OPSEU Local 415, representing faculty at Algonquin College, has issued the news release below after an arbitrator's ruling that college management interfered in the local's elections in 2013.
Algonquin College acknowledges interference in union local elections and agrees to retrain managers – OPSEU gets over $100,000
Ottawa –“I did not interfere in the election,” proclaimed college Vice-President Doug Wotherspoon in an interview with the Algonquin Times in October 2015. The shocking statement was made after news of his involvement in union local elections in 2013 became public.
At the time, Mr. Wotherspoon’s text messages and emails to OPSEU union members had been leaked. Mr. Wotherspoon had attempted, through off-campus accounts, to “talk generally about how to run an election campaign” with the purpose of getting rid of “the old guard” – a term he used to describe the incumbent union representatives.
The attempts at influencing the outcome failed but faculty brought forward allegations of being directly approached and pressured to run with the purpose of putting a more management-friendly executive in place.
A little more than a year after Mr. Wotherspoon’s involvement was uncovered, Algonquin College acknowledged that the actions of its administration during the 2013 elections constituted interference in union affairs, contrary to the provisions of the collective agreement.
“This agreement simply confirms what many of us suspected – faculty were approached and pressured by the most senior administrators at the college,” said Pat Kennedy, Local 415 president. “We are pleased with the outcome – specifically the fact that the college will be retraining management. That said, the impact on the individuals who were approached remains.”
Jack Wilson, local vice-president, concurred. “When a senior administrator approaches a faculty member, it inevitably places pressure on the individual. It taints the democratic process and undermines the trust that is required to foster positive labour relations.”
It was important for the union to ensure that this agreement provided protections moving forward. Indeed, the union secured commitments from the college that it “shall remain neutral in all future Local leadership elections.” In addition, and for all future union elections, the college will remind all academic employees that “Management will not get involved.” Importantly, the college will also provide new and enhanced labour relations training to management personnel, which will include a component dealing with union interference.
Although satisfied with the agreement, Pat Kennedy remained cautious: “These systemic remedies are important and will hopefully deter future administrations from trying to undermine the democratic process that is the cornerstone of the labour movement.”
As part of the settlement, the college also agreed to waive amounts owing for the release of union officers conducting union business. OPSEU intends to provide additional time and training for its democratically elected executive members. “We will see a new generation of union representatives as a result of this settlement. The future is bright.”