A Real Pain in the Neck
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A Real Pain in the Neck

By Randall Boessenkool, CLAC General Counsel

Several years ago, I went to a registered massage therapist (RMT), as my neck was giving me issues. I have had sporadic back pain over the years, but this seemed to be more serious and focussed on a specific area of muscle tightness.

After assessing the situation, the RMT asked me whether I had recently experienced any life changes. In the past couple of months, I had welcomed a new baby, bought and moved into a new house, and changed to a new job. The RMT looked at me and said that those were three of the four largest normal stressors one can experience (the fourth is divorce, but thankfully I was and remain happily married).

It turns out that those new life changes, while positive overall, carried with them a lot of stress—and some of that stress manifested itself in my neck issue. The RMT certainly helped, but the realization of everything I was going through was an important step in understanding the source (and subsequent cure) of my neck pain. After a couple more sessions, my pain substantially subsided.  

In a pack of three, those life stressors were pretty debilitating. However, even one of them can have a significant and negative effect on our lives, especially in the case of losing a job. As CLAC’s general counsel, I spend approximately eighty-five percent of my time dealing with concerns that fall under the umbrella of member issues: mostly grievances filed as a result of workplace issues. Termination of a job is, of course, the most significant of these issues and is referred to as the “atomic bomb of labour relations” due to the effect it has on not only the individual employee, but also their family and workplace.

It's a situation we all know could happen at any time—you are working your way through another day in the retirement home, in your ready-mix truck, or on the construction site. Everything is going along just fine until you get the message from management to come to the office, and have some union representation with you. In some cases, the issues have been percolating for some time and now come to a head. In other cases, the issue can seem like it’s coming out of nowhere.

I have sat with members through meetings where they realized that their livelihood, their dignity, and their life’s work was not being respected by their employer. Management can sometimes be callous and blind to the fact that a job is often more than just work. I have had members who work in healthcare tearfully describe to me in great detail how they put a large part of their soul into caring for their residents. For these members, this is not just a job. It’s a passion, even a calling. I recently dealt with the termination of a member with 36 years of seniority who had no idea there were any issues with her work, let alone any issues that could result in termination (don’t worry—we got her reinstated and she is happily back at work).

No matter what your situation, your union is there to defend and support you. We provide you representation from the initial filing of a grievance to the resolution of the issue—whether it’s a settlement along the way or the final issuance of an arbitration award. This process can be incredibly painful, and I’ve seen firsthand the impact it can have on a member, their family, and the workplace.

That’s what your union is for: to have your back and work diligently and honestly to ensure your rights are protected, the pain goes away, and you’re able to continue on in your work life. Like the pain in my neck, the process can be painful, but the result is liberating!

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