Sessional instructors at UW vote to unionize


Sessional instructors at the University of Waterloo have voted to unionize. 

As of Dec. 16, UW’s sessional instructors are now the newest members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents academic, maintenance, custodian, food service and other workers at Canadian post-secondary institutions. 

As members of CUPE, sessional instructors will have access to the support and resources necessary to effectively bargain with the university for improved working conditions, including better job security and increased benefits. 

The movement to unionize was driven by the Committee to Organize uWaterloo (OrganizeUW), a grassroots campaign started by graduate students in March 2020. 

Sessional instructors — instructors with short-term contracts of under one year — have limited job security and face a high turnover rate. They also receive significantly fewer protections and benefits than longer-term faculty members. 

Unions enable workers to leverage their collective power and advocate for necessary improvements to their work environments. 

UW is one of the last universities in the country to have contract academic staff unionize. Graduate workers, post-doctoral fellows, and sessional instructors at a majority of Canadian post-secondary institutions receive protections currently unavailable to many of UW’s academic workers. 

OrganizeUW explains that as a result, workers at UW are “left to settle for the lower standard of rights [they] receive through the Employment Standards Act as non-unionized workers, and which [they] must attempt to enforce on our own as individuals.” 

To help with the unionization process, OrganizeUW sought the guidance and resources that an experienced union partner, such as CUPE, can provide. 

According to OrganizeUW, “the organizers were unanimous in agreeing that CUPE was the top choice to support this campaign to unionize student [and] sessional workers at uWaterloo.” 

CUPE is the largest academic-sector union in Canada. The organization has successfully helped many local unions implement material improvements to their work environments. 

With support from CUPE, sessional instructors across the country have implemented numerous job protections and benefits, including increased job security, regular wage increases, health benefits, sick leave, paid medical leave, and legal aid for workplace issues. 

Additionally, CUPE already has a presence on campus. Unionized staff members in Food Services and Plant Operations at UW are represented by CUPE Local 793, meaning CUPE is familiar with how the university functions as an institution and employer. 

Importantly, CUPE occupies a support and advisory role, helping to ensure the desires of the local union are realized. The union itself comprises only the academic staff it represents. 

Unionized instructors at UW will now elect an executive and bargaining committee to represent their needs and desires to the university.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mentioned that “unionized instructors at UW have elected an executive and bargaining committee to represent their needs and desires to the university.” This has been changed to reflect that they have not yet elected an executive and bargaining committee and will be doing that next. Imprint regrets this error