ON THE LINE Worker solidarity rock solid despite weeks of insults and injuries

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“CAN YOU JUST USE YOUR CAR TO HURT PEOPLE?” The answer “no” didn’t seem at all obvious to Tara Maszczakiewicz on August 23.

Tara was sent to hospital with a broken foot that day. She got it when a driver ran the legal picket line she was on outside the Family Health Organization in Owen Sound, Ontario. Over a dozen drivers have recklessly run the line with their vehicles since the strike started on May 22.

“In what universe would it be alright to drive a car into people?” asked Smokey Thomas, the visibly angry and outraged president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU),

“We’ve got trucks and vans barrelling through the picket line of a group of mostly women who are exercising their constitutional right to improve their working conditions and the quality of care they provide,” said Thomas.

What if it was fists not cars?
“I’m sure they’d do something if people were hitting these women with their fists—why aren’t they doing anything as people hit these women with their vehicles?”

“All this violence is being fuelled by one thing: the disdain and contempt of the three millionaire doctors who own the clinic. They’re all just punch drunk with greed.”

The roughly 30 nurses, clerical and custodial staff of OPSEU Local 276 are simply asking for pay and treatment equal to workers doing similar work at other community health clinics.

Private owners make it a whole lot nastier
Strikes are never Sunday school picnics—but the strike at the Owen Sound clinic is particularly nasty and mean. The attitude of the three millionaire doctors who own the clinic have made it that way.

The Owen Sound Family Health Organization is a private business—set up to make money for the doctors who own the building and hire the staff. Their goal is the same as any business: namely, reduce costs and increase volume. Their “clinic” is run more like a factory turning out widgets, than a medical care facility handling vulnerable people: dozens of doctors service more than 30,000 patients, who they cycle through as quickly as possible.

Working there is no fun (more than 70 people have quit over the past six years.) Quality of patient care suffers due to management practices. This rigid and self-serving management style led to a complete breakdown in attempts to negotiate a strike settlement.

OPSEU filed a complaint with the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons against the owners of the Family Health Organization and some of their senior administrators over the harassment and some abusive language directed at the striking workers.

The conduct of the employer is shockingly unprofessional and OPSEU is demanding the College hold the clinic owners accountable, said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.

“I worked for years as a Correctional Officer and I received my share of verbal abuse from inmates, but I have to say I’m shocked by what has come out of the mouths of these doctors,” said Almeida

Managers have hurled insults and even objects at the workers. In one instance a female doctor came out to fling handfuls of printed cards at the workers. The message on the card read:

“You could have been anything—a pizza chef, an Elvis impersonator, an astronaut! You chose to be someone who harasses people as they try to access medical care. GREAT CHOICE! Your family must be so proud.”

The doctors’ Executive Director has screamed at picketers, calling them  “cunts” and “cocksuckers.”

The drivers who recklessly drove through the picket line were a dangerous extension of the highly-charged, insulting and disrespectful approach from the doctor-owners.

Police have been present and active on the line to ensure the safety of all since Friday Aug. 31

When they go low, we go high
Misogyny is another troubling aspect of the doctors’ rude and crude attacks on the strikers. Most of the 30 workers on strike are women. The fact that “mere uneducated women” would have the audacity to stand up to the men running the clinic seems to trouble the managers as much as what the workers are asking for.

But the longer the strike goes on, the stronger the workers are feeling. Recently a group of them commemorated their solidarity by getting matching tattoos, the Celtic symbol for sisterhood.

“I’ve never felt stronger and more sure of myself,” said one of the women recently. “I’ll never let a boss treat me badly again.”

The doctors finally agreed to sit down again for talks with the union on September 4.


This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.  

Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.