Judge determines protection of members from discrimination as union’s secondary mission
The Concordia University Continuing Education Part-Time Faculty Union (CUCEPTFU) was rejected in June for a business tax exemption because protecting its members from discrimination and harassment was deemed to be the union’s secondary mission by Judge Léonard Serafini of the Quebec Municipal Commission.
In order to be deemed eligible for a business tax exemption, Perry Shearman, the vice-president of collective agreement for CUCEPTFU, had to prove the union’s space is used for non-profit activities and that the primary use of the space is to protect members from discrimination and harassment.
The Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) applied for the same tax exemption. “CUFA’s argument was that they’re working for the members of the organization who face discrimination because of their ethnicity or because they’re handicapped,” Shearman said. “And that’s kind of the argument I made.”
CUCEPTFU applied for the tax exemption at the recommendation of the university because of CUFA’s earlier success. Two other unions––the Concordia Professional Employees Union and Syndicat des chargées et chargés de cours de l’Université de Montréal (SCCCUM)—had also been rejected for the same exemption, according to Shearman.
“So far, there has been no serious consequence [of the rejection], and we don’t really anticipate any serious consequences,” said Shearman, who represented the union at the hearing on May 24.
The business tax on the union’s office at 2130 Bishop St. is linked to the downtown Montreal commercial development association (SDC), an association meant to stimulate economic development in the region. The SDC does not tax the university, but since the office is used by CUCEPTFU––even though it was given to them by the university––Serafini determined it should be taxed.
“As far as I know, we have never had any contact with this local business development corporation. They’ve never approached us asking for participation or asking what they could do for us,” Shearman said. He said he believes there is a disconnect between the union and the entity they are expected to pay taxes to fund.
As for the argument CUCEPTFU made at the hearing, the union has had past success protecting its members against discrimination. The union argued in favour of equalizing wages between male-dominated and female-dominated part-time faculties. “The university adjusted the rates so that they were being paid the same,” he said.
Despite the union’s examples, Serafini concluded that protecting people from discrimination is just an accessory to the union’s primary mission, which is to conduct negotiations and apply the collective agreements.
According to Shearman, the judge prodded about the union’s allocation of funds, possibly as a method to evaluate whether protection against discrimination is a primary function of CUCEPTFU.
“Of course, not all of the dues collected go to fighting discrimination,” he said. “You know, we have savings in case we ever had a labour dispute and needed to have a strike fund or something like that.”
Although the union has had some success defending its members from discrimination, the frequency at which it deals with such cases “might be a couple a year,” Shearman said.
While Serafini pointed out that members of the union are not socially or economically disadvantaged, Shearman said they represent a group that deals with precarious employment. “I mean, we’re working contract to contract,” he said.
According to Sheaman, CUCEPTFU still owes money for taxes it hasn’t paid in the last four years. Citing clause 7.06 of their collective agreement, however, he said the university must provide a furnished space to the union free of charge. “Our position is the university should pay this,” he said.