I’d rather swallow exhaust than pretend.

As I take to the picket lines each day, standing on a main thoroughfare, swallowing mouthfuls of exhaust fumes, I hear honk after honk. I return countless waves. I share smiles with people as they drive by.

But sometimes, infrequently, I get yelled at too. I’ve heard a couple of “Thank you!” shouts, but usually? Usually it’s some form of “Get back to work!” Often with an expletive thrown in for good measure. Normally one starting with an “F.” Just to make sure it’s really insulting.

Except they tend to forget one key point. I work with teenagers.

It’s pretty hard to insult me.

Instead, these comments make me sad. Not because people don’t support my position in this dispute, but because of what they’re asking me to go back to.

Maybe they don’t know all the issues that we’re fighting for. Maybe they’ve partaken in the “Teachers are greedy” Kool-Aid. Maybe they’re treated poorly at work, or haven’t learned how to value themselves.

But they’re giving me career advice. And I’m not exactly sure why they think they’re qualified. But I do know that I don’t need it.

See, I’ve worked a lot.

I’ve been working full or part-time for the last twenty years.

Yes, I’ve been working since I was eleven, when I learned about Social Insurance numbers and minimum wage while working on Vancouver film sets.

Since then, I’ve had nine different employers in a bunch of different industries, including fast food, retail, travel, and healthcare. Some of these positions were part-time. Some of them were short contracts, while I spent years at others. Sometimes I worked two jobs at once, and once I even went back to the same company for a second go.

Having all of these different jobs – or careers, in a couple instances – was almost like dating. I had to get through the cruddy ones before I found the right fit. But, like dating, I didn’t hate everything about every opportunity. And I learned from each one of these jobs.

When I reached my tenth job – teaching – I knew my worth as an employee. I knew my rights according to the labour laws of BC. And I knew what it was like to be respected for the work that I do.

So, let’s review what’s gone on that makes me feel as though those in charge of my contract – BCPSEA and the government – aren’t familiar with the same concepts as I am:

1. They ripped up a fairly negotiated contract. Which was illegal.

2. They have been told that ripping up the contract was illegal. Twice. They’re appealing those decisions. Again. Even though these illegal actions negatively affect BC’s students.

3. They docked my pay for hours that I’m not even required to work. I lost 10% of my wages for not working on my “duty free” lunch break (as laid out in my contract), and not working more than an hour of overtime per day.

Yes, I could work an hour of overtime. But my pay was docked for it.

The brain. It hurts with that one.

4. They’re asking me to sign away my rights as a Canadian. Article E.80 is about class size and composition, which is a major concern. But more concerning is the phrase “These provisions supersede and replace all previous Articles that addressed class size, composition and staffing levels.”

Articles like the ones the courts have told the Liberals to reinstate, according to Federal law as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

5. Now that clause isn’t terrible in itself. If we were able to agree on a compromise for the class size and composition issues, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But while the Liberals are all over the media talking about $375 million for class composition and how it’s their number one priority, they’re forgetting to mention two key points:

  1. 1. They’re talking about $375 million over five years. So, $75 million per year. Which is essentially what we currently have – and which isn’t adequate.
    2. Although they claim to want a negotiated settlement, they haven’t moved on these numbers. At all. There has been no attempt to negotiate on BCPSEA’s part.

6. The government will not negotiate. They have not moved from their position on major issues.

The government will not mediate. Their pre-conditions made attempts at mediation useless.

The government will not arbitrate. They refuse to take E.80 off the table – to truly leave class size and composition to the courts – and agree to binding arbitration on all other matters.

So, as much as I would love to go back to work, I can’t heed the advice that sometimes gets yelled at me. Maybe my advisors don’t know what it’s like to be treated fairly by an employer. Maybe they don’t know what it’s like to be respected at work. Maybe they don’t know their rights as an employee.

But I do.

So, thanks for the advice. But I’d rather swallow exhaust than pretend that nothing’s the matter with the way our government is treating its citizens and employees.