TRAC Meeting Covers Job Postings, Unpaid Work

AGM Sees Teaching and Research Assistants Affiliate with NDP

TRAC held its annual general meeting on Friday. Photo Colin Harris

The Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia labour union is going national—but it’ll need to get a new collective agreement first.

The labour climate at Concordia and the union’s plans to become affiliated with the New Democratic Party of Canada were among the topics discussed at TRAC’s annual general meeting held on April 5.

There were concerns that the meeting might not meet quorum—in other words, it was suspected that fewer than the 30 people required to conduct the meeting would actually attend.

After TRAC called and sent out emails to its members, however, roughly 100 people showed up, making it a historic turnout.

TRAC’s meeting comes near the end of an academic year characterized by labour tensions at the university.

Last November, the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association voted 95 per cent in favour of a strike mandate that would have allowed its members to walk off the job at any time, provided that they give the university 48-hours’ notice.

Members of the United Steelworkers Local 9538, which represents trade workers on the Loyola campus, also voted for a strike mandate that same month.

Then, in an unprecedented move, the Concordia University Faculty Association, which represents the full-time professors and librarians at the university, voted 74 per cent in favour of a strike mandate in a week of voting that began Feb. 28.

CUFA eventually reached a tentative agreement with Concordia on March 21.

Next to take to the negotiating table are teaching and research assistants.

TRAC’s collective agreement is expiring at the end of April, although it will remain in force until the union and the university agrees on a new collective agreement.

Negotiations for a new agreement will start on April 19, when the union’s bargaining committee and the university will hold a first meeting.

Current TRAC president Robert Sonin delivered his executive report at the meeting, noting that the university is willing to talk about salaries, though it has been light on details overall.

The main issues for teaching and research assistants include unfair job postings and unclear hiring processes, unpaid work, too few hours in contracts and salaries, according to surveys the union conducted this year.

“In many departments, we have no clue how they hire people,” Sonin said, adding that a third of respondents saw job postings as a major issue.

“We don’t know how they post [job offers], we don’t know how they make decisions. Some jobs are offered to everybody, some jobs are reserved for people that they know or that they’ve chosen prior to the posting.”

Sonin also pointed out that 45 per cent of respondents said they worked more hours than what was provided for in their contracts.

He said that unpaid work is something the current collective agreement already deals with, but that teaching and research assistants need to keep track of their hours and speak to their union representatives if they’re having trouble with their supervisors.

The executive report revealed that the union has 17 outstanding grievances with the university: one union grievance and 16 individual grievances. Many of the grievances have to do with individuals being placed in the wrong pay grade.

“In the last three years, we’ve settled two grievances,” Sonin said. “So that gives you an idea of the pace of grievance [resolution] at this university.”

TRAC members also chose next year’s union executive at the meeting.

Current TRAC vice-president Adam Szymanski will become the union’s president. Running for the only contested position, Tarrandath Maharaj was elected vice-president over Dan Kielback.

Aubyn Rader was appointed secretary-treasurer. Daria Saryan and Erik Chevrier will continue in their current positions, as grievance officer and bargaining officer respectively.

Dominic Leppla will become the union’s communications and mobilization officer.

A bargaining committee for upcoming labour negotiations was appointed as well. Research assistant Gene Morrow, who was recently elected Concordia Student Union VP Academic and Advocacy, will sit on the committee.

TRAC and the NDP

TRAC members also voted in favour of becoming affiliated with the federal New Democratic Party. Affiliation will mean that TRAC will be able to send representatives to future NDP conventions.

Szymanski said the NDP is the only federal party that allows unions to participate in its policy conventions. The party has historical ties to the labour movement.

He said affiliation would allow TRAC to have an impact on government policies that might affect educational workers and students in Canada, since the NDP is currently Official Opposition in the House of Commons.

“The benefits of [affiliation] are basically that TAs and RAs—and on a larger scale, other labour unions—are able to have a voice […] in how party politics is shaped in this country,” he said.

Some TRAC members felt that the proposal to affiliate with the NDP was being rushed, but a motion to table a decision on affiliation until the next annual general meeting was voted down.

“I really think [affiliation] is in the best interests of our members,” Szymanski said, adding that affiliation with the NDP does not mean that TRAC endorses the party, only that it will participate in policy debates at NDP conventions.

In the end, 37 people voted in favour of affiliation and 17 voted against, the others abstaining.

Szymanski said the paperwork wouldn’t be done in time for TRAC to participate in this year’s NDP convention, which is being held in Montreal from April 12 to April 14.