Workers at Toronto Hydro voted in favour of a strike if their employer doesn’t meet their demands. But ironically, the union itself perhaps needs to meet the demands of some of its own members.
The issues in the dispute with Toronto Hydro include sick plans, vacations, and post-retirement benefits. These issues are reflective of an age group that is either middle-aged or close to retirement.
And younger employees — including some students working extracurricularly or “on co-op” — are just not a factor. Generally, they’re under fleeting contacts (with a maximum lifespan of 12 months). They’re not guaranteed a position in the company later.
There are more than 100 students at Toronto Hydro, according to a student working there. They pay a mandatory monthly fee of $40 to CUPE Local 1… a union that believes in “strong worker representation” that will ensure that they get fair treatment in the workplace. But are student members well-represented within CUPE? The short answer is no.
And if the broader membership goes out on strike, so, of course, do the students. And it’s the students who will be among the hardest-hit. There’s a huge financial difference between middle-aged employees who’ve had the opportunity to set aside some savings and students who are still paying off their loans and trying to make ends meet.
Nevertheless, there is some hope in CUPE’s National Strike Fund benefit. However, the benefits only take effect on the tenth day of the strike — and only pay $60 a day, with a maximum of $300 per week under the condition of clocking “at least 20 hours of picketing or other assigned duties per calendar week.”
This issue extends beyond the possible strike at Toronto Hydro. It involves all unions that have regulations that don’t consider the different conditions of students versus regular union members. Is it fair to prevent students under short contracts from getting paid for demands that aren’t theirs?
Ultimately, this is not an attack on the strike, CUPE, unions, or skepticism over the legitimacy of the workers demands. Simply put, students, who are temporary employees, should be exempt from falling in the grey area of rules that include mandatory strikes that only harm them instead of benefiting them.