"UW graduate workers launch campaign to unionize" (News|The Record)

Article by Leah Gerber at TheRecord.com

Person holding newspaper in front of their face to read Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

“It’s time to unionize”

Yesterday our campaign was featured in an article in the Waterloo Region Record, the local paper for the Region of Waterloo!

Sophia Sanniti, a PhD candidate in Environment, discusses why she personally joined the Committee to Organize UW, and why “it’s time” - she mentions the “drastic difference in working conditions” she has noticed at UW, which is not unionized, versus the procedures and protections in place at York University, where she worked during her master's and was a member of CUPE local 3903.

Meeting with other members on the Committee and talking to students during the campaign has only confirmed to her that workplace issues are widespread at UW. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid these issues bare (and we know we're not alone, as others at UW have so eloquently outlined some of the systemic issues at play).

Pandemic as a catalyst to action

“As grad workers, we needed seats at the table as the university is making major decisions about health and safety. We’re the ones going back to campus, running tutorials and labs and we need to know that we are safe, that our health and safety is being considered as we are sent back to campus,” Sanniti said.

“We realized we need to do this now, there’s no point in waiting.” […] The pandemic is a genuine crisis that has added the new pressures of remote teaching and learning on graduate student workers. As well, many sources of extra income these workers take on to meet their needs disappeared.

“I don’t feel equipped to manage this. There are no supports for me to be supported and then support my students,’ she says.

“Dr. Tam says we can expect this to last two to three years. This isn’t one semester long, this is years we need to prepare for. Accountability is the goal here.”

GSA support

In addition to further discussion in the article of reasons to unionize (a living wage, anyone?), the author mentions how the UW-Grad Student Association recently voted to support our campaign. We were very pleased to receive this news and look forward to working with the UW-GSA as a partner to make conditions better for all students and academic workers at UW.

An innovative, 100% digital campaign

Finally, it is worth mentioning how in true UW fashion, even our campaign to unionize is breaking new ground. The process we are using in our union drive is new, as running a digital card-signing campaign only became possible in Ontario in early 2020 due to a court decision. This was not related to COVID-19 - but is very lucky timing for us!

This means UW is the first large workplace in Canada to do a fully online unionization campaign! This process has not been without a few challenges, including the need for a two-step process, which is necessitated by Labour Board requirements. But organizers have been working hard to streamline the process and make it easier than ever for potential members to get all the information you need to make an informed decision, and to request and sign a card from the comfort of your own home or smartphone.

You can check out our 2-Minute Quick Guide on the unionization process, get into some nitty-gritty details in our extensive (but well-organized!) FAQ, contact us by email, or if you're ready to sign a card, click here to sign up! If you are passionate and want to get involved, there are many ways, big and small, that you can help!

Thanks to The Record for this coverage - we hope you'll check out the full article here!

And we will leave you with one last quote from Sophia:

“Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”


Note: Committee to Organize UWaterloo is wholly separate from the UW-GSA, and all views and information presented are our own. Some organizers may serve on GSA, but all involvement in this campaign is in their capacity as individual students, a fact made clear in all communications. Confidentiality with regard to internal GSA processes is strictly maintained at all times. Any interested supporter may join the campaign - all are welcome!

Committee to Organize UWaterloo
Committee to Organize UWaterloo
supported by CUPE

The Committee to Organize UWaterloo is a grassroots campaign to unionize the academic workers at the University of Waterloo. The campaign is supported by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Canada's largest union.