CUPE reverses, invites Carleton fellows to unionize

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It turns out that Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) will be helping Carleton University residence fellows unionize, after all. Just over a month ago, the union released a statement saying they would not accept the workers.

"It’s quite clear now. They are certainly eligible and we want to organize them," said CUPE President Paul Moist this week.

The union's early December refusal was a surprise to the would-be organizers, who had 50 per cent of union cards signed and the support of CUPE Local 4600 at the time.

Marina Tronin, Miranda Moores and Shelisa Klassen wanted answers from the man at the top. January 16, almost a full month after their organizing campaign came to a grinding halt at the behest of CUPE’s National office, they finally got their chance to to meet with Moist and ask why they were not allowed to unionize.

It came down to what Moist describes as a communication error.

"CUPE National never stopped an organizing drive because we never knew there was an organizing drive," he explained a few days after his meeting with the res fellows. At the meeting on January 16, he told the residence fellows and CUPE 4600 representatives that there had been confusion in the CUPE National offices over whether the fellows had actually started signing their cards or whether they were just dealing with a hypothetical organizing situation.

Moist takes full responsibility for what he calls a complete breakdown in communications between CUPE’s regional staff and national staff.

The breakdown in communications led to CUPE releasing a statement to rabble that stated that the residence fellows were not employees in a traditional employee-employer relationship -- a position that CUPE has now reversed.

CUPE will undergo an internal review of their communications structure as a result of December’s events.

Moist also offered something else the res fellows were after -- an apology.

"They deserved an apology," he said. "They didn’t do anything except a good job."

The residence fellows and CUPE 4600 were happy to accept the apology. "They offered to keep supporting us," said Tronin. "So we’re really happy with that."

CUPE 4600 Unit Two vice-president Daniel Preece was also quite pleased with the results from the meeting with Moist. "What happened to the residence fellows should never happen to any worker who chooses to organize," he said. "One of the things that was really good to hear from Moist was not only did he acknowledge the error…but also in terms of organizing he recognized that there are some things that need to be addressed internally in CUPE."

Now with all parties at CUPE on the same page, Tronin, CUPE 4600 and CUPE National are turning their attention squarely on Carleton University as they ramp up their organizing campaign for a second time.

After they resigned from the positions to avoid the potential of management reprisal, several new fellows were hired to replace Tronin, Moores and Klassen. Tronin alleges that their replacements weren’t properly trained or prepared for their new positions.

Residence fellows, who live full time on their assigned floors in student residences in exchange for room and board, are on call throughout the evenings and are often the first point of contact if their students -- who are usually in their first year university -- have an emergency.

Training for health and safety issues were one of the main reasons Tronin and her colleagues decided to begin the organizing campaign in November 2013.

But now, the fellows have an advocate working on their behalf on the outside. Despite her frustration over many of the events that transpired, Tronin has become an impassioned organizer.

"I think I would really like to organize young workers [past graduation]," she said.

And Moist is clear that there is a place for the fellows -- and other young workers -- in CUPE, if they want it.

"All those workers need to know that unions are very open to negotiating and doing what we can for them," he said.

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