EDITORIAL: NOSM strike unfairly targeting students

Photo by Callam Rodya
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…

Callam Rodya
Arts & Entertainment Editor


  1. No, strikes are about putting pressure on management in order to secure a collective agreement. If you don’t know why they are on strike, why don’t you ask them when you cross the picket line? They are very happy to talk with people.

  2. Where is the substance to this article?

    You asked if readers knew why OPSEU was on strike, but left it at that without explaining the issues. This article would be much more useful if you had done some research and addressed the issues that they are facing at the table. I find it difficult to criticize them now that I know why they are on strike. All they want is the same working conditions they had at this time last year in writing, while NOSM wants to change their working conditions using language that is unprecedented in academic locals, including working evenings and weekends without regular schedules or overtime pay, and are even trying to include language that could force workers to move to the other campus!

    Appealing to students over an inconvenience is easy to do, but it is more difficult to get them to look past a slight inconvenience and look at the ways that NOSM is affecting the lives of these workers, and that it is actually NOSM that has created the conditions that you find so difficult to live with (so has Laurentian University, with misinformation about free-flowing traffic and trying to create the illusion that they are not involved in the strike situation when they clearly are). You said yourself that none of the student resentment is being directed towards NOSM. This article would be much more useful if you had used this space to try and change that instead of echoing what we already know- there is a line up to get on campus. Instead of simply complaining, why not use this space to inform us as to why this line up exists and what we can do to change it.

  3. Well Callam,
    The clock is ticking…on the workers’ rights in this province. To understand how strikes works it seems you needed to be affected by it. But I do not believe you believe in the right to associate or the right to information picket. Much information has gone out at these lines to explain their position and reasons for striking to people crossing the sounds like you are one of them. So I would wonder how open you have been to recieving the information they are distributing. Did you understand they have been denied the right to picket on Lauretian property so they cannot jsut picket infront of the school entrance, and if they picket just South bay entrance the faculty and staff from NOSM enters via the LU main entrance. Being an editor and I assume a Journaling student of sorts I wonder if you have interviewed any of the strikers so you could offer their side of the story or even give a somewhat unbiased report. Although it is an editorial you should still be informed about the facts that I feel you have grossly left out or purposefully omitted or shall I say “editted”. Shame!

  4. Strikers can be quite unreasonable and seem to take out their rage at the community at large. After going through the strike at Carleton U and the OC Transpo strike in Ottawa, I can say I feel your pain. I feel they do not deserve the right to stop students and faculty from entering the university, especially sections of it that do not concern them.

    Sometimes I feel bad about it, but the best way for the general public to wind down a strike is to show absolutely no support for it. With the Carleton strike, people were itemizing the stupidity of their demands, counter picketing and chastising the picketers, very little community support was shown. As a result the strike was over in a matter of weeks rather than months. As much as I believe the rights of union workers should be respected, they should have equal respect for the people they are trying to garner support from rather than treat them as the enemy.

  5. Mr Barbeau is ill informed because he chooses to be. If he would take the time to stand with the picketers and inform himself as to why they are on strike, he would not be so upset. Sudbury has and always will be a union town. Striking is not what the goal is, a fair contract is all anyone wants. The directors are making incredible wages, even bordering on the ridiculous but they want the workers to give up wages and benefits. Corporate greed seems to be the norm these days as we have all seen what Vale, Extrata, BHP, U.S. Steel and on and on have done to our communities. Now the government has joined them and demand huge concessions from their employees, but the directors, managers and governors have huge pay and bonus increases.
    Mr. Barbeau and others can inform themselves personally by asking questions at the picket line or confront the directors directly. Why is it that the working class has to pay for everyone else? We are the ones that fight for a better way of life while people like Mr. Barbeau benefits from our picket lines. Where would we be today if our fathers and mothers wouldn’t have fought as hard as they did? Minimum wage would still be at $4 an hour and the top wages of the working class would be $12-$14 per hour. Where would our Safety and Health be without the struggles of our unions and the men and women who choose to fight on our behalf?
    If we all stand together, our sons and daughters will have a future and a decent way of life. Solidarity – One Day Longer

    John Landry
    Retired Local 6500 Member

  6. Callam,

    There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already been posted earlier. However, I believe that this article has revealed certain gaps in your logic, which allows an opportunity for you to ask yourself certain questions.

    For example, if you truly believe the statement: “I will fight to protect lawful assembly for as long as there is air in my lungs”, why is it that this strong belief becomes diluted when the lawful assembly affects you directly?

    Similarly, when you discuss your frustration with the long line-ups, why is it that you only blame one side of the labour dispute? Shouldn’t your frustration be equally distributed between both sides of the labour dispute? I understand that the strikers are the faces that you see at the picket line. But the fact remains that – if there was a signed contract – there would be no strikers at the entrances (and therefore no picket lines to delay you).

    Also, I think you may have done yourself a disservice when you said that Sudburians love to strike. Personally, I believe that what Sudburians love to do is stand up and fight for what they believe is fair. I encourage you to be introspective and ask yourself why you believe that people would strike – just for the sake of it (like it’s a hobby). I think it is important that you ask yourself why people would choose to strike; why would they risk their financial safety and their livelihoods? Frankly, there must be more to it than an overwhelming desire to anger people in the community. So why would these people protest instead of acquiescing to their employers demands?

    Finally, if you do take the time to analyze these issues, I encourage you to cast aside any preconceived notions. Often, it is too easy for us to make assumptions and generalizations. For example, often when there is a strike, there is a knee-jerk reaction to blame the workers for not accepting whatever contract was offered. Especially with the recent economic crash, it is very palatable to assume that people should “just be happy to have a job”. However, I doubt that you (nor any of your peers) are paying thousands in tuition and books every year so that you can settle for a career that isn’t lucrative nor satisfying. With this in mind, instead of picturing “union workers” on strike, think of the strikers as rational, everyday people like you and your friends.

    Thank you.

  7. I find it interesting that the students describe themselves as “pawns” and “innocent bystanders” for this protest. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that point of view – the picket line is an inconvenience after all. However, I must say that I am surprised.

    Let’s not forget that post-secondary students are often the most vocal activists for a multitude of projects. Recycling and Waste reduction, Amnesty International, Vegan/vegetarian, ethical treatment for animals, Greenpeace, Woman’s rights, to name just a few. I think we’d all agree that students are the most vocal when it comes to tuition fees.

    Below are two links about students protesting the university’s tuition fee hikes. Tell me, why should anyone who is not a university student care about tuition fee hikes? Why should France Gelinas speak at your a “tuition freeze” rally? (After all, the majority of her constituents probably aren’t students). Why should anyone, who isn’t a student, sign your petition to freeze tuition fees?

    Basically, why should anyone not involved in *YOUR FIGHT* get involved without feeling like “pawns”, “innocent bystanders”, or “too inconvenienced”?
    It’s because it’s the right thing to do. There is a bigger picture, Cal. to quote Pastor Martin Niemöller:

    In Germany they first came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    Then they came for the Socialists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

    Then they came for me —
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    Laurentian students protest university’s tuition fee hike (Sudbury Star article):

    Sudbury students protest tuition fees (Northern Life video):

  8. This is a severely disappointing and lazily written article. Any Laurentian University student who is not completely devoid of the capacity to think critically would be embarrassed by this. As an editor, Callum Royda should have taken the time to become informed of the issues facing students and not focus so much on the inconvenience of slow traffic flow.