Who is Unit 1 of CUPE 4207?
Brock’s contract Instructors, Teaching Assistants, Lab Demonstrators, Course Coordinators and Marker/Graders are represented by a labour union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local 4207, Unit 1. We are front line academic workers. What does it mean? We have a direct contact with students in seminars and labs on weekly basis; we teach courses just as same as full time faculty do; we are marking and grading students’ assignments, exams and seminar performance, that comprise the whole total grade of a student. We are the largest employee group at Brock. There are about 1,000 of us working on contractual basis, having to apply for jobs from term to term, with very little job security. We hold graduate degrees, Masters and PhDs. About half of us are graduate students who hold Lab Demonstrator and TA positions as part of our funding. This means that if you go to grad school, you too can become a TA or a Lab Demonstrator. And if you finish you grad studies and earn your PhD you too can become a contract instructor.
Why all the talk about a strike?
Since we are represented by a labour union, we negotiate a collective agreement (a contract) with the university every three years. The contract language brings the standards of our working conditions a little bit above the bare minimum stipulated in the Employment Standards Act (minimum standards guaranteed to majority of workers not represented by a labour union). We are proud of that. Our co-workers — instructors and TAs — fought hard to certify this local in 1998, a desired and necessary step in order to address unjust and bad working conditions, macjob wages and employer favouritism in hiring and other practices.
Our last collective agreement expired on September 6, 2016. Unit 1 Bargaining Committee has been negotiating with the university since September 1, 2016. There was rather a very little movement on the issues that concern our members. Conciliation, by Ministry of Labour appointed conciliator, was held in December and January to help bring the parties closer together, but to no avail. The employer sticks to their position that Unit 1 members do not need the working conditions that would provide them with the environment do to their job right. This directly sends the message that Brock administration does not have the best interests of students in mind as much as they claim to do (just consider that they posted a notice about Unit 1 bargaining the first time on February 24th, a week before the strike deadline)!
In the six months since the collective bargaining started, no acceptable language for our members has been reached. The university is not yielding in their proposals to severely curtail our working conditions that are already precarious by the very nature of our contractual employment. We have gone through several steps necessary under the labour relations law, to reach the point where we are ready to withhold our labour — to strike — in order to exert pressure on the employer to negotiate a fair collective agreement. We are in a legal strike position on Friday March 3rd. There will be mediation by a conciliator on March 1 and hopefully the 2nd as well, leading to the strike deadline. This is a standard process in labour relations. Most disputes are settled at the last moment in mediation; only in about 3% of all union negotiations a strike is called. No one wants to go on strike but it is a measure of last resort when all other means in negotiations fail.
While it does not mean the union will go on strike on March 3rd, undergraduate students need to be informed about their rights.
Section three C of the Brock Faculty Handbook outlines Policy on Protecting Students as a Result of a Disruption of Academic Activities.
Consult the policy and note that Article 6.3 is of most interest to students concerned about crossing picket lines:
- The legal picket lines that our members will hold at the two entrances to central campus will be impeding the usual fluent flow of traffic. It can take a couple of hours to get across the picket line.
- If you use public transit you will be delayed as well due to traffic congestion.
- Our members will not hold classes, seminars and labs.
- Full time faculty, BUFA members, do not have to cross the picket line. They too will tend to cancel classes in solidarity with CUPE 4207.
Strikes have the objective to stop production in order to draw the attention of the employer to negotiate a fair collective agreement. If Brock were a factory, workers would picket at the factory door to keep the facility from producing until the owner feels the loss of profits due to stopped production. This should demonstrate strength and win the workers conditions they deserve. Academic workers would do just the same even though we do not produce inanimate objects. The more so! Our working conditions truly impact the quality of your education. In that sense, not only we do have common interests in the student/future-worker relation but also in the very actual current sense = do you want to be taught by overworked, existentially insecure, hungry teaching staff? And mainly, are you looking forward to become one if you want to teach at the university one day?
If our union calls a strike on March 3rd, you have the choice not to cross the picket lines.