Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Draft of a letter to the university administration

This evening, I was dismayed to learn that the university plans to stop paying the benefits, including supplementary health insurance, to union members as of October 31st. I'd be surprised if the union can afford to shoulder this cost - so what this amounts to is leaving the members who depend on this health insurance high and dry. "Dismayed" is actually a poor word choice in this context - no, I'm livid, and terrified.

See, I'm a student with significant health challenges. I have a rare disease that causes spinal cord dysfunction, and all the attendant difficulties that can produce. The benefits provided by supplementary health insurance for someone in my shoes are significant: it means being able to continue the physiotherapy that helps me walk and keeps my pain under control, and significantly, it enables me to be able to relieve myself. And hearing this might make you uncomfortable, but trust me - your discomfort is hardly my concern here when your decision is putting me in danger. For several months, I have needed to use catheters to empty my bladder, which has become partially paralyzed by my illness. These are individually fairly cheap devices, but they add up. They're not re-useable, and I need several, each day. After shouldering many health-related expenses from the past year, when my illness rendered me unable to work, this isn't a cost I can take on without significant hardship. I am sharing my individual experience, but there are many of us for whom this plan is of the utmost medical necessity. This is not a cut that affects all members equally; instead, it disproportionately affects those of us with the greatest need.

You argue that your decision to withhold this benefit is to "protect" students. I have news for you: I, like, many other members, am a student here. This benefit cut is hardly protecting me: it's putting me in danger of serious medical complications if I cannot muster the funds I need to pay for this equipment. You are willing to trade the administrative convenience of some students for the health of others, and pretend that this makes you benevolent. It does not. It shows an astounding level of arrogance and privilege - that of an bureaucrat so detached from the realities of his employees and students that he will treat essential benefits as bargaining chips. Withholding grades and withholding medical benefits are in no sense equal in impact.

One final thought about health insurance. I don't need supplementary health insurance through my work because I have a serious chronic illness (although that is undeniably true). I need this insurance because we live in a system which masquerades as having universal health care, using the spectre of comparison to the U.S. to placate us when essential services are designated as discretionary. Because health care is premised upon capitalism rather than either health or caring. Quality of life, or even life itself, should not go to the highest bidder. It is the role of the university to find solutions to social inequities, not to exacerbate them. Taking away (or even threatening to take away) this meagre safety net is cruel, and shows either a profound lack of understanding of the realities employees face, or a profound lack of humanity. Just because it is legal for you to do this does not mean that it is right.

So, I implore you to go back to the table, and bargain in good faith, without putting these inhumane pressures on the union and its membership. It would be, literally, a relief.

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