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How the Fall 2017 Ontario College Faculty Strike Affected Me

This is the first time I am being completely open about this, and now that it has been a year since the event, I feel more comfortable talking about it on places like the Internet.

One year ago, all the college faculty in my province went on strike after the union and employers failed to reach an agreement at the bargaining table in mid-October. The faculty had more contract workers than full-time, yet the pay was low and both sides didn’t talk for weeks, locking me and half a million of other students out of class.

It began shortly around the start of October when I first heard of it. My anxiety got the better me and I started to lose sleep because of it. My parents said that if it happened, there was nothing I could do; but see that’s the problem, anyone who suffers from anxiety we hate not having control over things.

As the deadline loomed closer I kept watching the news for updates and praying that the sides would reach an agreement. It was a very bad time for a strike to happen because I had a midterm coming up on minor ailments/OTC drugs and in lab class we were going to learn how to dispense blister packages. Sure, a strike is no big deal if you’re in a program where all you do is read books and write papers, but if you’re like me and did a lot of hands-on work, it’s no good if there’s nobody to teach you how to do it.

Red flags began popping up in the next 72 hours as I continued to monitor the updates and soon got emails from my program coordinator that if a strike were to occur, she would be out of touch. My lab instructor gave suggestions about what we could do during the strike. That didn’t help much because it was like she was suggesting we teach ourselves how to prepare blister packs which is not what my parents paid a thousand dollars for.

The weekend before the deadline followed and everything seemed peaceful at first as I helped my parents prepare for their week trip. I had also started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition around the time which really helped me take my mind off my concerns. But come Monday morning after they left, I woke up to hear the worst and burst into tears when the news said faculty had officially walked off the job Sunday evening.

During the first week while my parents were away, I refused to come out of my room throughout the week and watched as my brother went to school continuing his education. Looking at more news articles to see images of the striking faculty only made me feel worse. I started venting on Twitter joining the other students at different colleges and began signing petitions. I heard that some students, most notably at Fanshawe started their own rallies. One petition circulated the Internet for all students to receive a full refund that equaled the number of days lost. The only time I was able to put my mind off the strike was when I played Inquisition; Being engrossed in the world of Thedas was my only relief so I started binge-playing whenever I wasn’t venting or trying get any homework done on my own.

I spent a lot of time crying as well to a point where I felt hopeless, but part of me never went to any extreme towards dropping out or suicide. I just felt like I couldn’t stop and at the same time I was angry. Angry over the fact that these people were walking the picket lines locking me out of class. It angered me to see faculty tweet about how happy they looked as they continued to fight. Whenever I asked my dad to drive me to the campus, or I took the bus there myself to work on some things I could only do on the school’s computers, it hurt me inside to see the picket line. I would struggle not to cry and look away.

All I could think of was tweeting to those people to stop using me and 499,999 other students as pawns to get what they wanted. That is, before my parents tried to get me to see the other side of the story.

It wasn’t just the union, it was the employer to blame as well. By the second week I decided to send an email to the College Employer Council’s CEO. I explained to him my career dreams and how eluding talks to reach an agreement with the union would only jeopardize half a million’s student’s semesters, their holiday plans, and graduation. After sending the email, I posted a screenshot of it on my Twitter and it got so much attention from other students, and pages advocating for faculty.

By the third week, my mentality improved as I learned both sides had gone back to the bargaining table and I had other things coming up that would surely distract me from the strike such as my mom and I were going to see Katy Perry that week. When my dad drove me up to campus so I could do some more work, I mustered up the courage to talk to the faculty when we were crossing the picket line. I told the man who stopped us about the email and he sounded proud and I overheard the picketers applauding as we drove into the lot.

However, after the concert, things once again made a turn for the worst as the strike entered its fourth week. The talks dissolved once again and the council called for a vote. Immediately, faculty vowed to reject the council’s offer. I found myself shedding angry tears wanting to call them selfish for not thinking about the students. This led me to rage on Twitter that we were still not being properly addressed. At the same time, I read the council’s offer on their website and wanted to ask myself, why would they reject it? It seemed like the offer addressed all of the union’s demands. But this is how these things work.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want them to reject the offer. Tons of students were also protesting to accept the offer so they could go back to class. If any rallies were near me, I would have participated as well.

I struggled to put my mind off of it, especially when my dad was due for his hip replacement surgery. I accompanied him to the hospital and tried to remember that family was the most important thing to me aside from my career. I was able to move past it at least for 24 hours knowing the vote was within that time-frame. It was hard to get by, and soon I had to face reality.

Halfway into the day, I checked Twitter again only to have my heart slashed into two learning the faculty had rejected the offer and the strike was to continue. I dropped onto my bed devastated and wept for hours until my eyes were inflamed with despair but also rage. All the while I was thinking: “How dare they! I’ll never achieve my dreams now! My career is over!” I proceeded to lash them out on Twitter for continuing to crush my dreams. I lost control and did not realize it until my parents sat me down to realize I had gone too far. I didn’t want anyone to see what I said and have it impact my professional life, nor did I want to sound as nasty as Donald Trump on Twitter.

I’ve had problems with Twitter before that indicated it wasn’t the place for me, but this was a wake-up call. With that being said, I realized I could not stay on that social media platform any longer, so I deactivated my account for good. Twitter permanently deleted it a month later. So if you’re wondering why I’m not longer on Twitter, well, you have your answer.

Not only did my emotional outburst cause me to lose control, but it also made me oblivious to what happened right after the news was announced. Almost immediately, the Liberal government (they were in charge at that time before the Conservatives took over this year) jumped in tired of watching from the sidelines and began the process of back-to-work legislation. Although the NDP tried to block it, I wasn’t concerned about them being successful at that forever. However, the Liberals still lost my vote at the following election for waiting too long to intervene. The back-to-work legislation was successfully passed on November 19th.

I went back to school the following week.

It took about two weeks for me to get back into the groove of things. The time I spent working on my compliance pack prescriptions of what I could do at home paid off, as I got ahead in the class. I didn’t have to write that midterm the first week back but still had the week to study enough to write it next week efficiently. I also had all my papers to hand in that the faculty required for placement.

My Christmas break was only shortened to two weeks instead of three, but surprisingly, that didn’t bother me because generally, after a week off, I tend to get bored quickly.

I also look back and realized that this is one of the big examples of how my anxiety impacts my everyday life. The truth is that I had a very light workload that semester due to in Winter 2016 I had failed a course and had to retake it in the Winter 2017 semester, and Fall 2017 semester was where I was to complete the last course required to go out on placement in 2018. My situation was nothing compared to my classmates who were taking a full load.

I was also worried about graduating on time by June 2018; I didn’t want the strike to push my graduation date back by a few months or a year. I already faced one setback when I had to repeat a course and I didn’t want another. You can see how overly anxious I was about something that never really had a huge impact on my life like I thought it was going to.

Think about it: the reality ended up being post-strike that I was able to catch up again with my work in no time, I was still able to hand in my documents for placement well before the deadline, I still had a reasonable winter break, and I was able to graduate on time. I worry too much about little things and this experience felt like a wake-up call too. I’m trying to improve it, but there are still challenges.

But I tell you, the day I went back to school and my lab instructor wanted to talk to us, deep down I still wasn’t forgiving about it so I chose to keep silent for that, and when my other prof talked about it and her time on the picket line.

And that’s my story as a survivor of the 2017 Ontario College Strike and now I am a proud grad of Humber College climbing the ladder to become a Registered Pharmacy Technician, or RPhT for short. If you read this and went through the same experience, or something similar, I encourage you to share it with me in the comments. I would love to know how you got through it whether it was worse or better.

To end this off, this experience taught me one thing; never accept being treated as a pawn and always remember, things will work out in the end.

👽Emily

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