Member Spotlight, NSUPE, Workers' Rights

The New Normal

As Nova Scotia reopens offices, businesses, libraries, schools, and transitions into the new normal we want to feature the perspectives of our members. We asked Alex Hagen, NSUPE Secretary, and Shelby Kennedy NSUPE President, about their roles at the Halifax Public Libraries, which is represented by NSUPE Local 14.

Alex Hagen – NSUPE Secretary

I’ve been off-the-job since mid-March and furloughed/on CERB since June. Halifax Public Libraries began re-opening the libraries not long after furloughing most of its part-time staff. As it stands, I remain on CERB while many of my co-workers have gone back to work. I know not all of them want to be working again, and I don’t necessarily want to be working now either, but I have a strange sense of being left behind, while also wishing there was more I could do for my co-workers than just watch and worry about them from the sidelines.

It’s been 4 months since my last shift. I’ve been struggling to find meaning and purpose within the intervening time. I feel like I’ve run the gamut of expected reactions to being off-work during COVID – little arcs of drinking and sobriety, taking up old hobbies before and putting them down again, binge-watching television shows; periods of joy, depression, activity, and inactivity.

Every day I check my e-mail to see if I’ve been recalled to work, feeling a confusing mix of dread and desire – wanting the familiar structure that my job would give me, while also not wanting the many negative aspects and consequences that would come with it. Do I really want to be working during a pandemic? And after all of this is over, do I really want to be right back where I started? Isn’t there something more to be gained from the collective struggle we’re enduring?
There has been so little self-agency these last three months, so many changes forced upon us, that in the end, I am not surprised so many of us are asking – what do I really want? And what do I want the future to look like? I hope when I’m recalled to work – when some semblance of “normal” returns for me – that those questions keep burning in the back of my mind.

Shelby Kennedy – NSUPE President

Library life at the Central branch has changed quite a bit since the lockdown started in March. Now it’s the middle of July and we have been open for a couple of weeks. While we were in quarantine, my duties were to answer library questions over email and through telephone. I also hosted some virtual programs online. Now we’re back in the branch and while we’re still offering those distanced services, our branches are open mainly for borrowing/browsing and using the computer. I was very nervous to start work again in person because I thought we would be just as busy as before the lockdown but thankfully most people are still either staying away from the library or making their visits short. Staff are wearing face shields, customers are asked to wear masks (though it’s not required), and sanitizing wipes, gels, and foams are found around every corner. The risk is not eliminated, but staff are taking safety measures very seriously. If anybody is thinking about visiting the library, I would ask them to first consider using the online resources instead. If you need to visit a library branch, please keep your visit short and safe.

Photo: Samson Learn Photography via CALM