Today was my first experience walking a picket line ever in my life. While I had hoped that negotiations wouldn’t have come to a strike, now that it’s official, I can now add “picketing” to my list of skills on my C.V.
So, I was signed up for picket duty from 7 am to 11 am–the very first shift. I had already decided that I was going to carpool with anyone who was interested, so after waking up around 5:45, I picked up fellow FESers at my place and at Downsview Station. The traffic was super-light at 6:30 in the morning, so the commute zipped along.
With the car parked in a strategic location, we walked across Steeles Avenue to our picket line: the Northwest Gate. Union members in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, the English department and the department of Kinesiology are all stationed to this picket line.
Today’s temperatures were going to be an asset, but at 7am the sun isn’t up and it was cooler than I might have expected. I think I’ll be wearing the down vest for my duties tomorrow morning. 7 am rolled around and we didn’t have the fifteen needed to stop the traffic. We waited a while longer and a few more union members showed up, so we decided to start the job.
When we started, we were told that our gate was special because York hadn’t agreed to let us picket on their property. This meant that in order to be legal, we needed to picket off property: this meant in a narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and York’s imaginary boundary. Our job here is to stop cars for two minutes, then let them go through. In the two minutes that we had ’em, our picket captain speaks with the driver and hands out a pamphlet listing our concerns.
With only a handful of exceptions, most drivers were understanding and neutral to supportive of our position. We had perhaps what I would call irate drivers who rushed the line / got visibly upset at the whole idea of having to wait. We got a lot of honks in support and a few middle fingers from the drivers along Steeles. Certainly a highlight was the flotilla of UPS trucks leaving the depot all giving us a honk.
I’m jumping the gun a bit here, because our human picket line needed to be replaced with barricades and some sense of a procedure. People who seemed in the know suggested that we set up our line on York property as it was safer for us. Luckily before the morning rush occurred, we got organized with traffic pylons and barricades. The whole picket line did seem to become a whole lot safer after we got ourselves going with a procedure. Funny how a few objects (metal gate, plastic pylon) can give structure to something.
The photo above was taken at one of the barricades looking West down Steeles. You can see the line of traffic waiting to enter. As the line got longer on Steeles, we decided that we should decrease the length of time we would hold the cars to 30 seconds. We were concerned that if the line go any longer there could be the possibility of an accident due to the fact that Steeles dips to the East and drivers might not see the line from the bottom of the dip.
We got visitors today, including supportive former members of CUPEÂ (and apparent friend of the English students) who brought Timbits and got us coffee:
And the media:
I suspect this will be the last we see of them for a while.
That pretty much summarizes my first day on the picket line. There was a certain novelty to it; that will no doubt wear off. It was nice to get a procedure and flow to the line. I imagine that as we continue to do this, that will only improve. There is no doubt that walking is quite boring. Having the camera is a nice way to punctuate the circling, so I plan to continue to bring it with me. The weather was pretty much a non-issue. As things cool back down, this will certainly become more of a pain.
I suspect that we’ll be here for a while. We usually get paid once a month and we’re not suffering any (perceived) financial loss until November 25th. I can guess that the University will wait beyond that date to make any kind of offer.