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Research assistants to vote on union bid

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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  • CUPE Local 3913, representing
teaching assistants and sessional instructors on campus, spearheaded a campaign
throughout the m

    CUPE Local 3913, representing teaching assistants and sessional instructors on campus, spearheaded a campaign throughout the m

Written by Greg Beneteau

More than 800 graduate research assistants at the University of Guelph will be eligible to vote tomorrow on whether to join the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

CUPE Local 3913, representing teaching assistants and sessional instructors on campus, spearheaded a campaign throughout the month of August, encouraging research assistants to sign union cards.

Posters around campus touted the benefits of unionization, including job security, medical benefits, and parental and sick leave.

Their efforts paid off after the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that enough employees had signed union cards to hold a vote.

“It was only last night that the decision was handed down,” said Toni Xerri, the Chief Negotiator for CUPE Local 3913.

Voting was scheduled to take place tomorrow between 10:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the University Center, according to a notice posted by the OLRB.

Under provincial law, a minimum of 40 per cent of eligible employees in a workplace must be members of a union before a vote can take place. In order to form a collective bargaining union, at least 50 per cent of RAs who turn out to vote must cast ballots in favour of unionizing.

Lori Bona Hunt, a spokesperson with Communications and Public Affairs, said the University had sent notice of the vote to all 865 registered research assistants yesterday – the earliest allowed by the OLRB.

However, some RAs complained that people who signed membership cards were warned about the possibility of a vote earlier.

Perrin Baker, an RA with the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, said he found out about the vote by accident after hearing of an email sent last week..

“It seems kind of fishy,” he said.

Xerri confirmed that an email had gone out to members on Friday morning, informing them of the time and place of voting that CUPE had proposed in its original application – not the formal ruling by the Labour Board.

“There was a letter sent out, saying what we had asked for,” he explained.

Even if the vote to unionize is successful, it’s possible that RAs won’t end up joining the ranks of CUPE.

That’s because the University has asked the OLRB to rule on whether research assistants were eligible to unionize in the first place.

The University contends that RAs are not formal employees of the institution, since their salaries are paid through department grants and research scholarships, according to Bona Hunt.

“That’s an issue that hasn’t been addressed yet by the Ontario Labour Relations Board,” Bona Hunt said.

The University had no objections to a vote being held, she noted.

Stacey Reginald Ball, a former professor of employment law at Osgoode Hall Law School now in private practice, said the question of employment is more complicated than the source of a worker’s pay cheque.

Before handing down a decision, Ball said the OLRB would likely investigate whether the university treats research assistants like employees in situations such as hiring and dismissal, and whether the workers are formally organized within the institution.

“These are all indigenous of employment, rather than being a casual worker,” Ball said.

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