. Naturally, I do not wish my students to be disadvantaged by not getting grades at the end of term. But, then, neither do I wish to do the work that would normally be done by a striking employee. These are directly contradictory to my personal moral codes, and I bitterly resent being put into this conflicted position. I have had to start taking my anti-anxiety medications again. I lay the blame squarely on my employer. To my students: try not to worry, it will all work out in the end.

The heart of the dispute is the control of the pension scheme. The University would like to remove language which restricts what it can do with the pension scheme. Obviously, they have calculated that there will be a financial advantage for them in the future, if they can alter the payouts, and this advantage offsets the present dispute, disruption and turmoil. In my opinion, pension rights, which are deferred earnings, are extremely important to protect. A quasi-public organization such as a University should maintain the highest possible pension standards. A race to the bottom on pensions will not benefit any employee, in either private or public sectors. So, to the students who feel, quite understandably, inconvenienced by the picketing and the job action, I urge you to take the long view. It’s not easy at age 20 to think about pensions and retirement, but it will matter to you later.

Oh, and in case you think I have a financial conflict of interest in this, I don’t. Contact instructors like me are not part of the Carleton pension scheme. We don’t get any pension plan, despite teaching a third of the courses at Carleton. But, it’s important that we voice our support. We all need a good work environment.