On Friday, February 17, 2023, a Q & A session for candidates for the positions of Unit 1 Steward and President was held, in which candidates could make an opening statement of no more than five (5) minutes, and respond to questions from those members who attended the session. The session was recorded.
Unit 1 Steward candidates Farhan Chowdhury (incumbent) and Francis Combert, and Presidential candidate Scott Duchesne (incumbent) were in attendance. Presidential candidate Akshay Chadha was not in attendance.
The Election Officer subsequently sent the questions asked of both candidates, and those questions addressed specifically to Mr. Chadha, so that they could respond to them. Below are the questions, and Mr. Chadha’s responses. Dr. Duchesne’s responses are included in the questions for both candidates.
Questions for both Presidential Candidates:
- Why do you feel you can well represent the members of the union as their president?
- What experience do you have with bargaining and negotiating work contracts, specifically for wage and benefits increases of university workers and what strategies will you employ during this year’s round of negotiations?
- What experiences do you have with bargaining and what qualifications do you have with striking?
- We have a bargaining year upcoming. What experience do you have with the collective bargaining process? Also, what knowledge would you bring about the process specifically as it relates to academic units (i.e., locals representing TA’s and Sessionals) including our own and those at other universities across the province.
- Can you please provide us with an example of a situation in which you worked as a team and disagreed with a member – how would you deal with that?
- You both come from strong leadership roles at the university. Can you please describe a time where you were given constructive criticism in those roles? How did you address it? What did you change?
- We will be entering a bargaining period in Fall 2023. This time will be a critical moment for the union to negotiate key issues including tuition indexation & job security. How do you plan to lead or organize 3913 during negotiations & potential strike votes/a strike itself? Additionally, how will you provide avenues for collective action across the university & outside it amongst university allies? Finally, how do you account for intersectional planning, organizational efforts, & bureaucratic contingencies imposed by the university?
Why do you feel you can well represent the members of the union as their president?
Mr. Chadha: As mentioned in my candidate statement, I have demonstrated experience in managing organizations that dealt with the welfare and well-being of students and educators. I believe a lot can be improved for the working conditions of TAs and SLs through CUPE 3913, primarily wages for SLs and TAs need to be renegotiated as per current high inflation rates and rent increases.
Dr. Duchesne: I have been the president of CUPE 3913 since 2018. The institutional knowledge I have earned as president allows for the effective running of our local on an everyday basis. I also led the union in the last round of bargaining, and won some significant gains, including the Emergency Financial Assistance Fund (EFAF), the requirement of supervisors to add grading deadlines to work assignments, and greater job security for our sessional instructors.
Mr. Chadha’s response to questions 2, 3, and 4:
I have more than four years of experience with bargaining and negotiating contracts. During my tenure, I would advocate for wage and benefits increases for workers at both Guelph and Guelph Humber campuses. Sustained and targeted pleas and negotiations for the increase of funding for TAs and SLs would be one of my key strategies with the support of all the executive members and the general members of the CUPE 3913. I would facilitate access to broad ranges of services available in the union and would make the union more inclusive by managing open communications with general members who are often unaware of the support CUPE 3913 can offer. During my term, reaching out to all members, regardless of their background, will be a priority. As GSA president, I have been in close contact with VP Externals representing CUPE and have known about negotiations and striking. As MGS I have always been unequivocally supportive of positive CUPE decisions and resolutions, and I believe that I am capable of using my skills and experience to further improve CUPE initiatives.
During my term at Guelph, I had good connections with locals representing their units at UofGuelph and at different universities, which helped me to understand the needs and concerns raised by different academic units. I had been very supportive of them and represented them at different levels.
Dr. Duchesne’s responses to questions 2, 3, & 4:
My experience in leading union in the last round of bargaining and a full year of preparation for this round of negotiations will allow me to fight effectively and forcefully with the other members of the bargaining committee for the important gains our members deserve, such as tuition reimbursement and a more transparent hiring process.
Under my leadership, the Union has made direct on-campus connections with such groups as UGFA (the University of Guelph Faculty Association) and with locals such as CUPE 1334, who represent trades, maintenance, and service workers on campus. Such connections allow us to ‘pick their brains’ – for example, I met with the president of UGFA this month to gain insight into their recent negotiations. As well, CUPE 1334 will be entering bargaining soon, and we have participated in meetings with them to organize our common strategies.
Under my leadership, the Union has participated in campus committees with other groups and unions in between bargaining rounds. I have also made productive connections with other presidents of other academic locals across Ontario, giving us the opportunity to learn and to coordinate with each other.
Can you please provide us an example of a situation in which you worked as a team and disagreed with a member – how would you deal with that?
Mr. Chadha: The idea is to agree to disagree. Many situations happen when working with fellow team members, this may include disagreement among the team members, including the executives. The idea is to explore all the different proposals and allow everyone to voice opinions. Inclusive and joint meetings are often the best way to avoid any miscommunication and find common grounds that help all the parties involved. In case of a difference of opinion, I believe in respecting the opinions of others and trying to understand evolving situations by navigating the best HR practices. I would work with my fellow team members at CUPE 3913 and work to create a respectful workplace environment where the president does not run the organization alone, and also at the same time protect the board from conflicts. The MGS will be more empowered and will be more connected with the executives. I believe in reaching resolutions that would benefit the organization.
Dr. Duchesne: My philosophy of leadership is rooted in consensus – to work towards a solution in which disagreement is a part of the process. People need to be heard in that process, and people need to listen and understand the views of all committee members. I see my role as leader in this way: listen to everyone, take their positions into consideration, and aim to produce a solution that is acceptable to everyone, understanding that disagreements will remain.
There have been a number of disagreements during my time as president. For nearly a year the Executive Committee has been working on a motion that addresses the issue of honoraria, working hours, and specific positions in the Union in an effort to better distribute monies and labour in the long term. This process has included the voices of all committee members, at times in agreement, in other times in conflict. I am proud to say that a focus on consensus has resulted in a strong motion to be presented at the Spring Membership Meeting for approval.
You both come from strong leadership roles at the university. Can you please describe a time where you were given constructive criticism in those roles? How did you address it? What did you change?
Mr. Chadha: Constructive criticism is always welcome. During my tenure, I received feedback and criticism from students returning to work at the campus after the pandemic. I worked with the university to create solutions that promoted more involved in-person activities. At GSA, I worked on facilitating more activities on campus. Through conversations and meetings with the student body, I became inspired and empowered to promote inclusivity in leadership throughout my tenure.
Dr. Duchesne: In 2020, I attempted to develop a motion that would eliminate the honoraria of Department stewards. The criticism I received from this process was a significant learning experience that has made me a better committee member, a better leader, and a better person. I have changed the way I develop and work through ideas, and the way I relate to members. Criticism that seeks to improve working relationships and the results of that work must be received with a desire to change, and not resistance.
We will be entering a bargaining period in Fall 2023. This time will be a critical moment for the union to negotiate key issues including tuition indexation & job security. How do you plan to lead or organize 3913 during negotiations & potential strike votes/a strike itself? Additionally, how will you provide avenues for collective action across the university & outside it amongst university allies? Finally, how do you account for intersectional planning, organizational efforts, & bureaucratic contingencies imposed by the university?
Mr. Chadha: Tuition increase for international students has been a challenge without a significant increase in job pay and job security. For a good negotiation, I would make connections outside of our bargaining unit and consult the CUPE national in bringing forward the concerns of applicants. I understand not everyone is always supportive at any organization, but by maintaining a healthy round of communications with university leadership, we can facilitate the voice of different job applicants. Through my communications with VP Externals representing CUPE over the years, I understand that the CUPE strike fund is in a good situation, and I will work hard with my team to further develop it to strengthen the impact of CUPE negotiations and strikes in consideration of evolving situations.
Dr. Duchesne: Items such as an increase in wages post-Bill 124, taking inflation and cost of living into consideration, benefits, job security, improving hiring practices, and tuition reimbursement will be top priorities. Specifically, in terms of improving working conditions for underrepresented and marginalized communities, we are working off grievances, member input, and the report released by the University on Graduate Student Well-Being and the COVID-19 pandemic to write and table proposals to substantively address issues that affect these members, including strengthening language on discrimination, harassment, and mental health. I am proud to say that our Union has a host of voices from many paths of lived experience, which has, and will assist us in our advocacy for our members, and in our bargaining. Last, my experience from the last round of bargaining, as well as insights I have gleaned from my conversations with other Local presidents and with CUPE Ontario and National has given me a number of strategic options to bring to the bargaining committee to address University strategies.
Below are Mr. Chadha’s responses to the questions in the Q&A session directed at them:
Given that it is a bargaining year, doesn’t it seem irresponsible to run for president without having any experience with CUPE in the past? Why are you drawn to run for the presidency now?
On the contrary, as an active member and supporter of CUPE, I have always been aware of CUPE decisions. As a former treasurer and president of GSA, I had amazing opportunities of communications with VP Externals. I am aware that a good number of TAs and SLs, who fuel the operation of CUPE, are not aware of the resources that CUPE 3913 can offer. I have substantial experience in advocating and bargaining for the implementation of policies with positive changes. Most of our student and professional workforce has not benefited from any significant increase in the wages for TAs and SLs for years, which is very disappointing when the current CUPE 3913 president is highly paid. I hope that the CUPE members will support and trust me during this process rather than question my skills and let me prove that I can work in the best interest of CUPE members.
There was a unanimous motion to remove you as GSA Pres, a lot of people that worked with you in the GSA have moved to positions in the union. What makes you think you would be an effective leader and how would you work with these people again?
I have won five elections in which all graduate students received ballots. I have successfully completed my tenure. Unfortunately, last week, a dark decision, motivated by discrimination by a few individuals, as I understand, became dominant. Falsity was spread. I would like to acknowledge that a few individuals, with a vested interest, had been hindering GSA processes since August last year. It would be unfortunate if such try to influence CUPE elections. I would hope that the current election officer will maintain a fair and level playing environment. If elected, I will be focused on doing constructive work for everyone. I am ready to work with all CUPE members. As always, I will try my best to maintain a healthy and respectful workplace environment.
I work with a professional attitude rather than making personal remarks. However, I felt there were several occasions on which my human rights were ignored at GSA. I continued to serve the grad students in my best capacity and worked to advocate for them on different levels and committees. With the help of the MGS and the executives, I will ensure equity and inclusivity.
Do you think you would have the capacity to be president of CUPE3913 being a full-time graduate student? Please explain how you will manage your time and duties.
Yes, this is something that I have been managing for a long time, and I look forward to taking this position with full commitment. I am on top of my academic and professional responsibilities.
CUPE 3913 has tried to work with the GSA in the capacity to plan socials. Continually, the GSA fell through with requests. Can you please address why this happened and how do you intend to work in the union to plan these socials.
I welcomed to support CUPE in organizing its event. At GSA, we regularly hosted events for graduate students which included graduate TAs as well.
However, in my presidency at CUPE, I would not make demands that sound beyond the scope of any such collaboration and independently organize the events for CUPE members, including undergraduate and graduate students, by using the resources available.
Provide an explanation for why he didn’t show up to a meeting that he agreed to when members were waiting to ask questions?
I was available but there were some technical challenges to joining the meeting, due to which I could not join zoom meeting.