International students and unionization
If I join a union, could this affect my immigration status as an international student on a visa?
- No, unionizing does not affect your international student status or visa.
- Unions are legal entities in Canada and anyone working in Canada is legally able to be covered by a union and sign a union card without fear of reprisal.
How can being part of a union help students having visa issues?
How does the union help for in-between statuses, renewing paper work, contingencies and contracts, or inconsistencies due to changing visa regulations?
- The collective agreement provides protection against sudden policy changes at the institutional level regarding work.
- CUPE monitors changes in legislation well before they come into force/effect and works directly with international worker organizations and movements to track changes that affect international/migrant workers.
- The union local will inform members of any changes that occur and help them handle them.
- CUPE represents many migrant workers and advocates for increased rights of migrant workers to all levels of government.
You can read more in our post about visas and unionizing. We also look at other issues international students are facing at UW, and how a union can help address them, in some additional posts written by OrganizeUW international students.
Is there any support for legal issues regarding immigration?
Yes, being part of a union helps in providing legal support regarding resident statuses and immigration. For, example, there was a recent change that international students with pending study permit applications/renewals cannot start their program/employment at the university (which means that you cannot be paid by the university if an application issue comes up).
- The union deals with this issue by negotiating language in the collective agreement that holds the employer to account on providing support to international students who have been offered employment. The local could also try to negotiate contract language that creates an incentive for the university to avoid offering positions without also facilitating the entire employment process.
- Part of this is making sure that the collective bargaining process takes international student issues into account. There are several structures in the local that could be established to provide international student representation on these committees.
- Outside of the bargaining process, a permanent committee in the local, run by and for international students, can also be implemented to monitor and advise on issues facing international students on an ongoing basis.
Even now, before UW is unionized, CUPE has been working to advocate for international students at UW, e.g. by pushing back against policy changes that impact our ability to work from abroad/outside Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may be interested in our recent post about the issue of “quarantine packages," which UW has decided to charge international students for, unlike at other universities, which is an unfair barrier to us accessing work as a TA or RA. In addition, there is more information in this post about visas and unionizing. We also look at other issues international students are facing at UW, and how a union can help address them, in some additional posts by OrganizeUW international students.
Creating a Standardized Working Environment
How can I be sure that my rights I have at work will actually be protected and I will truly benefit from unionizing?
It is not left up to the individual workers when it comes to union protections, having a say over your work environment, or enforcing your rights under the collective agreement. We collectively have a say, but your individual voice/issue will be included through an open and democratic process to set bargaining priorities for the local. These protections are then enforced by the union through a legal process. Most students are around for a very short period of time. This actually makes it more important that the work environment is standardized at the University through a collective agreement, and that we as students have somewhere we can go for expert advice on workplace issues.
All workers should know what we are being employed to do, what we are going to be paid, and what protections we have before we are on campus. Workers should be secure for the short period of time we are here, so that we do not have to worry about things changing or having to deal with a problem. The collective agreement is the solution to gaining this transparency and stability, and the union local provides support to make sure that you are able to contribute your opinion and experience with workplace issues, know your rights and responsibilities at work, and get expert support to ensure you can actually benefit from workplace rights and protections, no matter your country of origin.
You can read more in our post about the importance of standardizing the work environment. We also look at other issues international students are facing at UW, and how a union can help address them, in some additional posts written by OrganizeUW international students.
Would there be protection against sudden policy changes regarding employment?
Yes. Access to employment should be made standard and predictable. If you are relying more on employment to cover costs, then that employment should pay an appropriate amount and your access to it should be fair and clear before you accept the offer to go to the university.
The right to unionize is protected under the law, and unionization will never leave students worse off than you are now/were before. This is because when an application for union certification is filed, there is a mandatory, legal freeze on our current terms and conditions of our employment. This freeze lasts throughout the time it takes to negotiate a collective agreement, and the university is not permitted to make any changes to any aspect of working conditions, including policies, procedures, pay, etc.
Once a collective agreement is in place, it will protect against the university making changes to policies about employment without negotiatiating with student workers. Unionization is the only way to guarantee the University must take our voices seriously during this time of crisis, and it gives us enforceable mechanisms to hold them accountable.
How can international students protect themselves against tuition increases?
- Negotiating power when it comes to fees increases (generally higher).
- Tuition fees (differentials) can be negotiated to be covered, wages can take into consideration these increases, a disincentive to tuition fee increases can be brought in, having fair access to employment, and providing a voice to international students can all help dealing with tuition fees.
You can read more on this topic in this post. We also look at other issues international students are facing at UW, and how a union can help address them, in these additional posts by OrganizeUW international students.
Having a Voice in the University
How will unionization benefit international graduate students as a whole?
Most international students are eager to endure the uncertainty during their (temporary) stay here since we don't feel that we have much control/say.
Being part of a union means that specific groups, like international students, student parents, Black students, etc. are provided with a space where we/they have a voice to address specific issues in the workplace. These issues then become the whole union’s responsibility to solve with the employer.
The union is an extra layer of protection and provides an extra voice for international graduate student workers to the university administration. Unions work very hard to protect all their members regardless of where we call home.
You can read more on this topic in this post. We also look at other issues international students are facing at UW, and how a union can help address them, in additional posts by OrganizeUW international students.
What could a union do to assist with international students’ health care?
The following could be addressed by the union as part of a collective agreement:
- Health insurance (UHIP) issues
- Health plan coverage could be negotiated
- Health plans cover all student workers, not just domestic students