The Teaching Assistants Union at Civic University represents teaching assistants, markers, and sessional (contract) instructors. It also represents instructors in two programs offered by the universitys continuing studies department. Many of the TAU members are graduate students in the same
The Teaching Assistants Union at Civic University represents teaching assistants, markers, and sessional (contract) instructors. It also represents instructors in two programs offered by the university’s continuing studies department. Many of the TAU members are graduate students in the same academic departments where they work. Other employees at Civic University are represented by other unions. Civic University operates four campuses in its geographic region.
The TAU and the university have been bargaining for a new collective agreement since January, but have not made signifi cant progress in bargaining. The university is also in negotiations for a new collective agreement with the Administrative Workers Union (AWU), which represents the staff in most of the university’s academic departments. On September 27, the TAU issued a strike notice to the university, and also notifi ed the university that its members would not be working any overtime. On October 1, the AWU also issued a strike notice to the university. On October 4, the AWU set up a picket line for three hours at the university’s main campus. On October 15, the university administration was told of a rumour that the AWU might set up picket lines on October 16 and again on October 19. The administration called a meeting of its strike committee, and the committee members decided to ask all of its unionized employees if they intended to cross the AWU’s picket lines.
On October 16, Will Kwan, the university’s academic vice-president, sent an email to the university’s department and program chairs, deans, and directors. The email “requested” these individuals to ask “all faculty members and other instructional staff”, including the positions represented by the TAU, if they intended to cross picket lines. The purpose of the request was stated as “allow[ing] academic units to put plans in place as to how they will operate if they are behind a picket line.” The email pointed out that some faculty members are required by their collective agreement to inform their faculty if they intend to honour picket lines. However, the
TAU and the university agree that this requirement does not apply to TAU members. Another university policy states that faculty members “or other members of the instructional staff” must inform their department chair of their intention to honour picket lines within 36 hours of a strike being announced. Following Kwan’s instructions, the chairs, deans, and directors sent emails to employees, including TAU members. An example of these emails was one that read: “I am emailing you because you are a teaching assistant or sessional instructor this semester. I have been instructed to contact you to ask you to let me know whether, in the event of a strike, you intend to cross a picket line. Please email me . . . as soon as possible with this information.” The collective agreement between the TAU and the university states that TAU members are entitled to refuse to cross a legal picket line, and that “the parties agree that they will not coerce individuals in the matter of respecting or not respecting a picket line....An employee who refuses to cross a legal picket line shall inform the department and/or the department chair promptly of her/his decision.”
On October 17, Peter Monahan, the TAU’s member representative, emailed Kwan regarding Kwan’s email to the chairs, deans, and directors. Monahan’s email stated that the TAU had “serious concerns” and that the “‘taking of names’ in light of a rumour of a picket line raises very serious concerns regarding coercion.” Monahan noted that many TAU members had no seniority rights, and that those members who were also graduate students in their programs had their “academic futures” to consider. Monahan asked Kwan to advise all the recipients of the original email that the requests for information were rescinded, and to ask the recipients to discard any replies that they may have received.
The same day, Kwan sent an email to the recipients of the original email, stating that he was writing to “clarify” an issue “that had arisen.” The text of the original email was included, with an additional paragraph stating that TAU members could not be “compelled” to provide the requested information.
The next day, Monahan sent an email to Kwan saying that the subsequent email did not “alter the process of ‘taking names’ on the basis of a rumoured picket line,” and that the email only “illuminates that [the university] is aware and acknowledges that you are aware that [TAU members] are not obliged to provide this information, and nevertheless repeats the instructions....to gather names. This is unsatisfactory.”
The Union’s Position
The union argued that the employer coerced and intimidated its members by asking them whether they intended to cross picket lines. The union pointed out that the question to the employees was based on a rumour about a possible picket line, not on confirmed information.
The union also argued that the employer has no right to ask its members if they plan to cross picket lines, since its members are not obliged to inform the employer if they are planning to cross picket lines. The union further argued that the emails to its members were especially coercive and intimidating because of its members’ “precarious” employment as sessional instructors who are hired on single-semester contracts.
The union alleged that the employer’s real intent in asking the question was to elicit information on the amount of employee support if the AWU were to go on strike.
The union asked the labour relations board to declare that the employer had violated the labour relations legislation; to order that the employer cease and desist its actions; to order the employer to post the board’s decision in the workplace and on its website, and to email a copy to each TAU member; and to order the employer to pay the union’s legal and bargaining costs to date.
The Employer’s Position
The employer argued that under their collective agreement, TAU members are obliged to disclose a refusal to cross a picket line. The employer argued that such disclosure inevitably has the effect of “taking names,” but that this is not coercive.
The employer argued that some employees may decide to inform the university of their intention not to cross a picket line, regardless of whether the university asks them. The employer stated that it has “legitimate operational reasons” for needing to know as soon as possible whether an
employee will or will not be coming to work if a picket line is anticipated, or if work is disrupted in some other way. The employer argued that “no reasonable employee” would have seen its requests for information as coercive or intimidating. It also argued that TAU members’ opportunities for work as sessional instructors are determined by processes in the collective agreement, and are not dependent on them having a “good will relationship” with their department or program chairs.
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