Yesterday’s wildcat strike by AUPE support staff workers at roughly 20 facilities ended quickly last night. Details are a bit vague on the settlement but it sounds like the dispute will head to binding arbitration and the employer will not pursue retribution against individual strikers or AUPE. You can hear my CBC interview here.
AUPE is sticking to its story that this was a spontaneous action by workers and that it was caught unawares.
That certainly could be true. Yet a number of folks I’ve talked to are skeptical of claims that no one at the AUPE mothership knew what was going on.
Consider these facts. The strike occurred on the day that AUPE had organized information pickets (basically creating circumstances that could lead to a wildcat strike). The strike spread rapidly to 20 facilities (although social media could explain the speed of the spread). And AUPE was able to quickly get all workers back on the job (a true wildcat is often much more difficult for a union to control).
It certainly looks a bit too organized to be a true wildcat where the membership goes out of control. AUPE has multiple interests in maintaining this story. First, a wildcat strike (where individuals got pissed off and walked out) is a much more sympathetic storyline than the union organizing a strike.
Second, a wildcat suggests that the union didn’t do anything wrong, perhaps delaying the impositions of sanctions. When AUPE organized an illegal strike in 2000, it ended up with a $200,000 fine, a two-month dues suspension, and a pile of legal bills.
Third, a wildcat allows the union to argue it needs some movement from the employer in order to get the workers back to work. What precisely AUPE got in this deal is hard to say. The press coverage framed (or revealed) AHS as jerks at the bargaining table. One of the AUPE ads that was up briefly online yesterday (and has now disappeared) was a surgical processor (someone who sterilizes instruments) talking about her wages ($22/hour) versus the $267/hr the 61(ish) AHS vice-presidents make. Zing!
It showed AHS (and other employers) that AUPE isn’t to be screwed with. It also amped up the pressure on the government to loosen the purse strings. And give workers and opportunity to vent some of their frustration—knowing their managers were doing their jobs while they walked the line on a sunny winter days.
We’ll likely never know what the real story is. But we do know that the strike was reasonably effective. Perhaps other unions will take note?
-- Bob Barnetson