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.

A return to four in-person workdays opposed by Concordia staff unions

Staff members are disappointed with the deans’ decision and are taking matters into their own hands.

At the President’s welcome last week, unions representing staff members of Concordia joined the festivities to present Graham Carr with a petition signed by 613 members. The petition asked him to reconsider the decision to request Concordia staff return to in-person work four days a week. 

This decision was announced in June. Before then, the hybrid work model had varied between departments, but many staff members said they enjoyed the flexibility and that it was a healthy and effective system.

Beata Tararuj, graduate program coordinator for the electrical and computer engineering department, created the petitions against the return to four in-person workdays. She did not hear about the decision from her dean, but from one of her colleagues. 

“The number of emails that I started getting, it was like an email after email after email, after email, after email, and everybody was so not happy. Everybody was miserable. Everybody was disappointed. We felt like somebody stabbed us in our back,” Tararuj said.

Her first petition was sent to all faculties at the university, collecting 250 votes. A second petition was later sent out when the unions were able to make their votes, which now has a total of 613 votes.  

“When a student comes with a problem, I am there to listen,” said Tararuj. “I’m here to navigate through the Concordia system. I’m here to make sure that these people are well taken care of.  So I was thinking to myself, I fight for students on a regular basis. Why won’t I fight for myself?” 

Since the pandemic, people have started to adapt to the new normal of hybrid work. Concordia University is still trying to define what this vision is going to look like.

In 2021, Concordia requested its staff return to in-person work two days a week. In 2022, that number went up to three days a week. And now, staff has been asked to return to campus four days a week.

Sigmund Lam, vice president negotiations of the Concordia University Professional Employees Union (CUPEU), worries that Concordia staff may be expected to return to full-time in-person work next year—a fear that was echoed by other union members. 

So where is this decision of increased workdays coming from? In an email, Vannina Maestracci, Concordia’s spokesperson, explained that it “prioritizes services and supports Concordia’s core activities: teaching, research and knowledge creation, and the student experience.”

Maestracci also wrote that this decision was taken “to achieve the vision of a vibrant campus experience and ensure fairness.” The fairness refers to the idea of having a uniform standard for all staff (four days in-person per week) instead of letting departments decide on their own guidelines.

The four faculty deans denied our request for an interview. When approached at the welcome event on Sept. 7, president Carr refused to comment on the decision or the petition.

Many staff members have said they wish the deans had given more explanations for this decision. Shoshana Kalfon, advisor and president of CUPEU, said she wants to see the data supporting this return to in-person work.

“They have all these keywords, the word of the day. ‘We want a vibrant campus.’ Was it not? And is it required that everybody be on campus all the time for that to exist?” she said.

To her, the hybrid work model is all about giving staff choices. Some may decide to work from home two days a week, and some may decide to be on campus every day.

“I don’t know if it’s that [the administration] doesn’t want us to have the opportunity to make a decision, to make a choice—and that, to me, comes down to control.” she said. 

Lam explained that staff often end up doing more productive work when they work from home. “Quite often, people in the office are interrupted constantly,” he said. 

“Unhappy employees are less productive,” he added. “And I believe the employees have lost trust in upper management’s ability to make decisions with regard to hybrid or flexible work. And loss of trust also causes a reduction in performance.”

Alycia Manning is the enrollment coordinator for the law and society program in the history department. Last semester, she worked in-person for three and a half days a week. 

She said she valued “being at home and being able to just focus [on herself].” “You wake up, you can do a little workout in the morning, then you can do your laundry at lunchtime. It’s nice to be able to just have that, just a little bit of freedom,” she added. 

Tararuj echoed that feeling, saying she needs a healthy work/life balance to stay present with her tasks and in every aspect of her life.

“This specific position [program coordinator], it’s a demanding position. There’s a lot of tasks, there’s a lot of students. I’m a high energy person and I like to give energy to my students,” she shared. “By the time I get home, I’m so dead. I’m so tired, I can’t even go to a park with my kids.”

Daniela Ferrer—who was, until recently, VP grievances and mobilization coordinator at Concordia University Support Staff Union (CUSSU)—is also worried that this decision will affect staff’s mental health.

“Concordia pays a lot of lip service to the importance of mental health, but they really don’t seem to be listening to workers when they tell them: ‘Hey, you know, working remotely has been incredibly beneficial to my mental health and this return to campus is causing a lot of anxiety,” Ferrer said.

“[The administration is] ignoring the fact that a lot of things changed during the pandemic and people’s priorities shifted,” said Ferrer. According to her, hybrid work has brought to light people’s “lost time”—time spent commuting, sitting at your desk when all the work is done, or waiting between meetings. 

Elizabeth Xu is a woodshop technician in the fine arts department and already works four days a week from 9 to 5. She hopes President Carr will listen to what the university’s staff has to say. 

“I hope that they can open their ears and open their hearts to the will of the people,” Xu said. “If the majority of the workers are saying that this [hybrid work] is something that’s better for them, I feel like it’s just the right thing to do from one human to another, to listen to their experiences and try and make accommodations where possible, especially if the work isn’t compromised.”


Dreams Struck Down By Strikes?

Concordia film production students talk WGA/SAG strikes

In case you’re unaware, the WGA (Writers Guild Association) and SAG (Screen Actors Guild) are simultaneously on strike for the first time in 60 years. Both writers and actors are demanding fair compensation and better working conditions, standing toe-to-toe with Hollywood’s powerhouse studios. 

These strikes are now exposing some of the working conditions in Hollywood, and just how awful they are. On top of this, they’ve exposed how studios are cutting costs by not paying any residuals for content on streaming services. 

Does this sound like the kind of work environment you’d aspire to have? Well for some of Concordia’s film production students, it is. So how have they been reacting to these strikes?

Talking with Alvaro Gomez, a second year film production student, he explained the need for these strikes saying, “Action needs to be taken right now.” 

So, if you were to ask me these strikes have been a long time coming. Netflix began its streaming service in 2007. Since then, writers and actors have not received any residuals for their work in content shown on streaming platforms. For any of you non-math majors that’s 16 years of not being fairly paid for your work. 

I believe we can all agree that that’s outrageous and unacceptable, no?

Yet, there’s still talk online of strikers’ demands being greedy— to which Ellie Charette, a second-year film production student, says: “If they’re willing to pump $200 million into weekly blockbusters, I think they can afford to pay their actors and writers fairly.” This just showing how studios are more than capable of paying fair wages, they’re just choosing not to. 

“I don’t see how that is even remotely selfish… I’m not even asking for 1% of the revenue” said Gomez. Now, in a post pandemic world nobody would take issue if say, nurses were asking to be fairly compensated, but as Gomez pointed out ‘Everyone knows the industry is completely rotten with the most horrible people.’” 

On top of this, studios like Disney have been completely unwilling to budge. Instead of agreeing to the terms and taking a less-than-one-per-cent pay cut, studios are now pushing release dates for highly anticipated films, hoping to wait out the strikes so actors will return to do press.

However, through all this there’s been a shining light at the end of the tunnel. Strikers today are fighting not only for themselves, but the aspiring filmmakers, writers, directors and actors of tomorrow. Mingus Ferreira, a second year film production student, actually visited the picket line outside of Netflix offices in New York.

Ferreira spoke to the camaraderie and witnessed heartwarming solidarity. “It was raining, it wasn’t a very nice day but people were still out there,” he recalled. 

Gomez spoke to the same thing as he pointed out how, despite studios cutting down trees in LA to get rid of any shade in the sun, strikers still showed up. “You could hear them from far away,” Ferreira added.

So how come these awful working conditions haven’t deterred our film production students from the industry? It comes down to one thing— the love of film.

In speaking with these three film production students, one thing was made glaringly clear. The fact is that these strikes need to be happening now, because these young passionate and talented filmmakers deserve to be treated with respect.

Pay your actors and writers, that’s all. 


The power of organizing as students and the possibility it provides

Union activist and writer Nora Loreto speaks at Concordia about labour organizing and the strength collective power.

Every year the Concordia Student Union (CSU) organizes a speaker series, collaborating with guest speakers from outside the University. This year, they decided to tie the series in with their annual campaign on housing and labour. 

“Things we really want to do with this annual campaign is bringing this conversation up, and have it in public discourse,” said Julianna Smith, external and mobilization coordinator of the CSU. “It’s important to have speakers coming in from different perspectives to help relate to all the different facets of the Concordia population.” 

She notes that during COVID “we’ve had an opportunity where people are reflecting on their housing situations, their employment, and they’re recognizing that things don’t have to be as they are.” She notes the possibility of action that comes from that. 

Smith emphasizes that she “really wants to make sure that the speakers who come in really represent Concordia students and are interested.” 

Writer and activist Nora Loreto came to speak at Concordia on Oct. 18 about her experience as an executive of the Canadian Freelance Union (CFU). The CFU is an organization representing freelance communication, acting like lawyers for people who are not paid for their labour. The work people do within the union is based on skill. 

Loreto co-hosts the Sandy & Nora Talk Politics podcast and has written three books. Her latest book, Spin Doctors: How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the COVID-19 Pandemic was nominated for the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction in 2022.

Her talk included themes of organization, collective power, and how we build collective power in the context of today and throughout COVID. 

The talk was about the objective of the labour relations regime in Canada and how we can restore power to that balance, or if it is time to completely replace it with something more radical.

Loreto began her talk by stating, “I come at the world through student-organizing eyes, and when you are a student you realize you have almost no power.” 

“You want to have power, you want to shut stuff down, you want to occupy buildings or offices, but you really don’t have much power, and worse than that you’re paying these people to put a boot to your neck.” 

Thus far, the CFU has not lost a single case. “We use the tactics of the labour movement in our union,” said Loreto. Her history as a manager of a unionized office informed her work. 

“Within liberal democracy, the way it is supposed to work is you have different actors that interact for the operation of the state,” she said.

Labour relations were codified in 1946, and in the years that followed that compromise collapsed with “more workers having fewer rights, fewer workers covered by unions, balancing work for profit.” 

“The really cool thing about being part of a student union in Quebec is we have the same legal recognition as a labour union, so it’s interesting to think about our academic labour relations in terms of labour relations,” noted Smith. 

Judging by the success of the event, to the questions asked during the Q&A, it is clear that the talk was much needed by the Concordia student community.


Getting back on TRAC

Members vote for equal pay for all levels of study—TAs and RAs allotted a 1 per cent raise

Teaching and Research Assistants of Concordia University (TRAC) voted for equal pay grades for teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) at all levels of study at their general assembly held on Sept. 14.

Before the voting began, TRAC President Nader Jafari Nodoushan discussed that if TRAC members—being TAs, RAs and invigilators—were to vote to ratify a new pay grade structure, it would be implemented for both TA’s and RA’s, resulting in an increase to both of their minimum pay grades by one per cent. Jafari Nodoushan said TA pay grades in all faculties would be an equal pay rate of $24.93 per hour, while markers pay rate would rise to $20.21, regardless of faculty or level of study. Jafari Nodoushan said someone who marks work qualifies as a marker, however, someone that does anything more qualifies as a TA.

Previously, the pay rates varied from faculty and level of study.

Following the meeting, Jafari Nodoushan told The Concordian markers at Concordia are receiving the highest pay rate for a university marker in Quebec, while TAs are being paid the second highest. “All other universities [in Quebec] except McGill have lower pay grades [for TAs] than Concordia University,” said Jafari Nodoushan. He stressed the fact that a time sheet created by TRAC will ensure members will be paid properly for the hours they worked.

Robert Sonin, former TRAC president and a current member of the organization due to his work as an invigilator, claims TRAC is disorganized—he said they didn’t release the agreement prior to the general meeting.

He said members were not given the actual agreement at the event, only a summary which did not allow them enough time to assess the agreement.

“That paper they got, it’s not what they signed. It’s just an explanation of what they signed,” Sonin said.

Sonin said he believes that, as a result of higher pay rates, the hours allotted to TAs will be reduced. “Concordia will do what it has to do to keep within its budget,” said Sonin. “If you have a limited budget to pay for TA hours and the price goes up, you can afford fewer hours.”

When asked if pay raises could result in hour cuts, Jafari Nodoushan said it is hard to say whether hours will be cut.

“Our members are receiving the difference between the new pay structure and also the old pay structure in the summer—we have the numbers, and it’s showing that there hasn’t been any cut on the hours,” said Jafari Nodoushan. This means members will have their pay compensated from the hours they worked in the summer to be paid the new raise that was voted after the general assembly. “It can’t be said easily that Concordia will cut the hours because the pay grade is increasing,” he said.

When asked if Concordia is increasing their budget towards TAs and RAs this academic year, Jafari Nodoushan said not all the contracts had been paid in full. “We don’t have the exact numbers of how much the TA budget has been increased in the summer.” He said it would be released in Concordia’s financial report.

Regarding the budget allotted to TAs and RAs this academic year, Concordia University spokesperson Chris Mota said, “the agreement in principle hasn’t been approved by the board yet, so there is no number available to share at this point, making a comparison impossible.”

The old pay rates for TA’s and markers compared to new pay rates ratified on Sept 14. Photo courtesy of TRAC.

Jafari Nodoushan believes the pay raises will result in more equal payment for members, because pays will no longer vary between department and level of study—undergraduates were previously being paid less than graduate students. “Equity is to treat all the labourers in an equally bound way, not to hire cheaper labourers or make them overloaded because they are cheaper labourers,” he said.

Jafari Nodoushan said he believed this new pay rate would not result in graduates being picked over undergraduates, now that they have equal pay. “As far as I know, many professors prefer to have undergrad students hired, especially those in the third or fourth year of their bachelor [degree], to get more experience.” he said. “I believe this intention will remain.”

Last April, Sonin filed a complaint against TRAC to Quebec’s branch of the national labour union Public Service Alliance of Canada. Sonin had requested access to financial history due to a discrepancy of $16,348.93 in financial reports. Being a member, he was entitled to these documents. However, he was only allowed to view an Excel spreadsheet, being refused access to financial documents and receipts.

When The Concordian asked Jafari Nodoushan if he had an update regarding the discrepancy we reported on in April 2016, he said that a follow-up will not be released until later. “We are in the process of an investigation and it needs to be done first,” Jafari Nodoushan said. “After we will be able to release all the results.”

Graphic by Florence Yee.


Tug of war, Concordia style

Springtime is often associated with the notion of new beginnings and at Concordia, this year will be no exception. Collective agreements for some of the university’s largest unions are expiring and the time has come to head back to the negotiating table. Union contracts may seem a little dry at first glance, but if history is anything to go by, collective bargaining season is going to be anything but.

Concordia’s part-time faculty association (CUPFA) president Maria Peluso calls complicated labour disputes “a chronic pattern at Concordia.”

CUPFA will begin negotiating a new contract with the university in August 2012. Last time their agreement expired, it took seven years to finalize a new collective agreement.

“The delays are unreasonable to achieve any closure or conclusion […] and the lengthy nature of negotiations speaks to whether there is good faith in such protracted negotiations,” Peluso said.

She explained in an email that multiple campus unions complained of similar experiences, such as the university cancelling meetings at the last minute and not being properly prepared.

Extended negotiations between CUPFA and the administration began in 2002 and lasted six years, leading to a costly arbitration and rotating strikes. The conflict went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and culminated with judges ruling in CUPFA’s favour in the 2008/2009 academic year.

“What is the point of negotiating a collective agreement that is not sustainable, gets ignored, and then it costs money just to handle all the conflict and grievances?” said Peluso, referring to the extensive legal fees involved in a court case of this level.

Concordia’s full-time faculty association (CUFA) has already begun meeting with administration to develop a new collective agreement. So far things are going smoothly, but union president Lucie Lequin said it hasn’t always been that way. Generally, negotiations last six to eight months—the last time around it took CUFA two-and-a-half years.

“[The negotiator for the administration] showed a lack of organization, lack of good will, and lack of efficiency,” said Lequin. She cited the unpreparedness of the administration’s team as the main reason for the process dragging on for so long.

After two years of waiting, CUFA requested a conciliator to help them come to a solution.

Now facing another round of bargaining, Lequin said she is not hopeful, but would like to see “a real commitment to see negotiations completed in a timely fashion.”

Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota confirmed that CUFA and the administration have already met five times and have a schedule drawn up. “The bottom line is moving forward. The goal is to arrive at a collective agreement as soon as possible,” she said.

Mota did not want to address the past difficulties between the union and administration, calling the discussion “not fruitful.” She said the administrative negotiators are looking to the future.

“Everyone is bargaining in good faith, and fully committed,” said Mota.

Another negotiation worth keeping an eye on is the United Steelworkers local 9538, which has been without a renewed collective agreement for the past five years. Members of the USW walked out Sept.7 to show their dissatisfaction with the administration.

Concordia VP institutional relations Bram Freedman confirmed in a press release that a conciliator has already been appointed by the Quebec Ministry of Labour. Should both parties fail to come to an agreement, USW does have a strike mandate. The USW could not be reached for comment.


Collective Agreement: the contract made between an employer and a union on behalf of all the employees.

Good Faith: legal obligation in collective bargaining in which both parties must try to reach an agreement.

Arbitration: a single arbitrator hears presentations by both sides and then issues a final and binding decision that establishes a new collective agreement.

Conciliation: a form of “outside help” which involves the appointment of a government employee known as a conciliation officer who tries to bring the two parties together.

Grievance: a wrong considered as grounds for complaint launched through official channels.

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