Saugeen-Maitland corridor (Photo 8)

A corridor in Saugeen-Maitland Hall, Nov. 6, 2018.

RAs and dons across campus can negotiate with Western or appeal to Ontario to succeed in unionization efforts allowed only to “employees.”  

Amid residence staff casting a ballot on the unionization question last week, Western University filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board that the staff are not employees under provincial law, and thus have no right to unionize.

The committee said 80 per cent of campus’ 144 residence advisors, dons and academic leadership programmers cast ballots.

Western University's vice-president of operations and finance, Lynn Logan, emailed residence staff the day before the vote.

“You are often the first on the scene navigating difficult situations while at the same time balancing a full student schedule.... You deserve to be heard and supported,” she wrote, adding, “The relationship between student leader roles and the university is in our view not an employer-employee relationship.”

The OLRB will mediate a Feb. 27 meeting between the Residence Staff for Unionization Organizing Committee and Western. If the parties do not agree on the “employee” distinction, the OLRB will hold hearings through March to decide themselves.

Until a resolution is reached, the ballots will remain separate and uncounted.

Western’s filing is listed under a different administration figure, associate vice-president of human resources Jane O’Brien. Submitted Feb. 1, five days before the original voting day, it argues residence staff are “experiential learning roles.”

Tristan Baker-Scala, a committee spokesperson, said this conflicts with language Western uses itself. He said staff are given “employment packages” and that their police checks also indicate they are employees. Western’s associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services, Chris Alleyne, emailed staff late January that he respected their “right to join a union.”

When asked for comment, Alleyne said Housing will continue to contend staff are not employees.

The parties disagree on whether residence staff fit the “employee” definition of the Ontario Labour Relations Act, which regulates unions and collective bargaining.

Faculty, hospitality workers, teaching assistants and postdocs are all represented by unions. Residence staff are filing to be part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which also represents 335 facilities management staff and 570 hospitality workers. It is Canada’s largest union with over 680,000 members.

In the last year, Western has seen a bargaining breakdown with PSAC 610 — Western’s TA and postdoc union — and a near-strike with the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association.

New hires become a flashpoint

Housing told residence staff last Wednesday it was delaying announcing who would be hired for the 2019-20 year. Staff were notified of the delay two hours after the results were set to be announced, on Feb. 13. Housing said they will be released the week of Feb. 25 to March 1.

The committee cried foul, calling the delay’s coincidence with the union push “suspect.” Baker-Scala said in his eight years within RezLife, hiring results have always been given before Reading Week.

“Residence Staff for Unionization urges the department to rectify this blatant lack of regard for current and potential employees,” they wrote in a press release. “We are not deterred from our goal to have a seat at the table.”

In their email, Housing told staff they were “genuinely overwhelmed” by the number of applicants, which Alleyne later told the Gazette was 372, over 100 more than last year; two-thirds of the applicants are new.

“It speaks to both the important impact these roles contribute to the student experience and the meaningful opportunity it offers for leadership development,” said Alleyne.

Correction (6:42 p.m., Feb. 20): In paragraph 17, the number of applicants has been corrected from 317 to 372.

Correction (9:02 p.m., Feb. 20): In paragraph 15, Baker-Scala's tenure within the residence system was corrected from seven years on staff to eight years within RezLife.

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Martin is the Senior News Editor at the Gazette. You can contact him at martin.allen@westerngazette.ca, or @mtrallen on Twitter.

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