Standing with CUPE 926

By Matt Thomas, Library

Tired and a little scared. Those were my feelings as I stood on the sidewalk near 202 Regina, the morning of Friday, July 8th. Tired from standing for so long wearing sandals a little too old for my feet. And a little scared because I’ve never done anything like that before: standing on an “information rally” picket line, letting passersby know about the key issues CUPE 926 custodians and trade workers at Wilfrid Laurier University are concerned about regarding their contract negotiations, delaying people coming in to work and making noise. Sometimes the people we were delaying were a little testy and didn’t control their cars very well. And those Special Constables, though Laurier employees and supposed to help keep me safe, can be a little imposing in their police-like uniforms and police-like powers. It’s not my contract but the custodians and trade workers are my coworkers. And it is my community that’s being affected by whatever comes out of whatever agreement is eventually worked out: the Laurier community of staff, faculty, students, managers and librarians that I work with, and the Waterloo (and Kitchener) community that I and my kids live in.

I’m one of the 20+ librarians who work at Laurier, and, as most librarians do, I care about my library. With this care comes care for the people who work in and around the library and the rest of the university we’re a part of. And not so long ago, the many custodians that took care of the seven floor library I work in were a part of that group of people. For a long time, when I came into work and brought my lunch to the staff room refrigerator, I would see a handful of custodians, already several hours into their shift and taking a much deserved break. I got to know their names, who they were, and hear about their days, and I would invite them to participate in some of the social things we do around the Library. They were a part of the library’s family in my mind. But I don’t see them anymore. There are far fewer custodians in the library now from what I can see, and the building isn’t as clean as a result.

When I heard about Laurier Administration’s plan to increase contracting out of their work, I was more than a little disappointed. There are several important “bottom-line” reasons for why this doesn’t make sense to me, but the most important reason to me is that this pushes an important group of our community out of our community. Fewer people who are taking care of Laurier who are in turn taken care of by Laurier means that Laurier is not as well taken care of. And we can hardly be considered to be “inspiring lives of leadership” if we are following the apparent trend of contracting out some of our responsibilities, or providing an “intimate community environment” if we don’t take care of those most vulnerable in our community, particularly those who take care of that environment.

That’s why I spent my own time standing with CUPE 926 members out on that sidewalk and will continue to do so. I may get tired and sore and hot from standing out there. I may experience a bit of stress, braving the cars that wouldn’t be able to get me while I’m safe in my office or watching our Special Constables furiously scribbling notes as they stand by the picketing crowd. But I don’t want my coworkers, present and future, to worry that their job will be done more cheaply by a company that may or may not treat their workers as well as Laurier can and does. I don’t want my campus to be cleaned by workers who have no personal stake in me or the people around me. I can’t imagine those other workers being able to do as good a job and I can’t imagine them enjoying their work as much. So I will continue to go out when I can, to stand with my coworkers and friends, to hopefully convince Laurier administration’s negotiating team to recognize the value of those people, and to treat them a little better.

About Matt Thomas

I've been a professional librarian since 2001, a father since 2000, and a nerd since birth.
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