- by David McLaren

'Scab' is not a very pretty word for 'replacement worker'. They 'scab' over the gap in the workforce created by a strike. But they do not heal the wound that caused the strike in the first place. In fact, they make it worse.

That's certainly the case for the 12-week strike at the Goderich salt mine, and the 15-week strike of the Health Centre in Thunder Bay, and the 10-week strike of nursing, clerical and custodial staff of the Family Health Organization in Owen Sound.

In Goderich, workers finally had to barricade the road into the mine to keep the scabs out, and that brought the company back to the bargaining table. In Owen Sound, strikers had to slow down traffic. In Thunder Bay, the picket line is more polite – perhaps one of the reasons that strike is the longest running of the three.

It has to take a toll – seeing people, some you might know, crossing your picket line to do your job. Here you are trying to win a wage you can live on and your bosses won't even talk to you. In fact, they think your job can be done by teenagers. So much for patient confidentiality and the professionalism that entails.

If your workplace wasn't toxic before the strike, it will be after. In the case of Owen Sound, a 2016 survey of staff showed two thirds felt bullied or harassed. Since 2009, 70 have left the Organization.

On the days I walked with the striking workers, that toxicity played out on the picket line. Family Health management cussed out employees and their union representatives. A member of the FHO swore at a clerical worker and threw refuse at her as he drove by.

Respect for workers – or rather the lack of it – is often behind long and bitter strikes like these.

As the Harvard Business Review points out, giving respect – owed and earned – is pretty much business management 101. But it's the one thing that seems to be in increasingly short supply these days.

Of course, not paying people who work for a living enough to make a living is another form of disrespect – a particularly unhealthy one as it turns out. The research is crystal clear on that.

Minimum wage – even at $15 an hour – is a poverty wage, and a poverty wage is a recipe for illness, accidents and addictions. Want to drive up the costs of social and health care services? Don't pay people what they're worth.

An employer who pays less than others for the same work turns disrespect into an insult. An employer who offers an increase that won't even cover inflation turns that insult into a slap in the face. An employer who comes to the table weeks into a strike saying he wants to lay off half the workforce turns that slap into a battle cry.

But that's exactly what the owners of the Family Health Organization have done to their employees. No wonder they decided they needed a union.

The unions that support the workers in these three strikes are some of the last bulwarks against the erosion of wages. And one of the last bastions of respect for workers.


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