After sending members an email on November 4, blaming the local’s staff for a crisis the Exec created, they backpedaled in their November 16 post on their website.
Now the Exec says they just wanted to keep you informed and that they have always been transparent. Don’t believe it. The Exec November 4 email was alarmist. Without providing adequate information, it asked members to support the Exec in their service cut strategy, this time aimed against staff.
As CUPE 3913 members and allies, we want to shed some light on this controversy by answering comments made by the Executive Committee in their November 16 post in their website.
They say: “We sent a private email to our members and did not make this issue one for public debate.”
- ”Our members” is more than 1500 people. Some publications have less circulation than that.
- They disclosed confidential staff issues.
- The Exec didn’t want any debate about their actions. Only they have access to the list of members emails. They were hoping to get rubber stamped by the members. We had to respond with the means at our disposal.
The say: “All of the accusations against the Executive Committee are about issues that have happened with membership approval or in accordance with the Local’s bylaws.”
- We have documented at takeback3913.wordpress.com some of the instances were the Exec did not follow the bylaws (more of this below).
- In order to do something different from the bylaws, you need to amend the bylaws. That requires a special process that includes a “super majority” at a GMM. Anything else is not membership approval.
- Here is one more violation: they didn’t provide us with an agenda for the special membership meeting.
They say: “The Executive Committee has provided a detailed financial statement at every membership meeting that had or kept quorum since Winter 2014”
- Which detailed financial statement? The bylaws say: “financial report…detailing all income and expenditures for the period.” Details means all the way down to specific payments and deposits.
- CUPE National provides a report system that allows you to report at this level. It is called the CUPE ledger. We haven’t seen anything close at membership meetings.
- The bylaws also require a written report.
- They didn’t present financial reports at Exec meetings either.
- How many “statements” have they presented in total? -The Exec didn’t even get membership approval for the 2015 budget.
The say: “The Executive Committee did not push a massive dues cut.”
- The cuts from 3.1% to 2.6% is a 16% drop. Not massive? Imagine if your salary was reduced by that amount.
- The Exec was in favour of the dues cut.
- The Exec did not inform the members about the implications of such a massive cut, but moved the resources to hold an online referendum.
- The referendum asked people to authorize the Exec to reduce dues. It didn’t ask people to reduce it to a specific amount.
- 94% voted yes. How many many people voted?
They say: “We approached the membership at our 2014 Annual General Meeting to increase the honoraria to something more consistent with other academic locals. Members voted in favour of this motion…”
- ”Something more consistent with other academic locals”? The bylaws require the specific level to be set by the membership.
- The bylaws also require all the honoraria to be at the same level. The president/chair, Chief Stewards, Financial and Communication Officers are not special positions deserving more honoraria.
- The former president asked for temporary increases of his honoraria totaling a few thousand dollars for a vaguely-determined period of time.
They say: “The office is not a lounge. It is a small functional work space… Expense for the renovations were approve by the membership at the 2014 AGM as part of the Local’s budget.”
- Few other organizations on campus have such a large and open space. It was meant for members to use and enjoy, not as “functional work space” for the Exec.
- The office is now closed to the membership, except by appointment.
- Members did not know that the office would be closing when they approved the renovations, nor that there would be a massive dues cut.
They say: “The bylaws were approved in accordance with acceptable rules for voting (the same as were used for the referendum to reduce dues) and there was an extensive period of member consultation.”
- ”Acceptable rules for voting”? There are different rules for voting for different things. The bylaw for voting amendments is that it must happen at a membership meeting with a 2/3 of the vote.
- The period of consultation was a request for feedback by email. There was not even discussion at a membership meeting.
They say: “The vast majority of foot traffic to the office was for the purpose of dropping off manual claim forms and picking up cheques.”
- We are not “foot traffic”!
- It is still more convenient to drop by the office and talk to someone.
- Moving to online cheque processing doesn’t require to keep the door closed, nor to prevent people to drop forms and pick up cheques in person.
- And would someone ever pick up the phone?
They say: “We highlighted information to our members because we felt that we wanted them to know where their dues were being spent and so that they could understand the context for our concerns.”
- The Exec presented information without any real numbers to back it up.
- The Exec revealed confidential information about staff and accused them of being the cause of a crisis
- Imagine the Board of Governors of the University sending an email to everyone at the University accusing our members of filing spurious grievances, discussing their cases, saying that they cost too much of tuition money, and that 3913 are bullies. This is akin to what the Exec did with staff.
The say: “The “job descriptions” mentioned are not, as the post framing them says, official in any way.”
- The Exec took the unofficial job descriptions and used them to perform their roles, instead of looking at the bylaws.
They say: “The Executive Committee does not have the capacity to bargain on two fronts [with Guelph and with 1281] at the same time and overlapping bargaining would create a serious conflict of interest.”
- So instead of asking the staff to postpone bargaining with their CA, the Exec trust that Guelph management will allow them to bargain a one year contract.
- The Exec is willing to risk our CA’s in order to bargain with staff.
- There are 21 exec positions (13 active). Why don’t they have the capacity to do 2 rounds of bargaining? And why is getting at the 1281/3913 agreement such a high priority for them?
They say: “We have not indicated that we are in a “financial crisis” – this is another rumour being propogated by the “Take Back 3913” group. We have indicated that the Local is in crisis in general because of issues that we currently have with the union that represents our staff.”
- Great news that there is no financial crisis! There is no need for more cuts.
- The Exec spent more than half of their November 4 communique talking about how many expenses they were having and how little resources they had.
- The Exec did not mention that the ‘general crisis’ is a crisis of services and participation.
They say: Despite the claims to the contrary, the current Past Executive Officer of the Local is a member of the Local…This position is also included in the Local’s new bylaws which are awaiting approval by CUPE National. This position was created to provide insitutional memory from one Executive Committee to the next. Members overwhelmingly supported this idea.
- It is widely known that the last president was a political member when he became president. What bargaining unit position did he hold in the Fall 2014 to extend his membership?
- The new bylaws are not in effect. They were not properly approved by the membership, let alone by CUPE National.
This is an opportunity for all members to give direction to our Local. If you feel that your union has become a distant place that doesn’t serve you nor represent you, this is a chance to bridge that distance.
Don’t be confused by the Exec November 4 emails asking you to RSVP to the meeting. It is not their private meeting. It is a membership meeting. This is the highest decision making body of our Local. All members have the right to participate with voice and vote, and don’t need to RSVP.
You can get familiar with the Exec’s stories about crises in their November 4 communications (check your uoguelph inbox) and their recent post. You can use this website to get more context and the sides of the story the Exec didn’t tell you.
Come for the food that the Exec ordered for the meeting and stay to tell them what you think about their cuts to services and lack of transparency.
The author of this letter is an ex-president with lots of experience at 3913.
The recent development at 3913 has raised many questions. I hope the executive works to answer these questions at the meeting they have called but I would also like to pose a few questions of my own.
As a past President, I knew the local to be active and full of life. The office was a place of militant action where people that wanted to cause change felt welcomed.
It is important to understand that the crisis that is being presented by the current 3913 is a manufactured crisis. As members head into this meeting, I encourage you to ask questions of your executive members.
Ask them how they justify $50,000 to renovate the office while laying off their office staff.
Ask them how they justify increasing their own honoraria while taking a union to court over defending the right of their members to be employed.
Ask them how they justified lobbying for a lowering of dues just a few months ago and now turn around and claim the well’s run dry.
Ask them why the union office is closed or why there are no staff anywhere in sight (last I checked there are supposed to be three staff positions in the local).
Most importantly, ask them how they can claim to be in financial trouble when just two years ago they had over $500k invested into GICs that were generating over $10,000 in revenue to the local. Where did this money go?
In October 2013, I resigned as president of CUPE 3913. Here’s an excerpt of my letter to the executive:
“This was not an easy decision to make but the last couple of weeks have given me a lot of doubt about the direction this local is taking. I came to the union to become an active trade unionist, but instead I find that any idea or outreach opportunity I engaged in was either judged or outright blocked.”
Although already heading in a downward slope, there was no way I could predict just two years ago how far this group could have gotten. Now, just two years later, there is a much different kind of local in place. I can’t for the life of me begin to understand how so much destruction has been allowed to consume this local in such a small amount of time.
I can however, point to the minutes of a Graduate Student Association May 21st 2014 meeting where the then president of the 3913 stated: “We are putting our focus on trying to change the Local reputation (perception as to radicalism).”
The current executive has a very clear agenda at play here: to demobilize the local and shift to doing the bare minimum to constitute as a union at all.
This is about shifting from an organizational culture and stance that fought on behalf of workers, and saw the struggle of students, maintenance workers, other faculty members, all as part of the common struggle for a better campus. The current direction of 3913 is based on the assumption that that direction was a mistake that the only role of a union is to provide members with benefits and perhaps an event here and there. This is more popularly known as business trade unionism.
This revamping has meant removing any sort of visuals that might have reminded people they are part of a movement. The office was once covered in progressive politics, from Cesar Chavez posters to Che Guevara busts! It was a place where progressive groups knew they were welcomed and would be supported. I remember hosting many coalition meetings at the office and hearing a proud history of the union supporting students fighting for lower tuition fees, other workers on campus fighting for decent work, pensions and benefits, for ethical purchasing by the university, and countless other progressive campaigns.
3913 had a proud history of fighting hard for our members. Although it has not had to go on strike in the recent past, it always took up grievances put forward by their members (e.g., unfair hiring, etc). During bargaining, 3913 had a crystal clear understanding of the reality that the university wants the cheapest possible agreement for them, and that it was up to the union to get decent compensation and quality working conditions for educational workers and learning conditions for students
Do folks not miss this? Do we really think the role of the biggest union in Guelph is to simply expedite Management’s wishes?
We must ask, then, how is it that a local as entrenched and politicized as CUPE 3913 has succumbed to this anti-union sentiment in the leadership of the union itself? What can be done to fix this?
I would like to urge any and all members of 3913, whether you are a Teaching Assistant or a Sessional Faculty Member to ask your local about this. Go out to this meeting and future membership meetings, attend meetings of the executive. Asking your union questions is your right and your duty as a trade unionist. Don’t like their answer? Run in the next election. Hold them accountable. Your union is in crisis, and they must not be allowed to get away with this any longer if the local is to survive.
Always in solidarity,
CUPE 3913 President (January 2013 to October 2013)
CUPE 3913 Vice-President (August 2012 to December 2012)
CUPE 3913 Bargaining Team Member/Guest (2010-13 agreements)
On November 4, 10 months away from bargaining our Collective Agreements, the Exec sent us an email saying that “Your local is in jeopardy and your Executive Committee needs your guidance and support.” They waited for the local to be in jeopardy to ask for our guidance.
The Exec has been cutting the services the local provides and creating impersonal relationships with members. In many instances they have done this by acting above the law.
Here are some instances where the Exec has broken our rules:
1) Not telling us what they are doing with our dues
The Finance Officer has to present written reports detailing all income and expenses at membership meetings. The FO also has to make full financial reports at Exec Meetings. (See the National Constitution, B.3.6 and the 3913 Bylaws, 2.d.) Percentages and summaries do not count. The FO, with the support of the Exec, hasn’t presented these reports. They didn’t even list this basic duty as one of the FO’s responsibilities in the FO’s “job description” that they wrote.
2) Increasing the honoraria of the President and other officers at exorbitant levels
The base honorarium level set in the bylaws for Exec members is $300 a month, or $3600 a year, which should be the same for every Exec member (see 3913 bylaws 1A.III). But according to the job descriptions that the Exec created for key positions, the President now makes close to $20,000 a year and the VP makes over $14,000.
3) Creating an Executive position for the Ex-President
The Exec put forward a motion at a General Membership Meeting to create the position of Past-Officer, which was filled by the previous president of the Local. The composition of the Exec does not include a “Past-Officer” (see National Constitution B.2.1; 3913 bylaws 1.A.I.). Executive Officers have privileges, including voting at Exec meetings and receiving an honorarium from our dues. We know that the Past-Officer has been making decisions at the Exec, but we don’t know how much he is being paid because they won’t tell us.
4) Allowing someone who is not a member of the Local to make decisions for us
The ex-president occupying the illegal Past-Officer position is not a member of the Local. He doesn’t have the right to participate in membership meetings or committees, but he does (see National Constitution, B.8.1 and 3913 bylaws 14). It should be noted that he recruited and trained many of the people who sit in the Exec today.
In the November 4 communique, the Exec falsely claims that given the pressure the staff grievances have put on them, “Our only viable and legal options are to resign our positions or to allow the staff (non-Mmembers) to run the Local.” When the non-members are staff, they are against non-members running the Local, but when the non-members are one of their own, they are in favour of non-members running the local and making decisions for us. Who does the ex-president represent at this point?
5) Changing the rules as they please without our consent
The violations described above are damaging to the the local by themselves, but they also go against our wishes. Bylaws are the rules we set to play the game. The frequent violations by the Exec are like a player changing the rules of the game half way just for them. Changing them requires all the players to be aware of the change and ideally to agree and accept it. In our union this is achieved by allowing for time for preparation and discussion, a 2/3 majority vote at a membership meeting, and approval from the larger union body of which we are a part (see National Constitution, B.5.1 and 3913 bylaws, 16).
The recent bylaws amendments process illustrate how they change the rules. They completely re-wrote the bylaws. The close to 90 pages long document was sent to us for feedback and voted online (as usual, only percentages of the results were provided). There was no discussion nor 2/3 majority vote at a meeting.
There are situations where you break the law because you act following a higher “law”. That happens when a rule is made to benefit a small group of people and you want to act in a way that benefits all. But the Exec breaks the law because they are following a lower “law”. None of their violations have benefited the membership. Their increased honoraria has not translated in better services for members and their lack of transparency prevents us from directing them. All of these violations have benefited the Exec members or their friends. Why should we support them now?
University managers also hide from us their full financial statements. They also prefer avoiding or circumventing rules and doing things arbitrarily, without accountability. We will bargain our own Collective Agreements with these university managers in 10 months. We will be in serious trouble if we have an Exec that agrees with university managers on not being transparent nor accountable. We will need an Exec and a Bargaining Team that are accountable to us and follow our guidance to defend our interests.
The following document contains the text from the Bylaws and the Constitution that are quoted in this post:
We are one year away from bargaining our contracts with UofG and the “progression of CUPE 3913’s organizational restructuring”, as the so called President’s “job description” calls it, has left us with diminished services and a weakened union. These are some of the impoverished services:
- Office is closed
- No information available outside of the closed office
- Little information available about our rights in other venues
- Nobody answers the phone
- Hard to talk to staff or Exec officers
- Questions and appointments are handled by email only
- Benefits are processed online with little support (did I mention that nobody answers the phone?)
- Processes happen behind closed doors preventing us from developing our understanding of the Local’s affairs
- Lack of accountability and transparency prevents us from directing the Exec
And these are some of the instances of our Local’s weakness as a result of the restructuring:
- There hasn’t been consistent General Membership Meetings because there is no quorum
- There are many vacancies in the Exec and in steward positions
- There is no or very little involvement in campaigns, even at the campus level.
The Exec has already caused a real crisis.
While the Exec reduces our services and our capacity to participate and lays off one of the staff, the Exec key positions and their salaries have become larger. The office is also more comfortable now that we cannot access it.
The restructuring and the ensuing conflict with staff not only affects our services directly, but the local’s potential. The conflict with staff is not only expensive, but wastes our resources by spending the staff’s and Exec’s time on staff’s grievances. Currently there is no staff in the office while an inexperienced Exec tries to cover for them.
The Exec now tells us that there is a financial crisis after making all these cuts to services, laying off one of the staff, and ballooning their own administrative duties. They say that staff is too expensive and their Union has filed too many grievances that the Exec—even with their expanded duties and salaries–cannot handle. Grievances also carry expensive legal fees, especially if you have to hire management lawyers. Is the Exec calling an SGMM to propose more cuts to continue impoverishing our services and the political strength of our local?
The cuts in services were uncalled for and unnecessary in the first place. We are not in a better position now than we were before. The last thing we need is more cuts. We cannot continue fighting and underusing our staff. We need to re-open the Local to all members and resolve the conflict with staff.
A year down the road we will probably face the story of financial constraints, workers being too expensive and the need to make cuts. At that time it will come from the University’s management facing us at the bargaining table. We won’t be able to defend ourselves from this attack coming from outside if we do not reject it in our own local now.
The November 4, 2015 communique by the CUPE3913 Exec blames the Local’s staff and their union for causing a crisis in the Local. They say that staff costs too much and their union refuses to make concessions.
The Exec tell us that staff currently costs 40%. They are so forthcoming when it comes to blaming staff costs for the so called crisis that they invite us to see the staff’s Collective Agreement, which they uploaded to the 3913 web page for our convenience. They also uploaded the old versions in case we want to do a historical analysis (the CA’s are here). They even made public confidential issues about staff in their communique!
But when it comes to how much revenues our Local receives, or how much they spend on Exec honoraria or ‘other’ expenses, the Exec hasn’t been so forthcoming. In fact, the Exec has not provided us with detailed financial reports as required by article 1.B.2.d of the Local’s bylaws. Their detailed explanation of the financial situation amounts to a pie chart with percentages. Providing only percentages allows them to make a claim and prevents us from checking its accuracy and magnitude.
We looked at the staff CA and at other sources not included in their suggested reading list to estimate the main revenues and expenses. What we found out is that the percentage they gave us makes no sense.
Based on the total yearly wages for our members, which is publicly accessible information, and the current dues rate, the local should be receiving about $500,000 a year on dues alone. While the staff CA contemplates one full time position and two part time positions, there is only “one working member of the staff” as the Exec communique points out. The total yearly cost for the three staffs in the CA (salaries, benefits, pensions in addition to CPP+EI contributions) should be about $190,000. That’s 39% of the dues for three staff members. Their claim makes sense for three staff positions, not for “one working member of the staff.”
The Exec also claims that 17% of dues go the Exec honoraria. A full exec has 21 members. The 3913 bylaws state: “Each executive committee position shall receive a monthly honorarium. The honoraria shall be three hundred (300) dollars each for members of the Executive committee. The level of these honoraria shall be decided at the AGM” (1.A.III in the bylaws). The language is admittedly contradictory but at the base rate of $300, a full Exec would cost about $75,000 of dues. That’s about 15% of our estimated total dues. Their claim of 17% makes sense for a 21 members Exec at the base rate prescribed by the bylaws. But they say that “there are currently 13 working members of the Local’s Executive Committee”.
Although the by-laws maintain an equality in the status of the Exec members, when it comes to the honoraria of the 13 working Exec members, some of them are more equal than others. The yearly “salaries” of the main administrative officers go from the president at $19,500” and the VP at $14,600 to the Finance Officer and Chief Stewards at $9750, according to their “job descriptions”. The total “salaries” of these chief officers add up to about $63,000. The three filled positions among these chief officers amount to $39,000, or half of the base honoraria prescribed in the bylaws. We do not know if the so called Past Officer, an Exec position that doesn’t exist in the bylaws and is currently occupied by someone who is not a member of 3913, is also receiving “salary” out of our dues. We do not know how much honoraria the remaining eight Exec members are receiving.
As if the numbers in the Exec’s pie chart were not confusing enough, the Local has another significant source of income. The University of Guelph gives our Local about $42,000 a year to be distributed among Executive officers (articles 6.07 of the CA’s). Choosing to talk about dues instead of total income is another deception. It inflates the staff cost by reducing the income base. On the other hand the additional $42,000 should be counted as separate from the dues that they are using for their calculation. This suggests that the honoraria is a much larger total that includes the $42,000 plus the 17% coming from dues.
The income that the local should be receiving is enough to cover both adqueate level of honoraria for the Exec and a three people staff that could serve members perfectly well. Why is there a need for the Exec to attack staff, sound the crisis alarm and claim to be the victims of the staff’s union?
While we don’t know if the AGM approved such high levels of honoraria, having different levels of honoraria goes against the bylaws. There certainly hasn’t been approved amendments to the bylaws changing “duties of Executive Officers” to “job descriptions” nor Exec honoraria to salaries. There has not been approval of such duties as “Leading the progression of CUPE 3913’s organizational restructuring” (see the “responsibilities and opportunities” of the new President’s job description). The Exec has acted as if these changes were a legitimate restructuring. They already increased their pay and expanded their job description. The attack on staff and the real crisis on services coincides with the “progression of CUPE 3913’s organizational restructuring.”
After looking at these discrepancies we cannot believe the cute pie chart that the Exec fed us nor their stories about staff being too expensive. Instead of propaganda that pushes us to vote for what they want, we need transparent, accurate information. At the Special Membership Meeting on November 17, we want them to provide a detailed income and expenditures report, and reports of our assets and liabilities. We want them to be truly forthcoming before we make any decisions about the “crisis.”