Let me apologize right off the bat. We’re going to talk about the “S” word.
That’s right. Anyone who belongs to a union eventually has to face the possibility of a strike. A strike is the ultimate action a union can take against an employer. It’s the final and most powerful tool in our arsenal when we are fighting for gains, defending against concessions and standing up for members’ rights.
Having said that, it’s a tool that is rarely used. Despite what some media outlets would have you believe, strikes are rare in unions. In fact, approximately 97 per cent of all of OPSEU’s contracts are settled without a strike. It may seem different, mostly because strikes often gain a lot of media attention. What doesn’t get media attention are the real issues that led to the strike, or the hundreds of times we negotiate a contract without a strike taking place. The media is never interested in that.
Strikes cause hardship. Everyone knows this, so the decision to go on strike is never taken lightly. In public services, strikes cause hardship for employers who temporarily lose their workforce. They cause hardship for the public who lose the services they rely upon. And they especially cause hardship for the members who are walking the line and trying to survive on strike pay.
That leads to what I want to talk to you about. As many of you know, bargaining for members in the OPS is not progressing well. Negotiations for essential and emergency services have begun, which, when completed, will allow for a legal strike or lockout. Despite the best efforts of the OPS Bargaining Teams to negotiate a fair settlement for their members, the government appears to be doing everything in their power to ignore the collective bargaining process and trigger an OPS strike.
This means members in the OPS, if they already haven’t done so, must prepare now for a strike. Without preparation, a strike can be financially devastating for you and your family.
What can you do? Actually, prudence, planning and just a little common sense can go a long way in easing the effects of living on strike pay for the duration of a strike (and while I am primarily directing this to members of the OPS, every OPSEU member should take note of this if your contract is coming up for renegotiation).
Delay expensive purchases. You may want a new car, new appliances or to plan a much-needed holiday, but you will need the money a lot more if you are on strike. If you don’t have to buy something right now, don’t.
Talk to the people you owe money to. Make an appointment to see your bank, your credit union, your landlord, etc. Explain that you may be on strike and money will be scarce. Most institutions will allow you to defer a month’s payments to the end of the loan. See if you can defer or spread out payments for taxes, insurance, utilities, cable/internet, phone…anything for which you receive a monthly bill. The important thing is to do this NOW, and not wait until a payment is due (or overdue).
Pay off credit cards (if you can). These high-interest “loans” are a huge financial burden. Credit card companies are also less sympathetic to missed payments. Only pay the minimum amount for the time being, or consider talking to your financial institution and getting a debt consolidation loan to ease the monthly payments.
Stock up on food and supplies. Take advantage of sales and stock up on groceries and needed household supplies to help carry you through a strike.
Talk to family and friends. Can someone help out with daycare while you perform strike duties? Pet-sitting? Now is the time to get these supports in place so you aren’t scrambling for last-minute help.
Coordinate with co-workers. Plan ahead of time to carpool to strike locations to save on gas.
Personal preparation for a strike can also have some unintended benefits. Not only will it help to ease your stress levels, but it will have an effect on the employer as well. Nothing makes an employer happier than a group of workers who are unprepared for a strike. They know, when the deadline is close, that unprepared members are more likely to swallow a bad last-minute offer. If workers are prepared for a strike, that can be a game-changer.
While it is always wiser to plan well ahead of time, it is never too late to start. I know it is difficult to plan for a situation you would rather not think about, and want to avoid. Everybody struggles with that. But I was taught a very simple strategy: Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
Whatever the outcome, your union will be at your side.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
1st Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU