Public Values

Museum strikes show no sign of settlement in sight

Labour dispute threatens to disrupt the annual memorial celebrations including Remembrance Day.

Museum of Civilization strikers who are trying to get wage parity with other museum staff.by Mike Martin

A strike by more than four hundred members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa shows no real signs of being settled soon. This is a disturbing development in labour relations in the Nation's capital and is a clear sign that something, besides the striking workers, is not working at two of Canada's most famous museums.

The strike at the Canadian Museum of Civilization is disappointing visitors and locals alike who flock to this location not only to get a glimpse of our past but to have fun learning about our great country. The strike at the Canadian War Museum is both a tragedy and a disgrace. After both Great Wars, Canadian servicemen and women came back home to Canada badly shaken but proud of their efforts to maintain freedom and democracy in the world. For those left behind, "over there", the price was even higher.

  Many of these workers are women who are trying to live and raise a family on a term, part-time or contract basis.

To commemorate these sacrifices, the Canadian people built the Canadian War Museum, a magnificent structure that doesn't serve to praise war but to recall its horrors. The tragedy about this strike is two-fold, first is that it diminishes the contribution of Canadian veterans who fought for freedoms, including the right to freely associate and belong to a union that would collectively protect their interests. But also because this labour dispute threatens to disrupt the annual memorial celebrations including Remembrance Day, November 11.

These are not highly paid fat cat bureaucrats. These are people who work further east of the Canadian War Museum on Parliament Hill. They include archivists, guides, hosts and other floor staff who are trying to get wage parity with other museum staff in the capital and seeking some language in their collective agreement to prevent management from laying them off and contracting out their jobs.

The reason for this strike is not because of the worker's greed or the union's intransigence. Talks with the union broke down when the management of the Museum demanded that workers withdraw their demands for protections against the contracting out of their jobs. Mediation attempts have been unsuccessful and, unless something else breaks, and soon, the workers will still be on the picket line and veterans stolen of some of their glory on Remembrance Day. That is a tragedy and a shame.

In addition, many of these workers are women who are trying to live and raise a family on a term, part-time or contract basis. In fact only six of the fifty-five guides are full-time employees according to the union. They are part of the workforce engaged in what has been known as precarious employment. It's precarious because it's like trying to sleep on a rock near the ocean. One big wave or a couple of missed pay cheques can knock you right off your perch and into dangerous waters.

If you are concerned about fairness in the workplace and want to ensure that Canadian veterans get the respect they deserve on November 11 you can contact:
Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, 100 Laurier Street, Gatineau, Québec, K1A OM8

Or, better yet, send him an e-mail at victor.rabinovitch@civilization.ca

If you want to learn more about this labour dispute and see videos of some of the workers explaining why they feel forced to be on the picket line you can visit the PSAC website at www.psac.com and click on the "Mistreating workers is not very civilized" icon. Your support could be very important.

Mike Martin is a former activist and senior staff member with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness.

Links and sources
  Dr. Victor Rabinovitch - email
  PSAC website

Posted: October 23, 2009

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