New union on campus for student employees

File photo. Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) headquarters building in Ottawa. (m.gifford / Flickr)

There is a new union on the Brandon University campus.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Local 55601 represents approximately 400 employees at BU, including student assistants and research assistants.

“I believe we are the only members on campus that weren’t previously unionized,” says President Corey DeGagné. “But not only that, being a marker and a lab assistant, and someone who actually works for the university […] we felt there was a need to unionize just for more security and for more benefits and stuff like that.”

DeGagné says they are looking for several different provisions within their collective agreement, including job security, how jobs are advertised and posted on campus, and wages. “Also, just making sure that our job description is the only thing we have to do. So, for example, if I’m a marker, I don’t get asked to take out dry cleaning for my supervisor, because that’s just not in my job description.”

“A lot of the times though, what puts our employees in an awkward situation is that our supervisors are our professors,” explains DeGagné. He says with a union now in place, it takes the onus off individuals, and allows them to refuse unreasonable tasks, without fear of academic penalty.

DeGagné says PSAC deals with many public sectors, including numerous universities. He notes the vast majority of student and research assistants from Manitoba east are represented by PSAC, including university employees in Quebec and Ontario, as well as the University of Winnipeg.

“We’re all part of the same union, so it’s nice that we have PSAC representatives that work with all the locals in Manitoba,” he says. “They’re working with U of W [and] they’re working with us. There’s similar issues, and they know exactly what’s in a collective agreement [and how to] get things started.”

While there will be some changes introduced for employees, DeGagné says they will not dramatically alter every situation. “For those [who feel] that their job on campus is going really well, that’s not going to change. We’re trying to maintain what’s good for our employees, and change what is bad for the employees.”

The union is currently bargaining with the university, and DeGagné expects ratification of the new collective agreement to occur sometime in the next couple of months.

PSAC was formed in 1966 and currently represents more than 180,000 people across the country, including over 22,000 from the Prairie Provinces.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 28,  April 9, 2013.