Let’s be honest: Sudbury loves its unions, and Sudbury unions love to strike. Well, maybe they don’t “love” to strike, per se, but they seem to exercise their prerogative to strike much more liberally than I’ve noticed in other communities. In the 14 years that I have lived in Sudbury, I’ve seen about a dozen labour disputes erupt outside of everywhere from INCO and Falconbridge to the Sudbury Star and the CBC.
However, in my time as a Sudbury resident, I have yet to find myself personally-impacted by a labour dispute in the community – until now. These days, spending half an hour in a long vehicle queue being intimidatingly-eyed by picketers has become standard practice coming to campus thanks to the ongoing labour dispute between the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and support staff of OPSEU Local 677.
Not only is this strike causing major travel delays for everyone trying to get to (and sometimes from) Laurentian, it is also verging on becoming a public safety issue, with vehicle lineups routinely stretching to the access points of the Sudbury Regional Hospital.
Strikers have also become inconsistent and unpredictable, changing their tactics often to prevent students, staff, and others from planning an efficient arrival. Even leaving campus in a timely fashion has become unrealistic.
“I left at five-thirty and it took me about twenty minutes to get off campus,” said Nick Barbeau on Tuesday evening after finding himself stuck in a twisted line of cars trying to leave the school grounds. “Strikers were holding everyone up and they were doing it randomly. They’d stop one and just let four others go. They weren’t talking to anyone.”
It would seem that strike organizers have found a perfect picket grounds – Laurentian University, with only one major access point, high traffic density, and lots of people on a tight schedule.
But is this an effective tactic? After all, isn’t the purpose of a strike to disrupt the business or institution you are disputing with while rallying the support of the general public? Well, we have the disruption to be sure, but the public’s support is distinctly missing, especially among Laurentian students. All over campus, you hear the echo of resentment towards the picket lines among the student body, but generally none directed towards NOSM. Clearly, the day-to-day disruption is not resonating well with the general public.
“When INCO went on strike, they didn’t go to the mall,” said Barbeau. “Students don’t have anything to do with this strike at all and I don’t think they’re putting much effort into letting the students know why they’re there.”
The change in picketing tactics also makes it nearly impossible to weather the storm and minimize the disruption it causes.
“They’re not even consistent,” says Barbeau. “Some mornings they’re there, some mornings they’re not. They change entrances, so I can’t even plan ahead.”
Barbeau’s sentiments reflect the general student opinion that I have been hearing since classes resumed two weeks ago, and with no end in sight after another failed round of talks, one has to wonder how far these striking workers are willing to go. Their signs read “Dominic Giroux is on the NOSM board!” and “Dominic Giroux has the power to end this strike!” They are handing out leaflets with Giroux’s phone number and email address, urging us to tell him to put an end to the dispute.
But aren’t we university students? Don’t we have enough on our plates as it is? Are we really being asked to bombard our own university’s president with harshly-worded correspondence at the behest of these union people? Not only are we being unfairly-targeted by this strike, but we are also being told to clean it up.
Also, can any of us actually articulate the reason why this labour dispute exists in the first place? We know they’re there. We know how it is impacting us. But do we even know why? And are we beyond the point of being receptive to their “plight,” let alone being sympathetic?
Personally, I have heard enough, seen enough, been stuck in traffic long enough, to now have permanently closed myself off to the side of the OPSEU Local 677. I support unionization (to a degree), and I will fight to protect lawful assembly for as long as there is air in my lungs, but this strike has imposed a chaos on this campus that goes too far.
I hope strikers heed this message: If they do not resolve this dispute in a timely fashion, or at least alter their tactics to reduce the disruption to students, they will loose our support forever. And isn’t that ultimately what strikes are about: gaining the support of the people?
The clock is ticking, OPSEU…
Arts & Entertainment Editor