By Callam Rodya
It has finally come to an end – and this time, it’s for real.
On Friday, Nov. 5, the striking Northern Ontario Medical School support workers of OPSEU Local 677 voted 78.2 per cent in favor of a new tentative agreement that had been reached with the school. On Monday, Nov. 9, the NOSM board of directors in turn ratified the first collective agreement with the striking staff.
“Our members waited patiently for the right deal to come along and today’s agreement was the one they were prepared to support in a democratic fashion,” said Tyler England, chair of the OPSEU bargaining committee, on Nov. 5 after the union vote.
This brings an end to a labour dispute that appeared to have no end in sight, after a first tentative agreement reached in October was overwhelmingly rejected by OPSEU members. About 150 administrative and clerical workers from both the Laurentian campus of NOSM and Thunder Bay’s Lakehead campus have been on strike since Aug. 16.
“I am pleased that the OPSEU Staff Unit and NOSM have reached a first collective agreement,” said Laurentian president Dominic Giroux. “NOSM management, faculty, and staff will now have to re-energize and refocus their efforts as a whole school to implement the new Strategic Plan.”
SGA president Samantha Pitzel expressed relief on behalf of the association that the dispute had finally been resolved.
“We feel that [the strike] had a needlessly negative impact on students,” she said. “Frankly, OPSEU and NOSM showed a complete disregard for student welfare, and the university, who is supposed to have our backs, was altogether too hesitant to step in on our behalf.”
She also called for the establishment of better strike protocol in the future “to ensure that students’ interests are looked after in cases like these.”
Giroux acknowledged the inconvenience students and staff faced during the strike.
“I sincerely appreciate the patience shown by Laurentian students, faculty, staff, and guests,” Giroux said. “Negotiating a first collective agreement is never easy, even more so at a time when the federal and provincial governments are facing record deficits, and any cost increases result either in higher tuition fees or spending reductions. Most importantly, I am pleased that Laurentian students, faculty, staff, and guests will no longer be impacted by this labour dispute.”
The most visible sign of the strike’s end is the free-flow of traffic to and from Laurentian University. City of Greater Sudbury Transit buses have also resumed regular service through campus.
Throughout the dispute, Giroux often found himself in the cross hairs of picketing workers, with his name and contact information routinely emblazoned on signs and leaflets distributed at campus entrances. He takes it all in stride.
“That’s part of the job,” he said. “I am not going to start complaining about that.”
He is quick to point out that he was not the only one.
“In August, the Dean of NOSM was targeted,” he said. “When classes resumed in September, I was targeted. I have made a point to dialogue regularly with striking workers on the picket line, as we have tried to do with student representatives as well. At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. These relationships will determine future successes of NOSM, and that’s why I am pleased that the OPSEU Staff Unit and NOSM have reached a first collective agreement.”
About eighty-five percent of eligible OPSEU workers voted on the tentative agreement, indicating strong overall support for the deal.
“I think people are happy that they’re returning to work,” said England. “We didn’t get everything [the members] wanted, but we got most of what they wanted.”
He added that contractual negotiations will be happening again in 14 months.
With files from Shailagh Keaney.
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