Today is official Day 244 since I began working from home in self-isolation for the University of Manitoba Libraries. I have attended a lot of virtual meetings in that time (mostly in Microsoft Teams, but also in Zoom and Cisco Webex) and I just howled with laughter at the image above, which appeared on my Twitter feed a couple of days ago. I need all the belly laughs I can get lately.
The latest news update from the province is grim: Another 15 Manitobans died today, a new record. The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 12.4 per cent provincially and 13.1 per cent in Winnipeg—the highest level yet. At Victoria General Hospital, just a stone’s throw from where I live, the outbreak has expanded to a new section of the hospital, and as of today, 42 patients and 38 staff there have tested positive for COVID-19.
And yet, unbelievably, there are still covidiots out there, who feel that their personal freedoms (and their rights to go shopping and to church) are being infringed upon with the current restrictions being placed upon Manitobans.
Yes, we have out anti-maskers here in Manitoba; in fact, there is an anti-mask rally taking place today in the Mennonite Bible Belt town of Steinbach, south-east of Winnipeg, where the local hospital is already so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that it is treating patients in their cars. The Winnipeg Free Press reports:
As anti-maskers were preparing to rally in Steinbach, the community’s hospital was reportedly being overrun with COVID-19 patients.
It became so hectic Friday, some patients were being triaged in their own private vehicles, because of a lack of space in the Bethesda Regional Health Centre emergency department, the Manitoba Nurses Union said.
Hundreds of Manitobans gathered in Steinbach, Man. to protest COVID-19 restrictions implemented across the province, which led to at least one of the rally’s speakers being handed a $1,200 ticket for violating the very orders they were protesting.
On Saturday afternoon, an estimated 500 people gathered for a ‘Hugs over Masks’ car rally in Steinbach, a city that is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. According to provincial data, the Southern Manitoba city has 263 active cases and has reported 14 deaths – the highest number of any area in the Southern Health region.
The situation here is starting to become surreal.
Oh yeah, and in the middle of all this, did I mention that I might be going on strike? The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (which represents 1,200 professors, instructors, and librarians) recently voted 80% in favour of strike action in an online poll.
Unless an agreement is reached between the University of Manitoba and its faculty association this weekend, the institution will face its third strike in history, on Monday.
As of Friday, negotiations were continuing with the help of a mediator: a hopeful sign. If talks break down, rotating picket lines, socially distanced rallies, honk-a-thons and online campaigns will begin Monday. It will be a strike like no other in Manitoba history.
Yet, faculty association members — instructors, librarians, and professors like me — don’t want a strike. Students definitely don’t want it, either. By all accounts, U of M administrators don’t want a strike.
No one wants this work stoppage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So why might it happen?
In the U of M’s 143-year history, strikes have happened twice — in 1995 and 2016. If it happens, this will be the second strike under Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government. So, this is all on Pallister.
Four years ago, the 23-day strike was held despite faculty and administration agreeing to a small pay increase and commitments to address workload and protect jobs. While the agreement was not perfect, it was enough to get the university running again.
But Pallister sabotaged the negotiations. He commanded the university to mislead the faculty association and withdraw salary increases. This resulted in the university negotiating in bad faith, originally offering a seven per cent pay increase over four years and then – almost overnight – offering two years of zero per cent, a 0.75 per cent increase and a one per cent increase over the last two. Without this, there would likely have been no strike.
Later, after Pallister’s interference came to light, the Manitoba Labour Board forced the university to pay faculty members $2.4 million in compensation.
So here we are, on the cusp of a strike no one wants, at the behest of a premier who seems dead set against the public sector.
Pallister wants to cut public-sector jobs, salaries, and working conditions, period. He’s using the pandemic as an excuse.
I was on sick leave/long term disability for the treatment of a serious clinical depression during the 2016 strike, but I vividly remember walking the picket lines for three weeks during the 1995 strike, at one of the entrances to the Fort Garry campus, in the middle of a bitterly cold Canadian prairie winter.
I am significantly overweight, and have asthma, type II diabetes, and hypertension, all of which put me at a high risk of a severe, possibly even fatal, reaction if I were to become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. I support a strike, but I will not be doing ANYTHING that will puts me at risk, and that includes walking on the picket line. If that means I do not receive strike pay, then so be it; I have sufficient savings to live off of for a month or two, if it comes to that.
We should know by Sunday night whether or not we are going on strike, so I just have to sit and wait.
Jesus Tapdancing Christ, what an absolute fucking mess.