by Emily Steers
Three years ago, a group of graduate teaching assistants began a campaign to unionize the TAs at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, about 100 km west of Toronto. Laurier was one of the only Ontario universities where TAs lacked a union. This was reflected in the disparity in our pay, training, and the consistency of work between departments. For two years the TAs worked diligently to spread the word and boost the union drive, and chose the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) as the union to join.
Since September, the drive picked up in earnest. Campaign organizers visited classrooms, set up information tables, created an active social media presence, and distributed union cards. Once we met the requisite 40 per cent of workers who signed cards, we filed for certification, asking the Ontario Labour Relations Board to conduct a vote. It took place online, November 5-6. There was a massive turnout. The employer contested the legitimacy of the vote, padding the employee list and filing a section 8.1 objection (disputing that we met the 40 per cent threshold). The union challenged over 50 names on the employers’ list.
This delayed the vote count by over a month. In the interim, we launched a petition calling on the University administration to drop the challenge and respect the outcome of the vote. In the end, the dispute had to be settled through multiple litigation sessions at the OLRB. On December 11 we received the final vote count. It was 208 votes in favour of the union, 71 against!
Next is the exciting work of hammering out a collective agreement and electing an executive. After three years, it is thrilling to have come this far, to be ready to advocate for workers at Wilfrid Laurier, and to form a new PSAC local. Many thanks go out to the unions who supported us over the last months. We look forward to making some exciting changes at Laurier in the coming months and years.