Babies at the bargaining table: Activist moms make it work

By Jennifer Mathers-Piper, Unifor Local 433

Dedicating time to social justice isn’t always easy. The work is challenging in many ways and can be overwhelming. There are always injustices in the world that need to be made right.

Bargaining committee member Baljinder Jagpal holds the baby Tommy during bargaining.
July, 2017: Bargaining committee member Baljinder Jagpal holds baby Tommy during bargaining.

With a properly organized schedule you might be able to maximize your contribution to a better world.

9am: Rally in Vancouver to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
11am: Phone call from co-worker who complains about a manager who has scheduled them out of seniority.
12pm: Grievance meeting to discuss a previously-issued discipline.
1pm: A quick lunch while members ask about vacation, restrictions and benefits.
3pm: Start work.

This was the lifestyle I lived, working as a hotel front desk agent and serving as the unit chair of my workplace, when suddenly I become a new mom. This schedule couldn’t be me anymore. After the baby was born, my schedule became, 2am, 4am, 6am and 8am breastfeeding and consoling a crying baby.

When you are a labour activist with a newborn, people are still trying to call you but you can’t get to the phone because your hands are always full. If you do get on the phone, you can’t hear what the other person is saying because the baby cries every time you try to put them down. In this new life, it’s quite normal to go three days without showering and barely eat.

You might be thinking that your social justice days are over, but they don’t have to be.

It is possible for moms to adjust after a while, even though going to every rally and being involved in seemingly every important issue may not feel feasible anymore.

While I was pregnant with my second baby, the union membership at my workplace selected me to serve on the bargaining committee. When my baby was 3 months old, bargaining meetings started and I decided it would be best to bring my little Tommy along.

Fortunately, with a supportive membership and local behind me, my three-year-old daughter Robyn could go to daycare and those expenses were covered by the local.

Some people may look at the situation and think, “Well that’s odd, there’s a baby at that bargaining table.” According to our staff rep, this was a first for him. It definitely changes the tone in the room when everyone takes turns to cuddle my little one.

I can’t say I wasn’t nervous to start. I thought my little guy might have a poop explosion or start crying uncontrollably. My nervousness dissipated when, after the opening of bargaining, the company VP picked up my Tommy and cuddled him.

I breastfed him and changed his diaper while the work unfolded. Sometimes during discussions, I had to walk around to keep him comfortable, but it never became awkward when I spoke up on any particular issue.

3 days into bargaining, people from both sides of the table took turns to cuddle the baby throughout the day. I received various compliments about how good he was. I had a feeling that deep down, people were surprised to have a baby at the bargaining table, but his presence brought some perspective. Having a baby at the bargaining table definitely created a more positive feeling in the room.

My mom motto has always been, “Do what you gotta do.” As an activist mom, this includes, for me, brining my baby with me so I can continue to do the work and improve the future for the next generation.

When we have kids, we’re busy, but it doesn’t mean we can no longer contribute to social justice. All it means now is that we have limitations. But we do what we can. It helps when others provide us with support we need to allow us to make those contributions.

How can your union or community group make its work more accessible to parents?

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2 thoughts on “Babies at the bargaining table: Activist moms make it work

  1. Wonderful article! Hopefully this will encourage other moms and other employers to consider this as a great and viable option! Trailblazer! Way to go activist momma ❤️

    1. Jennifer Mathers-Piper

      Reply

      Oh my gosh thank you. I couldn’t have done it without the support of our local and my other Bargaining committee members. They helped me hold the baby and deal with all our baby luggage. It was also nice that the employer committee had parents on it so they understood what it was like but even without that I can’t imagine what an employer protest to having a baby at the Bargaining table would look like. It would make the employer look really bad at the very least.

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