Let’s respect all work, no matter the profession
This column is an opinion of Devin Percey, who works in the public sector in St. John’s. For more information about CBC Opinion SectionPlease take a look… FAQ.
The nearly two-week industrial dispute between Memorial University and the university’s faculty association finally came to an official end in late February when the faculty ratified a new collective bargaining agreement. The new deal includes higher wages and formalized commitments to support collegial leadership.
But while students are back in class, there are still lessons to be learned from the strike.
One of the lessons addresses the importance and power of normalizing the dignity of work – the idea that all types of jobs deserve to be valued and respected.
Admittedly, the strike had its uglier moments and finger pointing. There was disagreement over advice on crossing picket lines. MUN’s senior administration has faced criticism from students, faculty and residents, some of whom have veered into the realm of personal attacks.
But most of these incidents have been largely footnotes in the broader public discourse. The faculty council’s handling of the strike was exemplary, focusing on the work of its members and their reasons for the strike.
University professors are highly qualified professionals who earn significantly more than the average in Newfoundland and Labrador. Memorial University gave a figure for the average MUN tenure track/tenured faculty salary of $137,700, although the faculty association disputed the university’s figure.
Workers who make so much money and fight for a higher salary may not be the most sympathetic figures in public, so the faculty association’s decision to strike for better working conditions may have been badly received.
That wasn’t the case this time.
The faculty focused on the value of work
Public perception of the striking faculty appeared to be largely positive. There were no reports of widespread confrontations at the picket line. The strike action was supported by the Memorial University Students’ Union, and hundreds of people came to a rally in St. John’s in support of the striking faculties.
Other unionized staff, union leaders and students spoke to the media and posted on social media about their reluctance to cross the picket lines out of respect for the faculty association’s efforts to secure better working conditions.
I believe that the faculty association achieved this success by focusing on earning the respect of the public. They appealed to the public, taking the time to raise awareness of their workplace issues and getting people to recognize and respect both their work and their profession.
Take collegial leadership, for example. As a concept, collegial leadership is typically learned in post-secondary courses.
But it became a familiar term that has entered the province’s public lexicon thanks to efforts by the faculty association to explain what it is and why it’s important they fight for it.
This effort to get people to see the value of their work shows how powerful the idea of the dignity of work can be.
It also illustrates why it should be a more universal philosophy in everyday life for all possible professions.
Work is valuable, whether it requires physical or mental work. It’s also valuable whether it requires a high school education, post-secondary education, or no education at all.
If Newfoundlands and Labradors have been able to respect our best educated workers and support them in finding better working conditions, then they should be able to do the same for workers in other professions.
After all, all work is valuable, whether it requires physical or mental work. It’s also valuable whether it requires a high school education, post-secondary education, or no education at all.
As the pandemic has taught us, frontline workers such as grocery store workers, food producers and restaurant workers are essential to day-to-day operations.
Skilled artisans such as welders and millwrights are necessary for the province to benefit from projects that help the province’s economy thrive.
Healthcare professionals such as nurses, doctors, and emergency responders work long hours to take care of their neighbors.
The examples of professions and the social benefits their work produces are endless. Keeping this in mind is crucial as inflation remains high and financial pressures continue as it is at times like these that finding fair working conditions is the hardest.
So take the time to show your gratitude to the people whose work touches your life. A simple thank you or a small token of appreciation may not seem like much, but they can do wonders for self-esteem.
Then be willing to listen to others when they talk about problems they experience in their job.
Because if the teachers at MUN have taught us anything over the past few weeks, it’s that when workers feel valued and enough people understand their situation, then those workers can get the fair deal everyone deserves.
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