Residence fellows resign and try to unionize over workplace grievances

Three Carleton residence fellows have resigned from their positions over what they say are unsafe working conditions, a lack of administrative support, and after a failed attempt to unionize.

Glengarry res fellows Marina Tronin, Miranda Moores, and Shelisa Klassen said they resigned Dec. 9 after months of communication issues with their residence manager and harassment from a male co-worker.

“The main issues were severe. They were intimidation, they were safety problems. They were mental health issues with the co-worker himself,” Moores said.

The situation with the male res fellow was repeatedly brought up in training prior to September and to the Glengarry res manager, but Tronin said their complaints were not taken seriously.

“They basically told us we were blowing it out of proportion, we need to calm down, we need to stop talking about it and it will be taken care of,” she said.

Another res manager was informed and the issue with the male res fellow was brought to the department of housing, Moores said, who eventually dismissed the individual in October.

Tronin, Moores, Klassen, and another anonymous res fellow met as a group to come up with a solution to their work-related issues and decided to try to organize under a union after Tronin spoke with her professor Dan Preece.

Preece is vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 4600 unit 2, representing contract instructors at Carleton.

They tried to unionize with CUPE National, but they said the organization withdrew support from the res fellows, who were trying to organize with CUPE Local 4600 unit 2.

“We thought a union might be able to represent us better, and not just in the safety aspect, though that was a big consideration, but also in re-negotiating our contract in general,” Moores said.

She said that working with Preece and CUPE 4600 president James Meades, who had already figured out a system for mandatory union dues, the res fellows were given union cards Nov. 21 by Colette Proctor, an organizing representative from CUPE National.

Groups looking to unionize need to have at least 40 per cent of their co-workers sign union cards.

They were signed by 51 per cent of all res fellows in three days, according to Tronin.

Tronin said most res fellows they approached were very supportive of unionizing, with only a minority who believed there were other options and were “very negative and created a hostile atmosphere.”

Tronin, Moores, and Klassen submitted the signed union cards Nov. 25 and were told they would be sent to CUPE National’s office for filing with the Ontario Labour Relations Board and would hear back from them in a few days, Tronin said.

On Dec. 1, Tronin said the res fellows received an email stating CUPE was not interested in representing them and provided no further details.

“I never went into this thinking I was going to keep my job. But I never in my life imagined that it would be CUPE that would be the reason I wouldn’t have my job,” Tronin said.

According to Moores, the housing department put pressure on her to resign, warning her when their attempt to unionize became public, which prompted the res fellows’ resignation Dec. 9.

Beth Gorham, the university’s public affairs manager, issued a statement that read, “Carleton University respects the right to unionize. We have provided factual information to our residence fellows in order to help them make informed decisions about joining a union.”

The statement said the administration “takes all claims very seriously and we respond promptly by involving the appropriate university authorities.”

Housing director David Sterritt declined to comment.

Following CUPE’s decision, Tronin said the res fellows met with national representatives and were told they were never given permission by national to distribute union cards even though a representative had given them out thinking there would be no issues.

Meades said CUPE 4600 were told res fellows weren’t appropriate workers for a union and their short contracts wouldn’t allow the union to make a substantial difference.

He said CUPE 4600 represents contract instructors who have four-month contracts, as opposed to res fellows’ eight-month ones, and that some res fellows stay for years.

“For me, it was incredibly shocking and disheartening that the national organization pulled the plug on this,” Meades said.

Meades said CUPE 4600 will continue to provide support to the res fellows who lost their jobs and to others so they will “never have to face this type of circumstance again.”

Both Tronin and Moores said currently CUPE National is not responding to their emails and Twitter messages. CUPE National could not be reached for comment.

Tronin said although they have resigned, they want to continue helping current res fellows know their rights as an employee and are in talks with a different union to move forward.

“We’re going to continue organizing. This is by far not over,” she said.