A majority vote for strike

CUPFA  members met at a special general assembly on Sunday. Photo by Madelayne Hajek

The Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association voted 95 per cent in favour of an unlimited strike mandate should collective bargaining negotiations fail.

CUPFA held a special general assembly Sunday to discuss options to pressure the administration at Concordia to forego amendments to the collective agreement.

The most recent contract expired Aug. 31 and part-time faculty members are not content with the proposal offered by the university.

“I’m urging all members to stand with the union behind the strike mandate,” said Robert Campbell, a part-time professor in accounting at the John Molson School of Business. “When I saw what they were offering us, I said ‘I can’t believe this’ and it’s just unacceptable.”

In March, the association requested that Concordia issue a protocol in order to agree on how to proceed and sign a new collective agreement. Following nine separate meetings between administration and CUPFA, a protocol was signed on July 8.

Negotiations were supposed to continue in August, however, Concordia decided to restructure the terms of the current collective agreement much to the dismay of CUPFA. The restructuring was unanimously rejected but the university is still pushing forward with the plan.

“What they want is to rewrite every article in our collective agreement,” said Patrice Blais, vice president of the collective agreement and grievance. “They want to continue to fix things that aren’t broken.”

Concordia’s deal proposed to isolate and de-link salary rates from other post-secondary institutions like Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal which means their salaries would not change despite what is happening at sister universities. Furthermore, the university wants to impose restrictions on retirement and leaves, as well as having control over the hiring process of applicants vying for a part-time position, benefits and course evaluations. The university also wants to restructure seniority standing with a point system that would see current senior positions devalued.

One of the concerns emphasized by CUPFA was the volume of grievances filed by professors during the last collective agreement. The negotiating team argued that the massive increase in grievances is due to Concordia not respecting aspects of the agreement since 2009.

According to David Douglas, chair of communications, 21 grievances were filed this year so far and he expects as many as 30 complaints to be submitted by the end of 2012.

Douglas believes the time to pressure the university’s collective bargaining committee is now. CUPFA is not willing to head to the bargaining table for an extended period as they did for their last contract. It took seven years, from 2002 to 2009, for two parties to reach a settlement and sign a contract.

“Our experience has been one of delay with the university. Last time around we were very polite, they asked can we put you off for a period of time and we said yes,” Douglas told The Concordian. “We don’t have faith in the approach that the university is taking.”

If the university and the union are unable to achieve a negotiation in the near future, CUPFA’s mandate to strike has the potential to paralyze Concordia with over 800 part-time professors teaching at Concordia now. For the time being, however, the impending strike remains a pressure tactic only.

“What we are focusing on is to keep negotiating. CUPFA has every right to take a strike mandate if they want and this does not mean they are on strike,” said university spokesperson Chris Mota. “We want to keep working towards a contract that can be done sooner rather than later and continue to negotiate.”


New St-Jacques St. exit ramp raises concerns

Shuttle buses use the St-Jacques exit ramp to ferry students between ConU’s two campuses. Photo by Madelayne Hajek

The newly reopened St-Jacques exit ramp off the westbound Ville-Marie Expressway , which is extremely curvy and potentially dangerous, is raising concerns for Concordia University’s students and staff.

“You enter the ramp quite violently when you’re doing 70 kilometres or more on the highway so it’s scary when you see that curve,” said Mathew Pizzanelli, a Concordia student who uses the ramp to get to the Loyola campus. “Suddenly you realize that you have to reduce your speed significantly.”

The St-Jacques St. exit reopened in late August after its reconstruction to make way for a vehicle entrance for the McGill University Health Centre super hospital, which is in the process of being built. The exit has been closed since February.

According to an article published in The Gazette, the new ramp is not a typical loop normally used for exit ramps but a reverse curve which forces drivers to take a steep right, a steep left followed by another right.

Concordia University’s shuttle bus service that transports students from the downtown campus to the Loyola campus in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce uses this exit daily. According to university spokesperson Chris Mota, Concordia has not received complaints from students or bus drivers about the new ramp, although shuttle bus driver Vince Torchia immediately noticed the potential dangers of driving too fast.

“It’s a big difference from the old one,” said Torchia. “As soon as you get there you really, really have to slow down or you can hit the wall.”

Yet, the main purpose of the ramp is to force cars merging onto St-Jacques St. to reduce their speed.

“It was a request by the City of Montreal,” said Caroline Larose, spokesperson for Transport Québec. “They wanted drivers to slow down before entering a residential area.”

While it is understandable that the city would want vehicles to slow down, Luis Amador, a Concordia University civil engineering assistant professor, believes this is an inappropriate measure.

“What do you do when you’re back on a street that is straight, if these curves have forced you to slow down? You will accelerate again, so it’s not going to help,” said Amador. “If they want vehicles to slow down on St-Jacques, they need to bring proper measures on St-Jacques.”

Amador suggested placing little poles or markers on the side of the road to give drivers the sensation of going faster than they actually are and said widening the sidewalks to produce more narrow lanes will force drivers to slow down when approaching the intersection.

He also explained that drivers only have about six seconds from the time they see the 45 kilometre speed limit sign that also indicates a curve. It then takes about three seconds to react.

“You see the sign indicating 45, you decide to slow down, you take the foot off the gas, and three seconds after you are on the curve,” said Amador.

This becomes more of a problem when drivers may miss the road signs due to poor visibility because of blowing snow, hail or fog. However, Amador emphasizes that the ramp is still under construction and more signs may be added.

Transport Québec hasn’t reported any accidents, though it’s been open for two months and typically accidents are looked at over a three-year period.

Amador advised caution to all drivers, including the Concordia shuttle bus, and encouraged those taking the ramp to fully follow the curves.


Sexual assault workshops to start at Grey Nuns

Concordia’s Grey Nuns residence downtown. Photo by Marie-Josée Kelly

Concordia University’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy plans to implement workshops later this year which focus on sexual assault awareness and the definition of consent for students.

“We don’t really hear a lot in this society about what is the meaning of consent and what consent looks like,” said Julie Michaud, the administrative co-ordinator at the 2110 Centre. “We have this very narrow idea of what is sexual assault and that creates a whole lot of problems in terms of being able to identify acts that technically do constitute sexual assault but that don’t fit the mould.”

The 2110 Centre hopes to educate students about the different ways sexual assault can occur, provide preventive measures, and define direct consent between two people. The initiative aims to debunk misconceptions such as the notion that women ask to be assaulted by the way they dress or act.

The upcoming consent workshops are also part of a broader effort by the 2110 Centre to start a sexual assault centre at the university.

“We’re trying to take a really holistic approach to making the campus safer for everyone so on the one hand we want to have the sexual assault centre to provide support for people who’ve had experiences with sexual assault or sexual harassment,” said Michaud. “We also want to act on the prevention side of things and we see teaching people how not to sexually assault as a key component in prevention.”

The workshops are in the early stages and while the exact launch date remains unknown, a few courses will take place before the end of the fall semester. Currently, workshops have only been planned for the Grey Nuns residence downtown, and not for the residences located at the Loyola Campus.

“It will be very beneficial,” said D’Arcy Ryan, the director of Residence Life at Concordia. “It is also something that we will look into having for our resident assistant orientation for next year.”

Since floor meetings require mandatory attendance for students living in residence, the workshops will be held during the meetings at the Grey Nuns residence. By default, this action ensures the seminar is mandatory for all residents as well.

“I definitely think that it’s nice that the information is available,” said Eleni Burrell, a student residing at Grey Nuns. “But I don’t think they should be mandatory. There are some students I know that would feel cornered; some people might feel uncomfortable so I think having your own choice is nice.”

However, this does not necessarily mean all future workshops at different residences at Concordia will be mandatory. It is to the discretion of individual resident assistants to decide how and when workshops will be held.

On Oct. 11, the Women’s Studies Student Association held it’s first General Assembly. At the assembly, those present unanimously voted to support the 2110 Centre’s initiative for the creation of a sexual assault centre at Concordia.

“Sexual assault is an all too common reality for many women, and by extension a primary concern for feminists,” read a statement issued by WSSA the next day. “One in four students will experience sexual assault over the course of a post-secondary career. Over 80 [per cent] of these are women.”

The statement went on to say that “to stall on the creation of a sexual assault centre is to further endanger the safety of Concordia’s population.”

WSSA is asking Concordia to “prioritize” the creation of a sexual assault centre and work with the 2110 to make this plan a reality in the future.


Red Square Block Party showcases alternative student associations

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Students gathered at Concordia University’s downtown campus on Thursday for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s Red Square Block Party as part of the week long DISorientation.

The party focused little on the student strike movement with the exception of a table for Concordia’s Mob Squad. The Mob Squad was there to inform students on the Parti Québécois’ recent decision to repeal the tuition fee increase, as well as planned future marches and initiatives. Most of the event showcased student associations that Concordia students may not know about.

The purpose of the event was to reclaim public space. The gathering focused on the lack of student space at the university’s downtown campus after the development of a long sought-after student centre from the Concordia Student Union was put on hold last year.

“Throughout the years [conventional orientation events have] become more and more axed on, the single-minded focus on partying and drinking rather than a true introduction into what post-secondary education is,” said Christina Xydous, QPIRG’s administrative co-ordinator. “Groups that you’re seeing here have come together to offer an alternative view and perhaps a broader approach to the school experience for Concordia students.”

Booths lined the stretch of sidewalk on De Maisonneuve Blvd. between Guy St. and Mackay St. offering information about a variety of student groups. Organizations such as Le Frigo Vert, Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore, the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, Concordia Animal Rights Association, and Cinema Politica spent the afternoon handing out pamphlets in an an effort to engage passing students.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know other community groups at Concordia and to share information and also to talk to a lot of people that walk by and are interested,” said Emma Pietrangelo, a volunteer with the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.

The People’s Potato also took part in the “Red Square Block Party” serving a free lunch.

“I think that these things should happen more often because they definitely do show what’s going on at Concordia and show what Concordia is all about,” said Pietrangelo. “It’s not just big tall buildings. We’re a lot about organizations and people participating.”


National Geographic to visit McGill University

National Geographic will hold a workshop at McGill University Saturday, Sept. 29 to promote their new Young Explorers Grants in the hopes of discovering young talent and innovative research.

“The idea is really simple,” said Dr. Colin Chapman, who is part of National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration. “It’s to get young people out in the field doing exciting things, doing exploration that National Geographic believes in, and getting them started.”

The Young Explorers Grants look to support individuals between the ages of 18 to 25 in their research, exploration, and field-based projects. Candidates do not have to be students and their work does not have to be within the fields of biology or ecology but can be focused in journalism, photography, music, and a wide array of other fields.

“It’s also nice because it feels attainable,” said Johanna Bleecker, an organizer of the event and a recent McGill graduate.

“Not being a student, it shuts off a lot of sources of funding for me if I would want to pursue independent research,” explained Bleecker. “So it’s nice to see such an inclusive grant.”

This is the third workshop for the Young Explorers Grants and the first in Canada. The event will begin with a presentation about National Geographic and the grant, as well as a presentation from three previous grant winners. National Geographic staff members, researchers, and scientists will then have different discussion groups to answer questions about the grant and how to apply for a grant in general.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Andrea Reid, last year’s Young Explorers Grants winner for her research on fish in the Lake Victoria basin of East Africa. “Because National Geographic is so high profile, it’s a really great way to get attention for issues that we think are important.”

“By presenting my work I’m going to reach a really broad audience which I think is the biggest benefit more so than the money,” added Reid.

This free workshop will take place between 9:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. in room 132 of the Leacock Building at McGill University. The workshop is open to people of all ages; however, individuals must register online beforehand and space is limited. At 7:30 p.m., there will be another free presentation given by two National Geographic explorers which is open to the public on a first come, first serve basis.


The Occupy Movement goes local

Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

The Occupy Movement undertook a two-day initiative entitled Occupons le Sud-Ouest that addressed community issues affecting the borough as part of a local project targeting Montreal neighbourhoods.

According to Paul Bode, an organizer of the event, there was a need for Occupy Montreal to “go local” and focus on residents in their neighbourhoods.

“What we did at la place des Peuple was great,” said Bode. “It was an amazing experience but it’s not the way to really reach people where they live.”

Occupons le Sud-Ouest spanned over the weekend at Sir George-Étienne Cartier park in Ville-St-Henri. Since the spring, individuals within the movement have started neighbourhood occupations throughout the city. Occupons le Sud-Ouest is the fifth local occupation in Montreal, and the first for the borough.

“What you see today [shows that] Occupy Montreal has spread,” said Marc Olivier Rainville, who joined the movement when it began in October 2011. “We’re not only downtown but we are in every park of the city.”

The event aimed for residents to participate more in their community, communicate with their neighbours, and learn about the issues affecting the neighbourhood. A prominent issue for residents of the borough is the reconstruction plan for the Turcot Interchange. The crumbling structure that links highways 15, 20 and 720, and provides access to the Champlain Bridge, needs renovations.

“The big, big thing that concerns us is the Turcot Interchange,” explained Bode. “I love my neighbourhood but I am so scared of what that’s going to bring and I think a lot of the other residents feel that way too.”

Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

Many residents expressed fears that the revised project does not sufficiently address safety issues, specifically about the demolition of houses located in the surrounding area of the construction site.

“I’m really hoping that the members of different organizations see what a wonderful opportunity this is to get information out about the issues that affect the neighbourhood,” said Shannon Franssen, a co-ordinator with Solidarité Saint-Henri and a spokesperson for Turcot Mobilization.

The two-day occupation also focused on issues of gentrification, the environment, and food security. Workshops and discussions held throughout the weekend focused on these issues. It gave participants a chance to learn about these concerns as well as offer their opinions on the subject.

The Occupy Movement offered free vegan food, had booths set up to educate individuals about gardening and organic foods, and a play area for children. There was also chalk, markers, and paper for residents to write messages about what their ideal neighbourhood would be like.

After living in Ville-St-Henri for six years, Geena Davis noticed that the neighbourhood changing; this was the impetus behind her participation of the occupation.

“I think it’s important to show support when people are doing good things,” explained Davis. “I think people doing anything they care about, that contributes to the betterment of a neighbourhood or of a community is a good thing.”

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