By Jonathan Spicer
A disagreement about which academic assistants are eligible voters could delay the final result on whether or not to unionize until January of 2003.
Ryerson’s assistants went to the polls Monday to accept or reject the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ bid to represent them on campus, but the vote, which was administered by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, relied on a list that both the union and university are contesting.
Complicating the vote is a debate on whether CUPE got at least 40 per cent of Ryerson academic assistants to sign union cards. CUPE believes they reached the mandatory number of signees in order to hold a vote, but they didn’t have access to a complete list of the university’s estimated 600 assistants.
The vote result will be delayed at least until a Dec. 18 mediation hearing where the union and he university will discuss list discrepancies.
Ryerson’s list of assistants was initially submitted to the labour relations board for the vote. Only then did CUPE have access to it and added 23 named that they believed to be wrongly omitted. The university will challenge these named and the union will contest a few others on the list that they believe to be OPSEU members, not eligible assistants, said CUPE Organizing Representative Derek Blackladder.
The votes will either be counted at that time, or the ballot boxes will remain sealed until a second hearing in January.
“If the box is opened, we win, guaranteed,” Blackladder said.
Although confident in the results, he said he is disappointed that Ryerson challenged the vote because assistants have the right to know the result within a reasonable time. “It happens in a minority of cases,” he said. “But it doesn’t surprise me from Ryerson.”
Ryerson requested that the labour relations board check the union’s claim to have collected signatures from 40 per cent of Ryerson’s academic assistants.
But Larissa Allen, executive director of human resources, said the university is not “challenging” the 40 per cent claim, but simply following due process.
“We’re not contesting [the 40 per cent],” she said. “But there will be issues with the voters list and who voted; the union is challenging a number of individuals and the university is challenging a number of individuals. That’s all part of the normal process.”
In the lead-up to the vote, Allen’s department distributed posters, e-mails and letters that were intended to provide information and encourage assistants to participate.
Allen said that she was not worried that a minority of assistants would decide the vote, but that it was her responsibility to ensure voters were familiar with the issue. “It’s very important for everybody to exercise their civic and democratic right, to get informed about an issue and then vote with their conscience. That’s all we were asking,” she said.
Angelune DesLauriers, an urban and regional planning assistant and graduate student, said she received a number of emails, many of them duplicates, from Ryerson administration.
“It was good to know they were involved,” she said, adding that she hopes CUPE will be successful in organising on campus.
As a grad student, DesLauriers is paid more than undergrads doing virtually the same work, and said she supports the union’s plan to negotiate for higher, more equitable wages and better job security.
For other assistants, however, CUPE poses a threat to their jobs.
“For me, it comes down to whether or not I’ll have a position,” said a tutor in the economics department, who would not give her name.
Assistants in the economics help centre are hired on a semester-to-semester basis, she said. “I’ve heard from professors that they won’t hire any more assistants if CUPE [is successful].”
But this is a scare tactic that unions are quite familiar with, said Angela Ross, staff representative for CUPE local 3904.
“This is a line that almost always comes out … but almost never happens because [assistants] are still the cheapest labour and you can’t hire assistants now t what they’re paying,” Ross said.
Ross said that some assistants had come from unionized schools, and were used to better pay.
If CUPE is successful, Ross said that assistants will be able to decide what pay system they want to see at Ryerson through bargaining.
“The employer at this time can use whatever method it wants to determine how much an assistant gets paid,” she said.