TAs, TFs vote ‘no’ to union

Status inquiry into 93 disputed ballots resolved

PSAC Regional Organizer Christopher Wilson says voting for unionization is an important expression of workers’ democratic rights.
PSAC Regional Organizer Christopher Wilson says voting for unionization is an important expression of workers’ democratic rights.

After an inquiry into the voter eligibility of 93 ballots, TAs and TFs at Queen’s remain un-unionized after a final vote result of 398 to 359 against unionization.  

TAs and TFs cast their ballots on Nov. 26 2008.

In the certification vote, 332 people voted for unionization and 378 people voted against it. Two ballots were spoiled and there were 93 segregated ballots. The voter’s list included 1,300 names.

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Regional Organizer Christopher Wilson said in order to determine the final outcome of the vote, the Ontario Labour Relations Board needed to make a status inquiry into the 93 segregated ballots.

The voter eligibility of the 93 segregated ballots was in question. A TA or TF had to be employed by Queen’s as of Nov. 20 2008 in order to participate in the certification vote.

“PSAC and Queen’s met on December 17 at the Ontario Labour Relations Board to discuss the status of the outstanding ballots,” he said. “PSAC took the position that every ballot should be counted.”

“Forty-seven additional ballots were counted. Of those additional ballots, 27 were for unionization and 20 were against.”

Wilson said despite a majority vote against unionization, a substantial number of TAs and TFs supported the Teaching Assistants and Fellow Associates’ (TAFA) campaign.

“The hope and expectation of PSAC and TAFA is that the University uses these vote results to reflect upon that a substantial number of graduate students want to see change,” he said. “PSAC and TAFA were very proud of the campaign, particularly the volunteer activists. The vote was an important expression of workers’ democratic rights.”

This is the third failed attempt to unionize TAs and TFs at Queen’s.

Volunteer TAFA organizer Dave Thompson, PhD ’10, said despite losing the vote, he’s happy with how the unionization campaign was run.

“I think we ran a very open campaign. We had tons of different events to mobilize and engage TAs and TFs at Queen’s,” he said. “We all feel really happy that we ran a straight-up campaign that was transparent. The kinds of friends and coalitions that were formed during the campaign will outlive TAFA. We are pleased with the level of autonomy that PSAC gave to the graduate student body. The union campaign was internally driven.”

Thompson said he still thinks there is a place for a TA and TF union at Queen’s.

“I feel like a union would be an important contribution to protect TAs and TFs as workers on campus,” he said. “It is frustrating for us to have lost so closely.”

“I think that there is an interest for graduate students to have representation on campus. The question will be whether or not there are enough dedicated people pushing for a union. Nothing has been decided yet.”

Thompson said the strike at York wasn’t a decisive factor in the vote for unionization at Queen’s. TAs, graduate assistants, and contract faculty have been on strike at York since Nov. 6 2008.

“It’s important to remember that the strike at York involves sessional staff,” he said. “It’s quite a different battle than what TAs and TFs were fighting for at Queen’s: not permanent positions but protection in current positions.

“While we’re supportive of the York strikers, at York there is a different union body representing different union interests. The other big difference is between a striking union and union trying to organize. Problems that necessitate a strike do not exist here.”

Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) President Jeff Welsh, PhD ’09, said the result of the vote was disappointing.

“I received a number of e-mails from SGPS members who voted against unionization. Based on the questions and comments, most of them were poorly informed,” he said.

Welsh said some students in the natural and applied sciences were nervous about the impact unionization might have on their research assistantships. RAs were not included in the unionization drive.

“I feel that if more people had more specific information, the result would have been different.

“It wasn’t a conclusive vote one way or another in my opinion,” he said. “Unless the University moves fairly quickly to address these issues, I could imagine a union drive in the future. The issues haven’t gone away. The vote was very close.”

In order to put TA and TF unionization to a vote at Queen’s, 40 per cent of the bargaining unit needed to sign union cards. After this, a review by the Ontario Labour Relations Board decided whether or not unionization could be put to a vote.

Welsh said more people signed union cards than turned out to vote for unionization.

“Apparently over 800 people signed union cards. Less than half of those who signed cards bothered to vote.”

Welsh said one possible reason for this was the short window of time given to vote.

“There was only one station on one day [for voting.] There are a lot of graduate students who aren’t on campus every day.”

Editor's note

The number of students who voted on the question of unionization that originally appeared in this article was incorrect. Please see Friday's paper for a full correction.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.