The five-week college faculty strike put education on hold across the province and most media reports were of how students would possibly lose their semester. But what about the faculty? What was it like for professors, counsellors and librarians at Durham College to walk the picket lines for hours a day for more than a month?
The schedule was for faculty members to walk 20 hours a week.
Some of them said the first week walking the picket line was tough. Sometimes the temperatures dipped below zero. Also, walking for four hours or longer outside in the cold holding up picket signs tired the teachers out easily during the beginning of the strike.
“The first week, my wife actually laughed at me because she thought it was funny that my shins hurt after the day,” said Jeremiah Seiden, a design professor.
All teachers said walking was easier as time went on, like starting a workout and getting accustomed to it after the first few days. Deb Tsagris, a psychology professor, said on the first day of the strike, “I like walking, so [I’m enjoying] it. I’ve been feeling energized.”
“As a sedentary person and out of shape, the first couple days were a little sore but [I] got used to it quick,” said Bryan Jordan, who just became a full-time teacher at Durham after 11 years of part-time work.
Marni Thornton, a professor in the Music Business and Management program, who spent most of the strike at George Brown College because she lives in Toronto, found the protesting aspect difficult.
“It was hard all the way through,” she said. “Not doing your affiliate purpose each day was difficult but then we found or personally I found the purpose became standing up for what we think is right and that became extremely important because bargaining wasn’t happening the way it was supposed to be.”
Picketers met some complaints in the form of horn-honking and disagreeable drivers. There were some cars that decided to take U-turns out of the lineup instead of waiting. On Oct. 17, the second day of the strike, a white Honda did not want to wait on Commencement Drive. Paul Wraight, a teacher at DC since 1998 stood in front of the car to prevent it from driving through the picket line. In protest, the car turned on its wiper spray and kept moving toward Wraight, nearly running him over before it slipped by.
The payment for the strikers was $50-$200 a week, and during the fourth week it increased to a maximum of $300 a week, according to OPSEU. Wraight and Seiden said they had been saving up for the strike. Seiden called the strike “a long time coming.”
Some of the faculty credited the strike with allowing them to meet co-workers.
“It’s more of the whole process of being on the lines and the sort of bonds that form, especially the sort of connections you develop are really the most notable things about it,” said Jordan.
The teachers were glad when they were able to see their students again, but some teachers felt frustrated.
“I was glad to get back just to see the kids,” said Wraight. “[But] the fight’s still on. We’re still kind of on strike.”
“I was pretty frustrated to not get paid and then have to come back and pick up where I was left off and then have to deal with a handful of angry students as well,” said Amit Maraj, a teacher who started at Durham last August. “Wasn’t the most pleasing experience in the world but I know we got through it right.”
“I’m glad the strike is over, but the movement is not over,” said Seiden. “[I hope] we see the industry start to listen more and say, ‘Hey, this is not the way to treat people who are coming to work for us.’ I hope that movement continues.”
Wraight suggested the strike was necessary.
“This college needed a strike,” said Wraight, “because strikes are a great team builder, and we needed that. I feel that it did. It was very successful that way.”