Briefs News

A union referendum for Concordia’s TAs and RAs

A secret ballot, open until Nov. 13, opposes TRAC and CREW.

Graphic by Carleen Loney / The Concordian

After a months-long battle in the courts and on social media, TRAC and CREW have gone silent to allow Concordia’s teaching and research assistants to vote, determining once and for all which union they want to be represented by. 

Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 13 at 8 a.m., some of Concordia’s teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) will have access to an online ballot in which they can decide which union will represent them. 

The battle between the two unions started last March, when the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union’s (TRAC) executive team resigned to form the Concordia Research and Education Workers Union (CREW). They claimed that TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), made it impossible for them to get the gains they wanted in their negotiations with Concordia University.

By April 3, the end of the campaigning period determined by a legal deadline established in TRAC’s Collective Agreement, CREW had gathered 1,700 memberships out of Concordia’s 2,100 TAs and RAs, according to court documents. 

However, it turned out that TRAC’s Collective Agreement had never been filed to the Tribunal Administratif du Travail (TAT). This gave TRAC the chance to re-file their membership list over the summer, allowing it to remain the standing union for TAs and RAs. 

Instead of turning to a lengthy legal proceeding to entangle the validity of these memberships, TRAC and CREW are moving to a secret ballot to act as a tie-breaker between the unions. The vote will end on Nov. 13 at 8 a.m., after which the chosen union will be able to negotiate with Concordia for a new collective agreement. 

The eligible TAs and RAs have received an email from TAT with instructions on how to vote for their preferred union. 

For more information on TRAC and CREW’s legal battle this summer, read our article here

To find out more about each union, you can visit TRAC’s website and CREW’s website


Student unions holding high energy barbecues to end six months of legal battle

CREW rallied to campaign for upcoming union vote

La Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), representing six unions at Concordia, held barbecues at each campus on Sept. 13 and 14. Smiling students gathered around poutine and smoked meat food trucks while unions delivered campaign speeches and blasted cheery music.

For Concordia’s Research and Educational Workers union (CREW), these barbecues were the opportunity to speak up about the early October secret ballot vote. Teaching (TA) and Research Assistants (RA) at Concordia will choose their representative union.

This vote is an attempt to end an ongoing six month legal battle between the current Teachers and Researchers Assistant union (TRAC), and CREW, created in March by former TRAC members.

If accredited as the official TA and RA representative, CREW would be parented by CSN. CREW member Basak Tozlu is enthusiastic about the parent union:

“They are really there for their members. They are really just giving out free food right now, for all those people. And I’m so happy to see there are five other unions covered by CSN in this university. And there are only two with PSAC.”

The strong disappointment toward the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), representing TRAC’s union, is the main reason for CREW’s creation.

Tozlu emphasized the importance of the upcoming vote: “We need the majority of [union members] voting in order for the results to be accepted as valid.” CREW must also win a majority of votes to replace TRAC and officially represent TAs and RAs.  In order to vote, TAs and RAs must have been registered as students on April 3 and May 26, 2023, corresponding to the election petitions dates of CREW and TRAC.

Some students are still unaware of their legal rights. Archita Kaushal, member of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), said a TA and international student that passed by the CSU booth at a Concordia tabling fair was unsure of his working conditions. Kaushal described how the TA has to do unpaid prep work for three hours before each class. “This person said that they are affiliated to TRAC and they didn’t know that they could actually bargain for basic labor rights,” Kaushal recalls.

During the winter, CREW won the majority of TA and RA memberships. But since the official union hadn’t filed their Collective Agreement a couple of years ago, PSAC/TRAC had the right to re-file a petition.

According to CSU member Margot Berner, “there hasn’t been this much mobilization from TAs and RAs in a long time.”

The Concordia University Library Employees Union (CULEU), Métier/Trades Union and the Concordia University Professional Employees Union (CUPEU), which all fall under CSN, attended CREW’s festive barbecue to show their support and  express their own upcoming bargain.

Correction in the article:

  • In paragraph three, the end of the sentence has been changed from “CREW, created in March from the Elected executives council of TRAC” to “CREW, created in March by former TRAC members.” We recognize the error we’ve made and we apologize for the mistake.

The legal Battle to represent Concordia’s Teaching and Research Assistants

Two unions spent the summer working behind the scenes to be Concordia TAs’ and RAs’ official union

While many Concordians were taking some well-deserved time away from school this summer, two unions were fighting to be the official representatives of Concordia’s Research Assistants (RAs) and Teaching Assistants (TAs).

Despite collecting the membership of a majority of TAs and RAs at the end of their campaign, the Concordia Research and Education Workers Union (CREW) failed to get accredited this summer. The Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union (TRAC) remains the official union, but TAs and RAs will have to vote this fall to choose the group that will represent them. 

CREW was created last March when all members of TRAC’s former executive team resigned to form a new union that was meant to be more independent. In their letter of resignation, the team spoke out against TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). According to them, PSAC was hindering the fight for better pay and better work conditions for TAs and RAs at Concordia. 

“The university takes full advantage of these dynamics [between TRAC and PSAC],” CREW wrote in the letter, “exploiting PSAC’s poor results and lack of consultation, not to mention its lack of a participatory union culture […] to push around our members and chip away at our working conditions.”

Bree Stuart, who was president of TRAC until May 2022 and is now their interim administrative assistant, disagreed with the arguments CREW was making in the letter. To her, PSAC had always been present in a supportive role whenever TRAC needed them.

She was also shocked that the executive team would resign while they were bargaining for a new collective agreement.

“That, to me, is just super disingenuous, that you can start bargaining in a union that you’re trying to destroy,” Stuart said.

The campaign for memberships

Before CREW could become the accredited union representing Concordia’s TAs and RAs, they had to campaign against TRAC. Both unions had until April 3, 2023 to collect as many membership cards as possible from the TAs and RAs.

“You could think of it as a referendum, in a way,” explained Stephanie Eccles, campaign coordinator and organizer at CREW. “So folks had to give their allegiance to TRAC or their allegiance to CREW.”

The deadline of April 3 had been chosen by both CREW and TRAC because union raids—the process of challenging an existing union—can only legally happen 60 days before the end of a union’s collective agreement. 

The accreditation 

On April 3, at midnight, CREW filed their membership cards with the Quebec Labor Board (TAT). At the time, they reported having 1,700 members out of Concordia’s 2,100 TAs and RAs, a number confirmed by TAT documentation.

“We were feeling very good about going into the court date on May 30,” recalled Eccles. “And then, on May 26—and this is how we found ourselves in our current situation—PSAC refiled a petition to certify the TAs and RAs at Concordia.”

On that day, PSAC sent the court a new list of their members, one in which they had a majority of memberships for TAs and RAs under contract on May 26. 

The reason they were able to refile despite being past the 60-day deadline was that PSAC had never filed TRAC’s Collective Agreement with TAT. In other words, in the eyes of TAT, TRAC’s Collective Agreement had expired on May 31, 2021.

“We just did a side agreement with the university,” said Eccles. “And so, what that means is that for the last few years, our union has been open to raids by other unions. It has not upheld the legal protections necessary.” 

The Collective Agreement had still been signed by the union and the university. According to Stuart, “even if it hadn’t been filed with the TAT, it was a signed, legally binding contract between Concordia and TRAC.”

As things stand now, CREW had a majority of signatures on April 3, and TRAC had a majority on May 26. There will be a secret email ballot in the fall to act as a tie-breaker and determine which union will be accredited. TAs and RAs should receive more information about who is eligible to vote in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, TRAC is still the official union and collects 1.84 per cent of TAs’ and RAs’ salaries, according to Eccles.

Where we currently stand

Two weeks ago, on August 22, TRAC elected their new executive team during an online General Assembly that student media was barred from attending. The quorum for the meeting was 30. TRAC claims that this quorum was met, at least during the votes at the beginning, but Eccles claims the election was done without meeting quorum.

Xiang Chen Zhu is TRAC’s newly elected mobilization officer. He initially supported CREW, but after the accreditation issues this summer, he started thinking that their campaign was taking time and attention away from bargaining and supporting TAs and RAs. “CREW has basically promised us everything will be transitioned smoothly,” he said, “and you will get a wage similar to the McGill students, which is around $33 [per hour].”

Marcus Granada, an organizer with CREW, disagrees with the idea that his union made false claims during their campaign last semester. He said that while CREW cannot make promises about wages or conditions, they can promise to fight for TAs and RAs. “Part of the campaign is being as transparent and honest as possible,” he said, “and not selling them a dream.”

What to expect in the coming months

Both unions are now turning their focus to the secret ballot this fall and the campaign that will precede it. The date for the vote is not yet set. 

“Of course, CREW is feeling very confident because, when we filed on April 3, we had over 1,700 of the 2,100 cards available,” said Eccles. “We had a strong majority.”

Granada highlighted the importance of mobilizing TAs and RAs to show up for the vote. “If the voter turnout is under 50 per cent of the TAs and RAs, then PSAC automatically wins,” he explained. “So we need to get the votes and we need to get a lot of people to vote as well.” 

On TRAC’s end, Zhu said they are ready to move on to bargaining. “Whoever wins the ballot, they should focus their time and effort on something that students really care about right now,” he said.

On her end, Bree Stuart believes that the secret ballot will give people a chance to express their true opinions about the union.“I just feel like it’s more ethical because people can take the time to sit down, educate themselves, and really make their own decision on what they want, who they feel is more apt at taking their bargaining demands into their own hands,” she said.


CREW’s campaign to ditch TRAC met with positive response 

Concordia University’s teaching and research assistances stand together as they accumulate signatures to create a new union before the April 3 deadline that advocates for better pay and benefits

On March 24, the Concordia Research and Education Workers Union (CREW) held a pizza party at the university’s Loyola campus to bring together TAs and RAs to express their support for leaving the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia Union (TRAC). The CREW campaign is optimistic about change thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response of TAs and RAs who are choosing to make the switch.

As people started to trickle into the meeting room in the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex, the overall attitude of attendees as they started eating was that they were done with TRAC. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the parent union of TRAC, failed to support its members in meeting their demands for a collective agreement with Concordia University that included a pay raise above inflation, better benefits for international students, improved protection against overwork, paid training, and better job security. 

The main topic people discussed was their unfair salaries. According to the TRAC 2023 Demands Draft Points on the CREW website, TAs and RAs at Concordia University are paid by tier, making between $17.24 to $29.81 an hour. TAs in other universities like McGill make a minimum of $33 an hour. CREW wants to abolish the tier pay rate and establish equity amongst their members. Biochemistry TA and RA Frances Davenport emphasized that PSAC doesn’t have their back. 

“PSAC didn’t even try to refute the salary issue. One of the talking points that they put on their website was that McGill students technically do more work, so TAs at Concordia don’t deserve more money. That’s so wild to me because there are people on CREW’s campaign team who say, ‘I TA at Concordia and my partner TAs at McGill. We have the exact same job,’” Davenport said. 

CREW is confident that its new potential parent union, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), will help them win their fight. They’ve seen CSN’s support for the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), McGill’s TA and RA union, who is a local union of theirs. 

“AGSEM has been helping us campaign as well. We have come together to compare job descriptions and responsibilities and they are the same. The only difference is that for AGSEM, it is outlined in a contract, PSCA won’t even give us a contract.” Davenport said.

Alex Engler (left) biology delegate for TAs and RAs and Frances Davenport (right) Biochemstry delegate for TAs and RAs, Chantal Bellefeuille/ THE CONCORDIAN

Former TRAC President Sam Thompson was also in disbelief at PSAC’s response. 

“It’s an amazing illustration of how little understanding PSAC has of the valuable work that the teaching assistants do at Concordia. We are absolutely essential to the very functioning of the university,” Thompson said.

“Without us, it would simply fall apart. So, the idea that our work is less valuable than what McGill does is laughable.”

CSN allows their unions to be autonomous, meaning that if CREW officially signs with them, they will be able to have the final say when CREW brings their issues to the bargaining table. PSAC’s diplomatic structure doesn’t provide this. 

Joey Ricardo, a research assistant in Concordia’s biochemistry department, thinks that PSAC has neglected its members in the past and didn’t try to help TRAC negotiate for a better salary and benefits. This is the fundamental reason behind the switch, giving TAs and RAs more control over their situation. 

“CSN is less involved as a parent union and will let CREW do what they want to do. TRAC was at the mercy of PSAC. Now if someone is saying, ‘No, you can’t negotiate pay,’ CREW will be able to decide whether they want to renegotiate or not. CSN will only be there for support,” Ricardo said.

This is why CREW believes that for real change to happen, they need to put the pressure on. They think they deserve a better deal than what PSAC is willing to offer. 

“PSAC has made the claim that CSN comes and raids their unions, bringing PSAC’s unions over to CSN. CREW’s campaign team did their research and reached out to CSN for help. This movement is a grassroots movement, started by graduate students,” Davenport said. 

She says that CSN supports CREW’s principles, like how CREW stresses that TAs and RAs are university employees. According to Davenport, Concordia University emphasizes that they are students first, denying TAs and RAs employee benefits.

Thompson says that the CREW campaign has spoken to thousands of TAs and RAs who have made the switch from TRAC to CREW. The relationships that the TA and RA community has formed over the last couple of weeks have never been in a stronger position. They have received support from every single department at Concordia University.

“It’s so amazing to see members so excited by a project that fills them with the hope that contains the promise of real dignity at work,” Thompson said. 

“It’s also been an incredible opportunity to build momentum in the lead-up to negotiating with the university. Members look at the deal that they’ve had for 15 years and know that it can be better. They want the opportunity to fight for that positive change.”

For the switch to officially comply with Quebec’s labour union laws, CREW needs to have 50 per cent of TRAC members sign a petition stating that they want to resign from TRAC to join CREW. 

Towards the end of the pizza party, Ph.D. candidate Victor Quezada, who’s been working as a graduate student for Concordia since 2019, commented that he thinks the switch will officially happen. He has noticed how the TA and RA community has become more tight-knit because of CREW’s encouragement and people have been participating to get the word out. 

“I have good expectations. We have good representatives who are fighting for change. CREW are very involved, engaged, and have put everything that they have into this,” Quezada said. 

PSAC was contacted for comment but didn’t respond in time for publication.


CSU, GSA and TRAC withdraw from Concordia’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

Three student organizations — the Concordia Student Union (CSU), the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), and the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union — announced their withdrawal from the University’s Policy Advisory Committee on sexual violence on Oct.5. 

During their press conference outside of the Hall building, student representatives announced their decision to no longer participate in Concordia’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence due to ignored demands and mishandled complaints. 

The committee is made up of students, staff, and faculty with the goal of raising awareness to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence on campus.

Alan Shepard, President of Concordia between 2012-19, announced the establishment of the task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence in Jan. 2018, following several harassment allegations within the University’s Creative Writing program. 

Since then, student representatives like Vice President of TRAC Becca Wilgosh have shared their disappointment in the lack of transparency and resources for students. 

“We’ve talked a couple of times about how complainants’ survivors in the University don’t even receive the results of their case, especially when that case is regarding faculty,” said Wilgosh. 

“And the University is more concerned with their reputation, especially when it comes to faculty than actually giving justice to students,” she added. 

Margot Berner, a past student representative in the standing committee, read the statement at last week’s press conference, describing Concordia’s policy processes as ‘hostile to students.’ 

Berner also explained that the required non-disclosure agreements to participate in the committee prove a lack of transparency towards student organizations. 

“Non-disclosure agreements work directly against our mandates of transparency, accountability, and accessibility to information,” read the statement. 

Another reason that was provided for the collective withdrawal was the lack of student representation. Only four of the 15 committee members are students, representing only slightly less than a third of the active student body. Berner also highlighted that the final authority on the sexual violence policy remains at the discretion of the Board of Governors. 

“With most decisions taken behind closed doors or through coercive consensus, the student representative positions in actuality remain simply observational rather than representative,” Berner added. 

During his speech, Nelson Graves, a TRAC delegate for the philosophy department, claimed the department has a history of sexual violence. 

Graves recalls an instance wherein two teaching assistants (TAs) were recently assigned to one individual who has allegedly perpetuated sexual violence amongst his female TAs. 

Additionally, Graves spoke about another situation in which an international student felt humiliated by the lack of awareness from the University about the sexual misconduct allegations.

“We’re working with TRAC Union to better expand our campaign, and we are interested to see how the University responds to this larger campaign,” concluded Graves.

Payton Mitchell, communications coordinator for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA), was also present at the press conference. 

“Concordia’s sloppy process and refusal to approach problems with a student-centred and solution-oriented mindset have hindered accessibility to fully support our own membership,” said Mitchell. 

The CSU, GRA, TRAC and ASFA have no plans to return to the standing committee in the foreseeable future unless major changes regarding transparency are implemented. 

The three organizations will work closely together to raise awareness and support students who are mistreated. 

“We actually believe that we would do a better job of leading, beginning the discussions about what the sexual violence response should be in the University because we don’t have these institutional restraints that the University faces,” said Wilgosh.


Concordia TAs overworked and underpaid

TAs struggle to make ends meet with wages that do not cover living expenses and are lower than some other Canadian universities.

“We deserve a living wage,” says Max Jones, communications officer for Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC). Jones, a master’s student in English literature, has been a TA himself for the past year.

TAs are paid $29 an hour at Concordia which is significantly lower than some other Canadian universities, such as the University of Toronto where they are paid $49, or McGill University where the rate is $33 an hour. 

Most TAs have contracts that cover an average of five to fifteen hours a week. University policy states that “the maximum TA working hours for TAs is 20 hours per week in order not to interfere with their studies.”

According to Jones, “these hours do not reflect the needs. At times English TAs need to read a whole book for a class and they can easily go overtime.” The limited hours coupled with the relatively lower pay leaves many TAs financially struggling.

“There are cases where a grad student is a TRAC executive, has a TA contract, and also works for other organizations to make ends meet,” adds Jones.  

Agustín Rugiero is a third-year PhD student in film studies. Currently, he has two RAships and one TAship while doing some other small jobs to support himself. “You need at least three TAships to break even, $29 is not a living wage anymore,” Rugiero said.

As a PhD student he received an initial funding that allowed him to pay Quebec tuition rates. “This is not the case with all students,” acknowledged Rugiero. The tuition for a full PhD program can amount to $59,000 for an Arts and Science program in the case of international students. Even for Rugiero, who is not paying such rates, he still finds himself eating through his funds instead of relying on the money he makes through his TA or RAship. “$4 more per hour for McGill students might not look like much, but it can amount to $400 more per TAship which makes a lot of difference,” he added.

PhD students are expected to carry out quality research in their fields which is in itself a full-time job, but as Rugiero points out, “if this is our job, why are we not being sustained by it?” Many PhD students are deprived of more reading and research time because they need to complement their TAships with more work. For Rugiero this fact has made it more difficult to find time to network with other researchers in his field who have the same interests.

All this can gravely affect the quality of research that is being done at Concordia.  “I enjoy my studies at Concordia; however, the creeping economic anxieties are also part of this experience,” admits Rugiero.

Vannina Maestracci, Concordia’s University Spokesperson, explained to The Concordian that the teaching assistants’ wages “are negotiated between the University and the Union.” These wages are based on a “Collective Agreement [that] is due to expire in June 2023 and that is when new wages will be negotiated.” 

However, there is no guarantee that this new negotiation will result in higher wages for the TAs and RAs at Concordia. When asked about the possibility of a wage increase, Maestracci responded that they “can’t know what will happen in negotiations that are over a year and a half away.” 

Currently, the low pay is not the only issue plaguing the TAs at Concordia. TAs are required to provide their sex assigned at birth when they are hired, “which forces trans TAs to out themselves,” Jones explains. The union has not been able to change this procedure after talks with Concordia’s Human Resources. 

When The Concordian reached out to the University to inquire about the reasons behind such a requirement, it was explained that the University is “legally required to gather this [information] because TRAC employees (like all employees) are entitled to pension plan entitlements, which are based on age and gender at birth.” 

The University official further explained that while this information is required, it is “collected separately from the other work-related information for an additional layer of confidentiality. As always, this, and all personal information, is treated with great respect and confidentiality.” While this stands as a legal requirement, Jones explained that many trans employees continue to be deeply disturbed by it.  

Addressing various TA and RA grievances has been a hard task to achieve so far for the union. TRAC is a relatively new union; it was also dissolved in 2015 and put under the trusteeship of its parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), due to an investigation that saw the removal of TRAC executives. The executive committee was found to be fully dysfunctional, and the lack of a united front has affected the union’s capability to bargain in the past. Moreover, graduate students have a high turnover since they mostly graduate within two years.

“Grad students are also so tired that it makes it hard to functionally bargain,” adds Jones.

Voicing grievances can also affect a TA’s prospects for pursuing a career in academia. “Your career path can be determined by the professor you work for since you need their recommendation or help and there are professors who take advantage of this power dynamic,” adds the TRAC member. Jones is referring to a case in 2022 where TAs campaigned against working for a philosophy professor who was accused of sexual harassment. Jones explained that some TAs hesitate to come forth with complaints due to career considerations.

“Professors need to be more respectful of TAs as people and not just as a way to lessen their workload,” said Jones. Jones added that at times the failure of a professor to sign their contracts on time has resulted in a TA not being paid for months.

This year the TAs and RAs at Concordia are also recovering from COVID, where they had to learn new software and hold long Zoom hours to cope with the demands of the pandemic, and all these challenges were not reflected in their pay.

Rugiero is also a TRAC delegate. He believes that despite all the difficulties and the general slow response from Concordia, they can have high hopes for the negotiations.

“TRAC is shaping up to be even better and has been rallying people up for a higher wage,” he adds.

Rugiero also believes that Concordia needs to support their words with concrete action when it comes to mental health. The low wage that pushes grad students to seek more employment affects their work quality as researchers as well as their mental health.

“We’re paying so much for tuition and TAships should not make us sacrifice our degrees so we can have money to eat,” says Jones.

The wage increase would benefit grad students and undergrads who might become grad students in the future, and in this way it would affect the student body as a whole. As Agustín stated: “Not having an inflation-adjusted wage amounts to having a pay cut.”

Infographics by James Fay and Carleen Loney


Concordia students and TAs protest against sexual violence injustice at Concordia

Concordia’s teaching assistants union and students gather to protest against a lack of transparency in sexual violence cases, aiming to spread awareness

“When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” That’s how protesters made their voices heard at the “Stand up Against Harassment” protest on March 8, International Women’s Day. The rally, held by the Norman Bethune statue, was intended to highlight the importance of acknowledging the lack of transparency in Concordia’s response to sexual violence and demand structural change.

The Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union organized the event, aiming to spread awareness and demand change regarding sexual violence victims who have been subject to Concordia’s treatment towards people suspected of committing sexual violence. Mya Walmsley, a TRAC delegate from Concordia’s Department of Philosophy, started her speech with a chant, enforcing the rally’s message for change, saying “We want change! When do we want it? Now!”

One of the reasons for the protest was philosophy students refusing to work with an unnamed professor in the department, who has an alleged history of sexual harassment. Until safer working conditions are set in place, the TAs and students refuse to work with him.

Late last year, the TRAC union created a petition, with 250 signatures, demanding from the university to be more transparent about cases of sexual assault and violence.

Concordia has been involved in six sexual allegation cases, from multiple departments, with one case dating back to the 90’s. In addition, from 2012 to 2018, six former Concordia students filed complaints to the Human Rights Commission about Concordia’s lack of response towards its students surrounding sexual violence cases.

“For a decade, the university has known about these allegations, and rather than working with survivors of sexual harassment, rather than working with students and staff to find a long-term solution, Concordia has swept these issues under the rug,” Walmsley explained.

The TRAC demands structural change to create a safer working environment, and an institutional response to sexual violence and harassment, emphasizing that sexual assault policies and gender violence must be survivor-centered, and it should never be a survivor’s responsibility to avoid the person who harassed or attacked them. Furthermore, the union demands Concordia protect survivors’ rights to tell their own stories, even if they have filed internal or external complaints. In addition, Students and TAs working and studying under the supervision of accused faculty members should be able to decide who they want to work with, or if the allegations have been dealt with satisfactorily.

Mathilde, one of the event organizers who wished to be referred to by they first name, made they stance on the topic clear.

“Today, we hold Concordia accountable for their action and responsibility towards all members of the Concordia community. We want everyone to be safe!”

Apart from the TRAC members and representatives, dozens of students and supporters joined the protest. Ra’anaa Brown, a doctoral student in the Art History Department joined the protest to show her support and draw awareness to unrecognized sexual violence at the university. “As a woman, as someone who has several sisters, as someone who knows non-binary and queer folks, this is an incredibly important cause for me,” Brown said. “Today is International Women’s Day, and it’s when women can come together across the globe, recognize our important contributions to society, but also fight for the basic human rights that we still do not have access to.”

Nelson Graves, both a master’s student and a TRAC delegate member in the philosophy department, has dedicated his time to fighting against prejudice in the Concordia administrative system. “It is a structural change. Yes, Concordia has the mandatory sexual violence course. However, someone that will perpetuate sexual violence is going to do it anyway, regardless if they have completed the course,” Graves explained. He believes that Concordia needs to enact more change, investigate how they work with survivors, and improve on transparency.

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney

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Concordia’s labour union for teaching assistant’s pushes back against the Feb. 3 return to campus

The letter states 78 per cent of members feel unsafe returning to work

The Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia University (TRAC) union detailed their displeasure with Concordia’s decision to return to campus on Feb. 3. The letter states that 78 per cent of TRAC members do not feel safe returning to work.

Distributed on Jan. 17, the letter titled “No Work But Safe Work” outlined TRAC’s five demands which they would like to be met when a return to campus should occur. Their safety demands include that “Concordia commit to online learning at least until cases and hospitals are under control for a minimum of two weeks.”

Additionally, they demand the provision of N95/KN95 masks to students and employees, and a guarantee of at least two weeks notice before Concordia transitions to or changes their plan to return to campus. Currently the university has stated they will only give a week’s notice. TRAC aren’t alone in these demands, as other unions such as the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) and the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) have requested access to similar PPE.

TRAC expressed that Concordia should provide testing measures in the event of a classroom outbreak through “on-campus access to rapid tests and effective contact tracing.”

Their final request was that the university provide “professional, paid training for online teaching considering that it is not the same as in-person, and yet we are expected to learn on the fly.”

In regards to the virus, TRAC stated that a return to campus by Feb. 3 would “increase the spread and place thousands of students and TAs [teaching assistants] & RAs [research assistants] at an unnecessary risk of contracting the virus, which could then be transmitted to their families and overburden the healthcare system.”

The letter further stated that the university would be putting the greater Montreal community at risk if they went through with a preemptive return to classes.

“Although the government insists that mental health is their number one priority in pushing for a return to schools, the stress and fear of an unsafe working environment is a far greater burden on our collective mental health.”

The Concordia Student Union (CSU) published a similar open letter criticizing the university’s return to in-person classes, which collected 850 signatures in less than 9 hours since its release, according to Hannah Jamet-Lange, academic and advocacy coordinator at the CSU.

Currently there have been 259,626 COVID cases in Montreal since the beginning of the pandemic with over 1,374 new cases reported on Jan. 19. Third dose boosters are now available for anyone above the age of 18 in Quebec provided you are three months past your last dose.

Visuals by Alexa Hawksworth


Negotiations between TRAC and university hit a snag

Concordia offers to negotiate an agreement for 2016-17 and 2017-18, but not next year

There isn’t a handle on the door to the new Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) office, nor a sign indicating the union’s presence in the nondescript PR building on Concordia’s downtown campus.

The TRAC office was moved from its Bishop Street location to this new space during reading week. The room is painted white and furnished with a blue couch and the desk of union president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron, which is littered with boxes full of files. The office is lit in part by a green emergency exit sign and is accessible only by pushing on the door’s emergency push bar.

A TRAC grievance officer and union member recently got trapped in the office because the door locked from the inside. In order to get them out, St-Onge-Perron had to push the emergency bar on the door, thus sounding an alarm.

This, however, is the least of St-Onge-Perron’s worries. The negotiations to sign a new collective agreement between his organization and the university hit a brick wall in March. To the union’s displeasure, the university’s administration did not instruct its negotiators to broker an agreement for the 2018-19 academic year during the current round of negotiations.

In an email to The Concordian, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said “all parties continue to negotiate and explore issues at the negotiating table.”

St-Onge-Perron said the lack of mandate for the university negotiators to discuss an agreement for 2018-19 is neither TRAC nor the university negotiators’ fault, but rather the fault of the negotiators’ “bosses.” That’s why, St-Onge-Perron explained, the union’s message to president Alan Shepard is: “Give your negotiators a good mandate.”

TRAC will protest the lack of progress on an agreement for the upcoming year on April 18 when the university’s board of governors reconvenes. The board is responsible for providing the university negotiators with a mandate, according to St-Onge Perron.

“We have to convince [the negotiators’] bosses by mobilizing,” St-Onge-Perron told The Concordian in January before the two sides began negotiating the monetary aspects of the agreements for 2016-17 and 2017-18.

When the two sides met on March 16, the offer on the table from the university only included the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years, according to St-Onge-Perron. This meant the two parties would have to start meeting again to discuss 2018-19 when the new agreement came to an end about three weeks later.

“They said, ‘No, we’re not allowed to negotiate the future,’” St-Onge-Perron recounted, referring to the university’s negotiators. “Everybody assumes we’re going to negotiate for the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years since October.”

“It’s very frustrating. We told [university negotiators] it would not work. There’s no way we sign this,” St-Onge Perron said categorically. There is no set date for the two sides to meet before the April 18 board of governors meeting.

TRAC still works under an agreement that expired two years ago and whose monetary terms need to change, St-Onge-Perron explained. Namely, the union is still held back by the issue of contract splitting, which consists of teaching assistants being paid a certain wage for their time in class and a second, lower wage for marking papers.

Article 15.05 of the 2013-16 collective agreement—the one currently in use—states that “marking duties may be the object of separate marker contracts.” St-Onge-Perron argued to The Concordian that university departments are taking advantage of this clause to save money.

Nonetheless, St-Onge-Perron said the university’s negotiators recognize the departments’ use of the article is not beneficial to teaching assistants, and they are open to solving the issue.

“If we’re only negotiating the past, there’s no solution for split contracts. We at least need to negotiate the past and the future.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins


TRAC votes to oppose Bill 62 outright

Contract negotiations for teaching and research assistants union to resume in February

About 60 members of Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) gathered to discuss the union’s priorities for the winter 2018 semester at a special general assembly on Jan. 24.

The union is in the midst of negotiating a new collective agreement with Concordia and has been working under an expired agreement since April 2016. Bi-weekly meetings between Concordia University and TRAC’s bargaining team started at the end of October and will resume for the winter semester in February. TRAC is entering potentially the most contentious part of their negotiations, dealing with issues directly related to how much teaching and research assistants will be paid.

Prior to the general assembly, TRAC’s executive committee, led by president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron, distributed a letter to members updating them on the status of negotiations and the union’s mobilization plans for the semester.
Although the topics of bargaining and mobilization were expected to take up most of the discussion time, it was the last item on the assembly agenda that garnered the most feedback and debate amongst those gathered—Bill 62.

As The Concordian previously reported, TRAC’s executive team decided to ask their members if they want the union to take an official position on Bill 62, the province’s religious neutrality law, which has been widely derided as openly Islamophobic.

Jonathan Vallée-Payette, the chair of the assembly and a labour advisor from TRAC’s parent union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), reminded those gathered that, as publicly funded institutions, universities and their employees would be subject to the directives of the bill.

The primary point of concern in Bill 62 is Article 10, the notorious clause which makes it illegal for anyone to give or receive public services without showing their face. The bill also states that religious accommodation will be granted under certain rules to be determined by Quebec’s minister of justice. However, those rules have yet to be published.

This undetermined part of the bill led a judge to issue a temporary stay on Article 10 in December, which injected uncertainty into how the TRAC assembly wanted to proceed. Some members thought it better to wait until the accommodation rules had been clarified before taking an official position.

Although that proposal was considered for a moment, a forceful call to oppose the bill outright from member Cameron McIntyre garnered audible support.

“I don’t think asking for clarification is tough enough for what this bill is,” McIntyre said.

A second member followed at the microphone: “I think we should oppose this on the grounds that it is a shameful and racist practice.”

Two other members expressed similar sentiments at the microphone before the general assembly voted in favour of opposing Bill 62 outright. However, the motion did not make specific mention of discrimination as the reason for the opposition.

TRAC’s official position is now more in line with its parent union, PSAC, which released a statement in October calling the bill Islamophobic and discriminatory toward Muslim women.

Disclosure: Kenneth Gibson is a teaching assistant for the Concordia journalism department.

Photo Courtesy of Natalie Greenberg


TRAC, university to move on to issue of contract splitting

Mood at the collective agreement negotiation table “excellent,” says TRAC president

Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) president Alexandre St-Onge-Perron does not know when his group and the university will negotiate the financial aspects of what he hopes will be a new three-to-four-year collective agreement.

“After every meeting, we ask ourselves when we’ll talk about the monetary. I hope it will be in late February or [sooner],” St-Onge-Perron said.

The monetary aspects of the agreement include the issue of “contract splitting.” St-Onge-Perron previously explained to The Concordian that contract splitting consists of a teaching assistant being paid a wage for their time in class and a second, lower wage for marking papers.

In an e-mail to The Concordian, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr wrote: “All contracts are managed in accordance with the collective agreement, which is negotiated by the parties.” Article 15.05 of the 2013-16 collective agreement—the one currently in use—states that “marking duties may be the object of separate marker contracts.”

St-Onge-Perron said, when the negotiation of financial issues begin, Concordia’s negotiating team—made up of employees from human resources, professors from the political science and engineering departments, and Nadia Hardy, the vice-provost of faculty relations—might be more influenced by their superiors than they are now.

“We have to convince their bosses by mobilizing,” St-Onge-Perron said. Nonetheless, he added that the mood at the negotiating table is “excellent.”

According to St-Onge-Perron, the biggest change to come out of the negotiations so far is the changes to the process of filing a grievance complaint, which has “greatly improved.” He said the process is much easier for TRAC members than before. The new agreement will not force the two sides to be present at the same time during the grievance process, and the process will be simplified.

Notably, the time allowed for members to file a grievance will be extended. Under the current agreement, members have 40 days to file a grievance following an incident. Their window to file a grievance will now only begin at the end of the teaching or research assistant’s contract.

St-Onge-Perron explained that one of the first things members say when they come forward with issues is, “I don’t want to cause trouble,” because they don’t want to file a complaint during their contract and risk losing their position.

“Now, they won’t have that problem,” St-Onge-Perron said.

He also added that the new policy would not favour the university, which wants to avoid having students file too many grievances.

More delegates in the ranks

According to St-Onge-Perron, there has recently been a slight increase in the number of TRAC delegates. In October, Eunbyul Park, TRAC’s communications and mobilization officer, said adding delegates was one of TRAC’s priorities.

St-Onge-Perron said a substantial number of people attended the faculty of engineering’s delegate assembly, where members were free to express their concerns and question their delegate and TRAC’s executive team.

St-Onge-Perron also noted that the executive team has a meeting scheduled later this month with administrators from the department of mechanical engineering, which he defined as “previously problematic.” For instance, the department did not distribute TRAC membership forms the appropriate way, St-Onge-Perron said.

Bill 62 discussion at general assembly

St-Onge-Perron said TRAC’s executive team will ask its members if they want the union to take a position on Bill 62—a provincial religious neutrality law.

“If the answer is yes, we’ll ask, ‘What is your position?’” St-Onge-Perron told The Concordian. “We decided that it wasn’t up to the executive team to decide if TRAC was for or against it.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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