Thursday, September 27, 2012

In Good Faith?

Negotiations give me a gut-ache.

The inability, perceived or otherwise, of honestly disclosing or discussing an acceptable endstate in order to reach a compromise can be incredibly frustrating, whether you are buying a car or watching a billionaire psych out a municipality in order to get a better arena deal.  The fear of ending up with less than one might have had, or with nothing at all, forces most involved to overstate their positions so they can back away from the precipice later.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the necessity of it, I just don't like it, on a very visceral level.

Let me give you an example: Audrey's union is still on strike, having rejected the $200 overture they were offered last week.  Last Friday, the union made an offer to the school district, since the district didn't appear to be forthcoming with one.  They asked for time to look it over before responding.

When no response came on Monday, no one was really surprised.  Honestly, if there is not too much pressure from the public or parents about the missing staff, there is not much impetus for the district to resolve things quickly, unlike the way they would if, oh, say, the teachers were on strike and all the students had to stay home, not just those with special needs.  And it was unlikely the district's negotiating team would get together over the weekend, for many of the same reasons.

Tuesday came and went without an announcement as well.

When the same thing (i.e. nothing) happened on Wednesday, I was pretty disappointed.  The back and forth of negotiations prior to this point had transpired in days if not hours, but now it was going to take a week?  The union had scheduled a negotiation update meeting for Friday morning, were they going to have anything to talk about?

At the same time, some staff said they had received requests from their administrators to return to work, to cross the picket lines; that they had been told the union couldn't really do anything about it.  Some of them did.  Maybe they were opposed to the strike in principal, maybe they desperately needed the money, maybe they thought they were helping the children who couldn't attend without teaching assistants present.  At least one of them changed their minds and went back to the picket lines, perhaps out of principle, perhaps out of the practical realization that when the strike inevitably ends those who stayed away will once again be their co-workers.  It's hard to believe that the negotiators, many of whom were school principals and ATA members, would put their staff in such a position, but there you are.

Today, the district announced that they would meet with the union negotiators, at 2:00 Friday afternoon.  I saw this on the ECSSA website , and immediately texted Audrey, asking her to keep her fingers crossed, but the more I thought about it, the more disheartened I became.

If I was trying to demoralize strikers in a context like this, I would hold off on rejecting their offer right away.  I would wait until Friday afternoon, so there would be little chance of the result making the evening news.  I would let the end of the month come and go, so that the looming bills of month end, and the realization that September is gone could really sink in.  I would put these generally overworked, underpaid individuals, who see their hours shortened with increasing regularity, in a position where they are begging for a break on their rent, or some relief from their mortgage payments, or borrowing money from their own parents in order to pay for their children's school fees.

I'm really hoping that I'm wrong about this. but my aching gut tells me I'm probably not.

In the meantime, I hope the strikers don't buckle.  Yes, it is a hardship with Audrey being out of work, and the loss of her benefits would be even worse, if the union hadn't stepped in to cover the Blue Cross bills for the striking workers, but if it becomes a matter of principle, I am more than willing to go to the mattresses over it. On the ECSSA website, there is a fascinating article about the importance of trade unions and the right to associate, and the right to strike, not just to 'the West' or Christianity, but within a specifically Catholic context.  It's called Laborem Exercens, and it is a bit dry, but makes just as much sense now as when Pope John Paul II delivered it back in 1981, you know, back in the Solidarnosc, Lech Walesa days.  My guess is that the Catholic School District's negotiators either haven't read it, or question its applicability to current standards, which, given the reluctance of The Church to progress, would be ironic if it weren't so tragic.

Now, as then, it is encouraging to see others willing to take a stand. Here is a note from today's strike update:

Today a young man went to deliver food to the downtown school board office. When he got to the picket line he stopped. He put the food tray down on the ground and waited. When asked, he said that he was a former student and if it wasn’t for us and our help in the RAP program he would not be working right now and he would not cross our picket line. He phoned his boss. Boss said, “Deliver.” This former student said, “No, these people supported me, now I can support them.” Then he waited, proudly standing with us, because of us.
Eventually someone from inside the building came out and picked up the food. 
Our influence does not end at the end of our increasingly shorter shifts. With our patient guidance we are able to support our students to becoming principled members of society. We are continually a living model of social justice. We are not alone.

On Friday, the picketers are being encouraged to wear jerseys to the ECSD headquarters and St. Joseph's High School, in an effort to steer conversation away from the NHL lockout and the arena deal and onto the people who look after our city's children.  It's been suggested they customize their jerseys to make them more relevant.

If you find yourself driving down 109th Street on Friday, and see some people in jerseys, carrying placards that talk about ideals like 'fairness' and 'security' and 'dignity', I hope you will give them a honk.

It can get lonely and depressing out there, and no one seems to know how much longer it might go on.

Or if they do know, they certainly aren't telling.

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