Why I Walk the Line at U of O

Women make up about 81 per cent of PSUO-SSUO’s membership. PHOTOGRAPH: MARY RUTH ENDICOTT

I was cold today. And wet. And quite frankly, more than a little pissed off. This was my second day on the picket line, third day of the strike. And I'll tell you, it's not a situation that is pleasant. I wish I could just work and get paid and take care of my family.

But there's one thing that has been driven home for me since the beginning of the end of the world (aka, the global pandemic), and that is: I’m not wearing a mask and keeping my distance for just me, or my family. I'm doing it to keep as many people as safe as possible while we navigate this crazy time. And that's what I kept telling myself today on the picket line, as I stood in a never-ending puddle, getting splashed by trucks and cars, freezing, hungry, angry.

It sounds so trite — a drug-prescription-coverage reduction of 20 per cent. And other less tangible cuts. For me and my family, in the end, it would be small-ish potatoes in the grand scheme of things. But then I’m not doing this for just me. There’s probably someone reading this right now who’s facing a future where, from one day to the next, their home finances will be massively impacted.

I’ve been blessed with good health. Others aren’t so lucky. And it’s those people that my employer has chosen to target. The most vulnerable ones among us will be the hardest hit. Seems like a theme and a pattern in this horrible year 2020.

Soaked Shoes & Surpluses

So, even though I was stewing in my soaked shoes earlier today, I remind myself that our fight isn’t just about our own personal situation. It’s about over 1,300 people. It’s about standing up to an employer who, despite banking multi-million-dollar surpluses and showering the execs with substantial pay hikes, insists on using its leverage to beat us down a little more. A little bit lower.

Before the strike, staff worked quickly and tirelessly on behalf of the university to convert the entire fall schedule into an online format, knowing that, by doing so, we would be giving our employer leverage in the event of a strike. And, indeed, despite our sincerest efforts to support our student community, despite the tireless hours worked to make sure this academic year would go off without a hitch, we’re now being bludgeoned with the very stability that we ensured with our hard work.

Rain or Shine

So, tomorrow, rain or shine, cold or not, wet shoes or not, I’m going to keep fighting. Because I keep picturing a family in despair trying to figure out how they’ll pay for their now unaffordable prescription drugs. Or the soon-to-be mother being told that their maternity leave isn’t as important as it used to be. Or the new employee who will never benefit from the same pension advantages as their colleagues had. Or the team that is losing co-workers to stress leaves because the employer refuses to staff empty job posts.

Keep fighting, guys. And through the frustration and anger, keep this in mind: we fight for those of us who will be crushed by these cuts if we accept them.
Support staff at the University of Ottawa have been without a collective agreement since May 1, 2019. University management forced a vote on their final offer on June 26, 2020, and 80 per cent of the membership rejected the offer. The key issue is the university wants staff to accept a 20-per-cent reduction to their drug plan coverage. — OT

Deny Trudel works as a Business Expert in the University of Ottawa’s Registrar's Office. He is a member of Support Staff uOttawa (PSUO-SSUO), which is part of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) District 35.