An important part of membership in a union is to have a place to turn to when something goes bad at work. Unlike HR or your advisor, the union exists to advocate on your behalf. This can be a safety concern, suspicion of harassment or discrimination, or anything that might not be right. In general, you are covered by Federal and Provincial Labor law, AND by your collective bargaining agreement. Even if you are unfamiliar or unsure, you can easily contact someone at the union about your situation.
In case of any workplace issue, the best approach is to first contact our executives, namely the President, VP and Treasurer or our Health and Safety Representative for specific issues related to health and safety in the workplace. The President and VP are also happy to meet in person and to engage discreetly and privately with your concerns. (Discussing does not constitute any formal action on your behalf.) We can also count on the help of our PSAC Regional Representative. Our Representative is knowledgeable about common workplace issues and conflicts, and they can help you understand your situation and what might be done further. This is their job and a part of why we pay dues to PSAC.
With specific regards to safety issues, the Union has a seat on the Joint Health and Safety Committee at Carleton, and safety issues can also be directed to our seated member (see the contacts list). Though beyond specific conditions on the part of the person presenting the issue, any health and safety issues will probably be coordinated with PSAC, as PSAC employs experts in workplace health and safety.
What have unions done for us lately?
Besides advancing the interests of workers in the workplace, unions are commonly credited with such universal gains as weekends, lunch breaks, overtime pay, parental and sick leaves, pensions, and higher wages. Less commonly known are multiple ways unions improve workplace and social conditions. Here are just a few more recent PSAC examples:
- PSAC members participated in the first pan-Canadian research survey assessing the impacts of domestic violence in the workplace. This is the first research of its kind in Canada. Results will help establish proactive practices in the workplace. PSAC is breaking ground by negotiating leave provisions for victims of domestic violence in a number of workplaces.
- PSAC won an important victory in the courts for parents on shiftwork struggling to accommodate child care duties. The Federal Court of Appeal judged it is the employer’s duty to accommodate family obligations.
- PSAC members are working to change mental health provisions in the workplace through collective bargaining. A recent proposal supports the recommendations contained in the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
Why did we unionize?
Unionized workers make fairer wages on average than non-unionized workers, as showcased in 2014 research undertaken by the Canadian Labour Congress.
You can read for yourselves why our predecessors, the Carleton University Postdoctoral Association, sought to unionize in 2008.
As postdocs, we are also part of a global movement looking for salaries, benefits, job security, and advancement opportunities that reflect our qualifications.
Postdocs across North America are seeking to do the same through unionization.
Every 4 years, the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars (CAPS) surveys Postdoctoral Fellows in Canada. The 2016 survey results highlights that Canadian Postdocs:
- Earn significantly less than Postdocs in other countries
- Are dissatisfied with career options in 50% of cases
- Continue to experience problems with Visa and work permits over the length of their tenure
- Are not offered salary increments based on their experience
- Do not have access to life insurance, worker’s compensation, onsite child care, long term disability insurance, or pension plans in 80% of cases
- Increasingly demonstrate the need for paid parental leave (due primarily to an upward shift in age demographics)
Further to this, we recognize:
that tenure track positions are harder to come by nowadays, and that this leaves many postdocs in a precarious and transitory situation at a time when they might be expecting to settle down;
that postdocs have invested a great deal of time and resources to join the academic community and contribute a great deal to the institution’s reputation and advancement; and that postdocs are often isolated and left with little institutional policy or organizational structures to guide their brief tenure at this crucial time of transition;
postdoctoral positions were originally created as a stop-gap measure to provide academic positions to a growing population of new PhDs. Today, trends suggest that postdocs are here to stay, and that an increasing number of postdocs are in it for the medium- (and not just the short-) term. Nevertheless, the institutions which greet us and which increasingly rely on our research contributions, are slow to reflect these facts.
Concomitantly, support for the postdoctoral community, be it in terms of institutional recognition and resources, policies and processes (visa applications – need we say more?), or benefits (even compared to those received as a graduate student), is insufficient. The “postdoctoral crisis” is a problem not just at Carleton, nor just in Canada, but worldwide, and employers (universities) can play an active role in improving our working conditions.
For all of these reasons, we come together to advocate for ourselves and to break social isolation so that we can achieve employment and social gains, collectively.
Union Membership and Rights
Section 5 of the Ontario Labour Relations Act makes it legal to be a member of a union and to participate in its activities. The Act further outlaws interference with the union’s ability to represent its members and with employee rights, as well as discrimination because of union activity.
Union membership in the Canadian context is unique. Specifically, once a group is certified (i.e. unionized), all members of that group must pay union dues. This is the result of a decision handed down by Justice Ivan Rand of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1946. In the wake of the Windsor strike, Justice Rand opined that all individuals within a bargaining unit, whether they opt into becoming members or not, benefit from the gains that are bargained at the table. As such, everyone must contribute to the financial security of the union by paying dues. This ruling is widely known as the Rand Formula.
To balance his ruling, Justice Rand outlawed wildcat or illegal strikes, and developed a system of financial penalties to be levied against unions operating outside the law. He also made it possible for workers to opt-in to union “membership”—which means that, although we must all pay dues, we have to fill out a union card in order to become full members of the union and to benefit from full membership rights.
Specifically, full members are members who can participate, run for, and vote in our democratic processes. Membership meetings and elections are two common examples. If you haven’t yet signed your union card, contact us. Membership perks also include free participation to all PSAC training [hyperlink to News/Events tab] and events. PSAC members also obtain discounts on a variety of services.
Our local dues, as set out in our bylaws, are currently set at 1.8% + $1 deducted at source. Of these, a portion goes directly to our local, and the other, to PSAC to fund the membership services articulated below: