On January 7, the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union was put under the trusteeship of its parent organization, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). This action followed an investigation by PSAC that resulted in the removal of the TRAC executives from their respective positions on the grounds that there was “evidence of a fully dysfunctional executive committee.”
Complaints of harassment, bylaw infractions
The investigation was initiated on September 9 following multiple complaints by TRAC Vice President Daria Saryan, Bargaining Officer Isabelle Johnston, and Communications and Mobilization Officer Robert Sonin against President Nader Nodoushan.
According to Sonin, the initial complaint was prompted by difficulties facing the executive committee during the summer.
The investigation report, obtained by The Daily, detailed allegations against Nodoushan, including harassment, interfering with other executives’ work, and violating TRAC bylaws by failing to have a $3,000 expense approved by the executive committee.
Nodoushan also filed a number of counter-complaints of harassment, and one of racism, against other executives. However, most of these complaints were deemed unfounded by the report, except for a complaint that Sonin had an outstanding loan of $450 from TRAC, which the report described as somewhat “reasonable” given the context of alleged pay withholding by Nadoushan.
“There is nothing to be gained by publicly debating the investigation committee’s findings.”
According to Sonin, the report’s recommendations are overly harsh, given that the complaints against Nadoushan were the most founded in the report. “We made a complaint, the complaint was found to be valid, and we were fired,” Sonin told The Daily in an interview.
In an official response to the situation released on January 13, PSAC indicated that action beyond the removal of the TRAC executive would be taken in the future, and urged members to focus their energies on upcoming collective bargaining.
“There is nothing to be gained by publicly debating the investigation committee’s findings,” read the statement. “Its main conclusions will be released at an upcoming general assembly and local members in attendance will obtain all necessary clarifications.”
Lack of autonomy for local unions
TRAC is a local section of PSAC, a larger union; as such, PSAC has the authority to bargain with employers, authorize strikes, and take control of a local section.
According to Jamie Burnett, a grievance officer at AGSEM: McGill’s Teaching Union, the local sections’ lack of autonomy can cause difficulties – a problem AGSEM does not face, as it belongs to the more decentralized Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), a Quebec union federation.
“This [non-autonomous] form of organization is common to most of the North American labour movement (including the non-CSN unions at McGill), especially outside of Quebec. The CSN is one of the few exceptions in that its ‘local unions’ are legally autonomous,” said Burnett in an email to The Daily. “The autonomy we have as a part of the CSN is extremely important to us.”
TRAC is not the only union that has struggled with its relationship with PSAC. SÉTUE, the student workers’ union at Université du Québec à Montréal, has also had problems.
“Members of SÉTUE experienced this [lack of autonomy] when, on dubious legal grounds, PSAC refused to allow the bargaining committee to respect the mandates from their General Assembly,” said Burnett.
“We made a complaint, the complaint was found to be valid, and we were fired.”
SÉTUE’s relationship with PSAC remains strained. According to Marie-Ève Tremblay-Cléroux, who was an elected member of SÉTUE’s union council from May 2013 to November 2014, SÉTUE attempted to disaffiliate from PSAC with a campaign that began last summer.
“We had many reasons, but the most important is the lack of self-government in the PSAC structure […] it’s possible for PSAC to bypass the local executive committee decisions anytime,” Tremblay-Cléroux told The Daily in an email.
According to Tremblay-Cléroux, three members of the SÉTUE executive were removed by PSAC during the campaign, although unlike TRAC, SÉTUE was not put under complete trusteeship.
SÉTUE’s campaign to disaffiliate was ultimately unsuccessful and ended last October. “It’s not because members didn’t want to quit PSAC. […] It’s [in] part because PSAC use[d] a lot of judicial procedures to stop the campaign,” said Tremblay-Cléroux, adding that the disaffiliation had seen substantial support at SÉTUE’s September general assembly.
Re-elections for TRAC?
While there does not appear to be mobilization within TRAC to leave PSAC, the final result of the investigation into its executive’s behaviour has yet to be determined. The investigation report will be presented to a TRAC general assembly on January 19, where they will vote to approve or deny the report’s recommendation that the executives be removed and a re-election be held.
Sonin is not sure whether he will seek re-election, or even whether he can. Although the report recommended that only Nodoushan be barred from running again, Sonin said that Nodoushan instructed Concordia Human Resources not to deduct union dues from the pay cheques of the executives, meaning that he is unlikely to meet the electoral qualification of being a “dues-paying member.”
“At any rate, PSAC’s performance does not inspire me with confidence,” wrote Sonin in an email to The Daily. “I’m not sure I want anything to do with PSAC.”