by Aparna Halpe
After the 2017 strike ended, we have all devoted our considerable energy into getting on with the job of educating our students, but due to the dispersed nature of our work environment, many of us feel that sense of solidarity and comradeship that was so strong on our picket lines is slipping away.
During the strike, we won a big battle; in arbitration we gained much, and conceded nothing. Most significantly, we regained the right to grieve jobs through Article 2 of our collective agreement, and, for the first time, have an article dedicated to academic freedom in Article 13.
But as soon as the Ford government came into power, an attack on education began — we lost our provincial task force, we lost Bill 148 which impacted our students, contract faculty and staff, our students are looking at devastating cuts to OSAP and student organizations, and collectively, we may be looking at free speech policies that could potentially be used against students and faculty alike.
If we are to take these issues on and fight back, we need a robust, dedicated body of stewards who can articulate the needs of our membership, connect with students on our intersectional struggles, and be proactive in the future of our union.
What does a steward do?
- Communicates and helps organize
- Is a point person when members need to consult on grievances
- Is a link between members and the Local Executive
- Acts as a resource for members
- A steward is also an important participant in the processes leading to collective bargaining, and is a representative of the larger union, OPSEU
What does this translate into, day to day?
- Stewards know their community intimately and are available to members who need to consult on grievance issues
- Stewards attend Local Executive Committee meetings throughout the semester (note that OPSEU provides assistance to meet daycare needs)
- Stewards are encouraged to participate in community building actions in whatever capacity they can (for example, if you can’t be at a rally, promote it on social media, and do a teach-in on the issue for your students; help organize a coffee hour for your colleagues to discuss the issue)
- We forge lasting relationships with colleagues, listen to their very real concerns, and offer tangible support
- We have the full weight of the union behind us and have the capacity to challenge the strong arm of management when it goes against our collective agreement
- This is an opportunity to explore creativity, talent, and strength, and in doing so, to make our college better, safer, and fairer for our whole community
As we prepare for our next round of bargaining, which will most likely take place under a Ford government, let’s make this a movement defined and led by stewards as a collective force for change.