This week in the Okanagan teachers participated in the first week of rotating strike action leaving teachers on the picket line, students out of class, parents scrambling for daycare and support workers caught in the crossfire.
CUPE Local 3523 Central Okanagan School Support Staff Workers are among those directly affected by the strike action. Its workers are unable to work because they can not cross the picket line so they do not collect a wage.
Local 3523 says they are 100 per cent behind the teachers and will support the strike no matter what.
“Education has always been chronically underfunded (at least for a decade) and all of us, teachers and support staff alike, feel this and we completely understand what their struggle is,” said CUPE 3523 President Wendy Johnson. “Many support staff employees work shoulder to shoulder in the classroom with the teachers and they see first hand the effects of inappropriate class sizes and composition and we completely understand that point as well.”
Not all support workers feel the same way. One of them, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, says the 'support' from support workers is not genuine, but forced.
“We were told in no uncertain terms, that if we didn't walk in support, and sign in to show that we had, that there would be reprimands/repercussions to follow, including benefits, and other union related options."
This alleged act of solidarity affects 1,390 CUPE Local 3523 Central Okanagan School Support Staff Workers.
“We're getting this shoved down our throats, whether we agree or not; and the majority don't agree with what's going on!,” says the union member.
The support worker is frustrated that they don't have an option to avoid the situation altogether being forced to stand on the picket line for hours.
“We were told union leaders would be taking names (roll call), to see who attended, and who didn't. We weren't given the option of staying away, but told 'we had better be there'. None of us are getting paid. Sorry, we're getting $15 for four-hours of standing on the line in support.”
The president was quick to isolate the complaint.
“That is an individual opinion, but the union as a whole absolutely honours and respects another unions picket line and supports them,” said Johnson in reply to the anonymous worker's concerns.
The union president acknowledges that it may be hard on her members to lose the wage, but didn't waiver on her union's support for the BCTF.
“We don't get paid that day, we honour the picket line and refuse to cross and therefore we don't earn a wage that day,” said Johnson. “Yes it is hard for anyone to lose a days wages, but we strongly believe in supporting our sister union.”
She also confirmed that members of the union, regardless of how they feel, must follow union rules and have no way to argue or fight the 'union way.'
“We will never ever cross another union's picket line, period.”
This support staff workers says they no longer want the picket lines painted as 'love-in'.
“It's a dog and pony show, and another union is forcing its members to do this, against the direction/favour of its own members.”
Are you a support staff worker affected by the strike and want to share your opinion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.