Executives threatened by legal action for discussing final report publicly
UPDATE: PSAC has publicly responded, and the response can be found at the bottom of the article.
An official investigation sorting out dysfunctionalities amongst the executives of the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union has concluded in judging some culpable, others innocent, and effectively removing all parties involved. The organization was placed in trusteeship and the former executive was forbidden to discuss the report, lest legal action be taken.
This bizarre turn of events began after three executives—Mobilization and Communications Officer Robert Sonin, Bargaining Officer Isabelle Johnston, and Vice-President Darya Saryan—submitted formal complaints in September over what they alleged were extensive interference and violations carried out by TRAC President Nader Janari Nodoushan.
The investigation, carried out by parent union Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), eventually came to include counter allegations by Nodoushan on interference, racism, and disrespect. TRAC Grievance Officer Gounash Pirniya, the fifth and final exec of the organization, was also drawn into the fray, accused of not doing her job properly. Sonin said it was widely known around the office at the time that Pirniya was Nodoushan’s girlfriend.
The official investigation was meant to take only a few weeks. Instead, it took months, during which the animosity continued and TRAC activity ground to a halt.
“We [were] supposed to be in negotiation for pay. We [weren’t] doing any preparations. [We weren’t] doing any of the things we’re supposed to do because [of the investigation]. They told us to sit and wait and do nothing,” said Sonin.
The final report, released at the end of December and recently obtained by the Concordian, found Nodoushan culpable on several points—using TRAC funds without authorization, proceeding with expenses rejected by the executive committee, interference with and attempted removal of his peers, and by-law violations—and removed him from his position with a recommendation he not be eligible for re-election for at least a year. Yet the report commented that Nodoushan was not found to be acting with “ill will.”
Despite ruling that the complaints against Sonin, Johnston, and Darya—which included accusations of racism—were baseless, the report removed the three from their positions as of Jan. 7, judging the working environment too toxic to be allowed to continue.
This cleaning of the slate did not sit well with the executives. When Sonin complained, he was simply told he was not barred from putting his name in the hat at the next general assembly and could run again but under PSAC rules as opposed to TRAC rules. These required that TRAC be paying dues to PSAC, which Nodoushan had stopped doing. That means that in effect Sonin and his fellow executives are not qualified to run.
“[PSAC] kicked me off an executive for no reason, giving no cause … then I have to go get reelected, and [PSAC] expects me to mobilize while not getting paid. I’ve lost my job, and I have to do this in my spare time to get my job back,” said Sonin, who was the only one willing to speak on the record under the threat of legal action.
“They found that our complaints had merit, so they fired us,” he said.
He says his decision to post the report on TRAC’s Facebook group (he judged it in the public interest of the membership to know the conclusions) caused a demand within the hour to take it down. A few hours later he as well as at least one other exec were sent cease and desist notices by PSAC lawyers who forbid them from distributing the findings, calling it confidential property belonging to the union.
The actual report contains no mentions of confidentiality nor does Sonin recall ever agreeing to this stipulation verbally or contractually, aside from receiving strict verbal instruction not to discuss matters during the investigation for fear of prejudicing the evidence.
Additionally, Sonin questions PSAC’s decision to retroactively clamp down on the report, since without eventual distribution it was unclear how TRAC members would know in advance what they would be voting on during the upcoming general assembly.
“[PSAC] failed the union. They failed their members by their inaction, and by [their] sidelining.”
Neither TRAC nor PSAC could be reached for comment by press time and Nodoushan declined to participate by citing the confidentiality of the report.
UPDATE (14/01/2015): After having been unreachable for comment, PSAC has replied to The Concordian’s requests by sending the following document.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada, Quebec Region, is officially responding to the allegations presently circulating on the status of the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC).
Last all, complaints from local members were referred to PSAC-Quebec. As stipulated in the PSAC Constitution and in keeping with its obligations, PSAC-Quebec set up a committee made up of individuals from outside the local. The committee’s main mandate was to investigate allegations and submit recommendations.
The committee’s work, which recently came to an end, confirmed a number of facts. Resulting recommendations are important and immediate action had to be taken. Therefore, PSAC-Quebec recently convened a meeting of members named in the complaints to inform them of the committee’s findings and recommendations. Given the evidence gathered by the investigation committee, some local executive members were immediately removed from office. However, further action will be taken.
In the meantime, the process set out in the PSAC Constitution continues. There is nothing to be gained by publicly debating the investigation committee’s findings. Its main conclusions will be released at an upcoming general assembly and local members in attendance will obtain all necessary clarifications. You will therefore understand that, out of respect for members named in the complaints, PSAC-Quebec will not be commenting further until the local assembly has been held.
PSAC-Quebec is troubled by what has happened over the last few days and points out that elections will be held shortly during a general assembly to fill vacant executive positions. We take this opportunity to alleviate any concern members may have and advise them that PSAC-Quebec has taken all necessary action to follow up on outstanding grievances.
PSAC-Quebec now wishes to focus on the upcoming bargaining round and hopes that all TRAC members will do the same. The success of our common challenge is based, to a large extent, on our ability to pull together in solidarity.
The next general assembly has been scheduled as being on Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in room H-763, SGW Campus