The attempts by students on several campuses across the country to decertify their unions from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) returned to the spotlight last week, after a letter from the executive of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 3902) became public.CUPE 3902 represents 7,000 education workers at U of T, including teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, PhD course instructors, and invigilators. The letter, sent by the union’s executive committee to its members, was made public on Friday on studentunion.ca.The letter states that the executive committee has “decided to join our provincial union in supporting the CFS and urging our members to oppose efforts at defederation.” CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn denounced the decertification attempts in a September letter, calling them “union-busting.”U of T’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) is one of the groups for which a decertification petition was circulated. That petition was spearheaded by Ashleigh Ingle, a former GSU executive who also served as recording secretary on the bargaining committee for CUPE 3902, Unit 1, during contract negotiations with the university in 2012. Ingle, along with then-chief spokesperson James Nugent, resigned from the committee to speak out against the settlement that was ultimately reached between the university and the union. Many members of the GSU are also members of CUPE 3902.The letter from CUPE’s executive notes that both the GSU and CFS “have supported our Local when we needed support; both are partners in our ongoing struggle for better learning, working, and living conditions.”In November 2011, CUPE 3902 members voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike after unsatisfactory negotiations with the university following the expiration of the existing collective agreement in April of that year. The ratification of an eventual agreement in February 2012 prevented a strike from taking place. The CFS did not take a position on the possibility of a strike at the time.The letter from the executive committee acknowledges that “among the many members of CUPE 3902, there will be a variety of opinions regarding the defederation campaign,” and assures members that “those members who decide to support defederation will not face any resistance within the union and are entitled to have their voices heard and respected.”On Thursday, the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) published an open letter calling on the CFS to acknowledge a decertification petition that the CSU claims was submitted by some of its members. The letter states that the federation has denied receiving the petition, but that the CSU is “in receipt of a certified true copy of the petition, as well as a registered mail certificate authenticating its receipt at the CFS national office.”The letter also calls for the CFS National Executive “to review the submitted petition in good faith, and to set dates for a referendum on continued membership in the CFS.”
CUPE 3902 supports Canadian Federation of Students
Union representing education workers at U of T condemns movements to defederate from CFS
Over 3,000 signatures collected to hold referendum on leaving CFS, say graduate student organizers
Referendum, if approved by CFS executive, will take place in March 2014
Student activists at the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) have collected over 3,000 signatures requesting that the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O) hold a referendum on decertification this March according to petition leader Ashleigh Ingle. On the morning of September 19, a petition asking the CFS-O to hold the referendum was received at the federation’s offices. According to a receipt provided to The Varsity, the package was signed for at 11:53 am by Ashkon Hashemi. Ashleigh Ingle, a former GSU executive mailed the provincial petition and is calling for a decertification vote that is expected to take place March 2014.According to CFS-O bylaws, had to be received by the provincial office by September 24. Another petition must be sent separately to the CFS’ national office, where it must be received before the next national Annual General Meeting. Ingle, a graduate student at U of T who has been spearheading the petition drive, stated that the petition has surpassed the 20 per cent threshold required to trigger a referendum this year. This includes the signatures of over 3,000 GSU members.“There has been a huge amount of support from GSU members in response to this petition,” says Ingle, “This is the largest mandate provided by this membership to date, so the message is clear.”Ingle is working with student organizers across Canada, who are engaged with similar movements to leave the CFS. Brendan Lehman, a graduate student leading the effort at Laurentian, said he had also sent a petition to CFS-O via Canada Post. “Many were shocked at how out of touch the CFS is, considering the amount they pay them every year. Personally, I am optimistic about eventual decertification,” he said. Alastair Woods, chairperson of CFS-O confirmed that the package from Ingle had been received but stated that, to his knowledge, Lehman’s package had not. According to the CFS bylaws, after a petition is received there is a period of validation where it is confirmed that it meets the specified 20 per cent threshold. At this point, the national executive is presented with the petition and is responsible for striking a committee to set a date for the referendum. The chief returning officer, appointed by the CFS, is responsible for executing the vote.According to Ingle, 15 student unions are organizing to leave the CFS. Brent Farrington, CFS internal coordinator, cast doubt on that claim, stating that: “The people who are making the allegations are still not saying where this is alleged to be happening.” Unconfirmed reports from Laurentian allege that Anna Goldfinch, national executive representative of CFS-O, as well as other CFS executives, were present at Laurentian this week to work against decertification efforts. On allegations of counter-campaigns by the CFS, Farrington would only say: “The national executive does not have a motive to discuss these things until we have received an initiative from the membership.” In the coming months students will be engaged in conversation on the type of organization they would prefer to participate in, says Ingle, “We’ve followed the bylaws, we’ve collected the thousands of signatures, and it’s time for the CFS to allow democracy to occur.”
The CFS does not work for students
Should U of T groups defederate from the CFS?
The ongoing campaign by some members of various CFS locals to decertify from the federation has recently received considerable attention. The CFS, or Canadian Federation of Students, presents itself as a nationwide body that provides a platform for student groups to have their collective voices heard on a national scale. However, there have been ongoing issues with the body that are now finally coming to a head. The basic concept of the federation is a positive and desirable one. However, given the obvious geographical and cultural challenges of accounting for the needs of all Canadian students, as well as its lack of financial transparency, local groups are certainly wise to defederate and move towards a more efficient system.After reading a number of articles related to the issue, the most pertinent issue raised was the lack of information given by the CFS in regards to its salaries. Brandon Clim, a money blogger, has published the CFS’ budget for 2014. Yet again, despite numerous campaigns, salaries are not accounted for. Given that the CFS is supported by student fees, to a total of over $4 million in 2012, financial transparency ought to be the primary concern.Along with the obvious financial issues, it is also impossible to assume that every campus across the country could possibly be accounted for on a national scale. The CFS represents around 80 universities across the country, but almost half are located in Ontario. With little representation from the prairies and the East Coast, it is inevitably unequal, opening the debate as to the extent that non-Ontario schools are represented. In fact, the CFS is so far removed from the daily routines of student groups that they were “shocked” when informed that decertification petition drives had been launched for many of their local affiliates.In the process of decertification alone, the almost absurd amount of associated bureaucracy proves the inefficiency of the entire system. It seems as though the mere act of certifying, decertifying, and making change within the system through alternative, less aggressive measures places the entire political structure in peril. The cost of lawsuits was also absent from the published budget. If the CFS is spending more time defending it’s presence than providing a presence at all, it is a redundant system, which ought to be removed from the political framework.The CFS holds that the potential loss of 15 local groups across the country would weaken the overall message and tarnish the institution. But it seems, given the uproar, a lack of transparency and failure to equally represent Canadian universities has not justified the CFS in its collection of annual tuition fees. Unless a major overhaul is enacted, the CFS ought to be replaced with a more efficient system that can represent students’ needs more effectively.Olivia Forsyth-Sells is studying English and philosophy.
Details remain hazy on nationwide effort to leave CFS
GSU petitioners miss self-imposed deadline to collect signatures
Despite the fanfare with which petitions to decertify from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) were launched across the country last week, as of Saturday night, the federation had yet to receive any petitions.The CFS is an umbrella union to which U of T’s graduate, full-time, and part-time undergraduate unions — as well as 80 other student associations nationwide — belong. A press release sent to The Varsity claimed that students at 15 unions, including U of T’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), are petitioning to leave the CFS.
Students leading the various petitions at universities from British Columbia to Quebec had set themselves a target of Friday, September 13 to gather the signatures of 20 per cent of members from their respective unions. “We’re in the process of collecting the last few hundred signatures we need,” said Ashleigh Ingle, a former GSU executive and the person spearheading the movement, on Saturday. According to Ingle, the federation must receive petitions via registered mail by September 24 to allow for decertification votes to take place this academic year.Brent Farrington, internal coordinator for the CFS, confirmed in an email to The Varsity on Saturday that no petitions had been received at the CFS national office in Ottawa. Under the federation’s bylaws, petitions must be received via registered mail, and the federation’s national executive must rule that a petition meets the federation’s bylaw requirements for a vote to occur.The press release, distributed two weeks ago by the group of students organizing the movement to decertify, cited 15 separate student associations seeking to cut ties with the CFS. Associations with groups confirmed to be participating include the GSU, Laurentian’s undergraduate and graduate unions, Dawson College in Montreal, UBC Okanagan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and Capilano University.The remaining groups could surface in the next few days, pending their petition submissions to the CFS. Many, however, have decided not to make their intention to launch petitions public for fear of proactive CFS interference, making it difficult to know how many campaigns to decertify are running.Ingle said the response to the petition had been overwhelmingly positive. “Almost every single person we talk to signs the petition,” she said. According to Ingle, about 100 students are gathering signatures for the GSU petition.
Motives and plans
The decertification organizers have different motives and grievances, as well as different conceptions of their end goals. Ingle and Brenden Lehman, an executive at Laurentian University’s Graduate Students Association (GSA), claim a newly formed national student group is in the works, while other petitioners see the affair ending with decertification.The level of collaboration and organization amongst petitioners also varies, leading some to believe that the “movement” may not be as widespread and effective as it was originally thought to be. Farrington commented that there seemed to be “divergence in messaging” among those leading the opposition to CFS.Curtis Tse, former vice-president of the UBC Okanagan Student Union (UBCOSU), is leading the petition drive on his campus. He claimed that his previous involvement with the CFS via UBCOSU soured his view of the federation, particularly what he described as the “partisan nature” of the CFS supporting NDP and union groups. Tse believes that discussion with politicians, rather than spearheading lobbying efforts, would produce more effective results for students. He describes the decertification movement as “a grass roots initiative among many students,” with “little organization between [Okanagan] and other schools.”Lehman is particularly concerned with the CFS’ financial priorities, claiming that the federation is unwilling to spend money acquired through services on advocacy: “The focus has to become more about providing those for-profit services than investing in effective lobbying and advocacy work,” he said.Ryerson Student Union (RSU) president Melissa Palermo had a different perspective on the matter, expressing her union’s strong support for the CFS. She told The Varsity that the news of students attempting to decertify has been a surprise to many on her campus. She spoke highly of the CFS campaigns, saying they have a positive influence on the campus — citing the “No Means No” and “The Hikes Stop Here” campaigns, as well as other initiatives such as the International Student Identity Card, the improvement of campus food services, and the ethical bulk purchasing deal.For Lehman and Ingle, a newly formed national student group is the ultimate aim, and Lehman says the founding congress is to be held in spring 2014. Lehman says the new organization will “present an alternative to students that will be member-driven; direct democracy-based; by students, for-students and not based on members’ money but their ideas.”Ingle says that the positive response to the petition among graduate students at U of T indicates the depth of negative feeling towards the CFS among its members. While Ingle and her fellow petitioners are not quite sure how many signatures they require, since the exact membership of the GSU is unknown, she is confident that “we will be at least 1,000 above the number we require.”“This is already the strongest mandate from students that we have ever had,” she said.
Confusion over role of student association executives
Confusion surrounds the role that an executive of a CFS-member union may play in a petition or decertification campaign. A “CFS-member union” refers to the organization or group that has the authority to vote on behalf of the members at a particular campus. Ingle, the 2012–2013 civics and environment commissioner of the GSU, cited comments from former CFS national chairperson (and former UTSU president) Adam Awad to The Charlatan newspaper at Carleton that suggested executives of member associations could not submit a petition for decertification.Alex McGowan, a student spearheading the decertification petition at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, echoed Ingle’s claim. “The bylaws in the Canadian Federation of Students … don’t allow for student associations to directly take part in petitioning for a referendum [to decertify],” he said.Farrington made a distinction between associations taking a stance on decertification and executives of those associations acting in their individual capacities. The CFS’ bylaws require that member unions support the implementation of the federation’s objectives and policies, and work ‘cooperatively’ with the federation’s staff and executive. These bylaws, Farrington suggests, do not allow for an association to take a pro-decertification stance or to organize a petition.The executives of a union, however, acting as individual members of the union concerned, do have the right to circulate petitions, though Farrington suggested that would create an ‘image conflict.’ He cited the case of the Laurentian University GSA, which recently “passed a resolution saying that [an executive promoting a petition] should cease that work, if he’s going to continue to be an executive member at that union, because he is out of alignment with the policies set by the membership of the student association.”Lehman, the Laurentian executive to whom Farrington was referring, refutes that claim. The statement, issued through the GSA’s Facebook page, states that the association does not advocate decertification, though it “is aware and understands” Lehman’s actions, but that the association itself was in no way connected to the petitioning. “There was no request to cease,” Lehman says.The GSU and UBCOSU have chosen to remain neutral in their stance toward students petitioning for decertification on their respective campuses.
Nationwide drive to leave CFS launched
Former GSU executive spearheads coast-to-coast campaign
A news release circulated late Tuesday night has ignited a confused and heated debate among followers of student politics nationwide. Petitions are being circulated by students in 15 Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) locals across the country to remove their unions from the federation, according to a news release. U of T’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) is one of the unions potentially facing a decertification vote if the campaign proves successful.The CFS is a controversial umbrella organization that represents U of T undergraduates and graduates at the provincial and national levels. The presence of the CFS at U of T has been controversial for over a decade. Most recently, students from the Faculty of Engineering and Trinity College have cited the CFS as cause for concern in their attempts to sever financial ties from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).
The GSU’s official stance on the petition, posted on its website echoes some of these concerns: “Given the issues the Union has had with the Federation over the last number of years, we understand the actions taken by some members and view their concerns as legitimate. However, the [GSU] has no formal position that would answer the question of whether or not the Union should remain as members of the Canadian Federation of Students, nationally or provincially.” Despite the lack of formal involvement, a number of former GSU executives led by 2012–2013 civics and environment commissioner Ashleigh Ingle have been distributing petitions across campus this week. The petition calls for a decertification referendum this year.The release stated that “over 15 student associations are currently taking part” in decertification petitions, naming York, Ryerson, and U of T as large schools with CFS-certified unions that would see such efforts. The CFS has over 80 member unions across Canada, if all 15 schools were to leave, it would mark the largest mass exodus ever.It remains unclear whether petitions are being circulated to decertify the UTSU and Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), the two other major U of T-wide student unions. Under the CFS’s national bylaws, a petition to decertify a member union from the Federation requires the signatures of 20 per cent of that union’s membership.“CFS petitions have to be run by what they refer to as ‘individual members,” Ingle said in an interview with The Varsity. According to both Ingle and representatives of the union, the GSU has played no part in the petition process to this point. Ingle confirmed that the GSU was not notified in advance of the petition campaign’s start.
“Reforms” failed at May general meeting
Ingle says the GSU petition is in part a result of the defeat of several GSU-sponsored motions at CFS general meetings last November and this May. At the November meeting she ran for CFS national chair unsuccessfully. Ingle contests that the November motions were quite “simple and straightforward,” and included posting minutes online, recording votes, and providing a more detailed budget that would include the salaries paid to CFS staff among other provisions. The GSU offered some similar motions at the May general meeting, including some specifically related to amending bylaws governing decertification.Ingle cited what she described as the federation’s “top-down structure,” as a source of concern. Some of the proposed motions attempted to involve students on campus directly in the decision making process around which activist campaigns to support, and how to support them.CFS-Ontario chairperson Alastair Woods emphasized that the CFS and CFS-O are democratic institutions, and that those who were dissatisfied with the federation’s policies had many opportunities to air their grievances and attempt to affect change through the groups’ regular procedures. He said he was shocked when he first learned about the mass move to leave.Since the press release was issued an immediate and occasionally vicious online conflict has erupted on social media sites and the comment section of various news and blogging services. Students who claim to be involved on both sides have taken increasingly hostile stances, accusing each other of, among other things, not having the best interests of students in mind. Ingle alleges that the reception to the motions proposed by members of the GSU at the November general meeting was similarly aggressive and accusatory.Brent Farrington, internal coordinator for the CFS, could not confirm whether such a reaction had indeed occurred at the November meeting. He did, however, stress that the CFS does not assume that motions or proposals come from “a place of ill-will.”
15 campaigns most ever attempted
Ingle suggests that labelling federation members who advocate for reform or decertification ‘right-wingers’ and questioning their personal motives, as has been done online and alleged to have taken place after the November and May general meetings, is a common tactic used to dismiss calls for reform. However she argues that the size of the current decertification movement — the largest ever if 15 campuses go ahead with the attempt — proves that grievances are structural not personal.Representatives of the CFS disagreed that there had been conflict at general meetings. “Our general meetings are bringing a lot of people together to come to some consensus,” said Farrington. “And while there may be disagreements on what that means, I don’t think that you can say that it’s inherent that people are coming from a malicious point of view.” Woods echoed Farrington, describing the most recent Ontario general meeting as very productive and positive.Kate Marocci, chair of CFS-British Columbia (CFS-BC), challenged Ingle’s claims about the importance of the size of this attempt, claiming that membership petitions and votes are not particularly unusual: “Over the last 30 years this has happened quite frequently and it’s not extraordinary.” Marocci further questioned the motives of those behind the movement: “The members listed on that news release have been in attendance to general meetings and had the ability to participate in the democratic process, and in fact ran for positions on the national executive, and lost. One is left to wonder if perhaps this is the motive behind it.”Ingle explained that the decision to coordinate the organization of the petitions such that most were being run at the same time was partly out of the fear that the CFS would be able to successfully defeat any one attempt. “Generally the tactic is to send CFS staffers from across the country to your local, bombard people with their presence and shut down your campaign that way,” she said. “So certainly part of the reason is strategic.”
No official CFS position on petitions
Farrington said that the federation was not aware of the decertification petitions until the press release was issued, adding that the federation had received calls from member unions and associations seeking further information about the petitions, implying that those unions had not been notified of petition drives.The CFS does not have an official response to the petitions, Farrington said, because “We’re not sure why they want to leave the organization.”“They’ve issued some very broad statements, things like democracy and financial issues, disagreement with services,” he continued. “But those aren’t specifics, we haven’t heard the specifics, so it’s hard for us to formulate an official response.”Marocci echoed Farrington, saying: “The news release doesn’t have a lot of information. It seems to me that it’s been created and circulated as a tactic to create a buzz, a discussion.”
Plans for the future
Alex McGowan — who is running a petition at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia — says decertification, if successful, will not necessarily mean the end of Kwantlen’s presence on a national advocacy level, and that a replacement organization could arise. “It would be a united organization of students that lobbies, comes up with policy, lobbies for lower tuition fees, that kind of thing,” he said. “Officially, on paper, the structure probably wouldn’t be that different [from the CFS]. It would be really the actions that speak.”Ingle had a more concrete plan of action: “Any future organizing that we try to do, we would be trying to minimize the dependence on students’ money and maximize their ability to make decisions for themselves,” she says, suggesting that plans were in place to hold an organizing or founding conference for such an organization in 2014.Farrington admits that the loss of member unions, if it were to occur, would diminish the CFS’s ability to advocate on a national level: “We’re a membership-based organization, so obviously the loss of members results in our message being not as strong as it was the day that we had more members.”
Following the bylaws
Both Ingle and McGowan are looking to surpass the 20 per cent threshold that would trigger a vote on decertification. “It is important to overshoot this number since the CFS can collect signatures on a “counter-petition” that will remove names from the original petition,” Ingle said in her initial email containing the press release.McGowan says he is aiming for 5,000 signatures, in excess of a requirement of closer to 4,000. “In our experience the CFS has challenged petitions and written off a lot of names, so we just want to be safe and get a number that’s significantly higher than what we actually need,” he said.The coordination between the various decertification efforts could, however, end up harming efforts to decertify. The CFS’s national bylaws governing decertification allow for no more than two decertification votes in any three month period, meaning that if multiple petitions were to be successful, the resultant votes could be delayed for some time.Ingle hopes to have reached the threshold by September 13. “All that we can do right now is follow the CFS bylaws as strictly as possible, submit our petitions, and then we’ll do whatever we have to do to get a referendum vote, legitimately and legally after that point,” she said.
Petition launched to decertify GSU from CFS
Signature drive part of national movement involving some 15 student groups
The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) is one of some 15 student unions or associations for whom petitions have been initiated to decertify from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).The petition went into circulation Tuesday at the Harvest Noon Café Co-op, which is located in the same building as the GSU. The GSU petition is being spearheaded by Ashleigh Ingle, who served as civics and environment commissioner of the union for 2012–2013.The CFS is a federation of over 80 student unions across Canada. The GSU was a founding member of the CFS in 1981, with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) joining in 2002.A press release sent to The Varsity late on Tuesday night stated that “over 15 student associations are currently taking part” in decertification petitions, and named York, Ryerson, and U of T as large schools with CFS-certified unions that would see such efforts. It remains unclear whether petitions are being circulated to decertify the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), the two other major cross-U of T student unions, from the CFS. Under the CFS’ national bylaws, a petition to decertify a member union from the Federation requires the signatures of 20 per cent of that union’s membership.“CFS petitions have to be run by what they refer to as ‘individual members,” Ingle said in an interview with The Varsity. The GSU has played no part in the petition process to this point, and are scheduled to make a statement on decertification on Thursday. Ingle confirmed that the GSU was not notified in advance of petition campaigning beginning.Alastair Woods, chairperson for the CFS-Ontario (CFS-O), said he was not aware of the decertification movement until the press release this morning, and described his reaction as “surprised and bewildered.”Ingle says the GSU petition resulted in part from the defeat of several GSU-sponsored motions at last November’s CFS general meeting, where she also unsuccessfully contested the election for CFS national chair. The reforms were “things that we thought were pretty simple and straightforward,” she says, “like putting minutes online, recording how student unions voted, [and] getting more clear budgets so that we could actually see what our money was being spent on, getting salary breakdowns for different staff in different parts of the CFS.”Ingle also cited the federation’s “top-down structure,” with some of the reforms being intended to “find ways that, for instance, instead of just having a standard day of action every year, the students could get involved on campus in making decisions about how they wanted to mobilize that year.”Woods emphasized that the CFS and CFS-O are democratic institutions, and that those who were dissatisfied with the federation’s policies had opportunities to air their grievances.Ingle admitted that the decision to coordinate the organization of the petitions such that most were being run around the same time was partly out of the fear that the CFS would be able to successfully defeat any one attempt. “Generally the tactic is to send CFS staffers from across the country to your local, bombard people with their presence and shut down your campaign that way,” she claimed. “So certainly part of the reason is strategic.”Woods, who was reached at Nipissing University, emphasized that he intended to continue informing students of the strength of the student movement and the benefits of strength in numbers. He declined to address whether the CFS would campaign during the petition period.CFS general meetings may have contributed to the coordination of the petition efforts in other ways too. “One of the reasons we’re doing it together is that when student unions are together in these CFS spaces and when they’re all seeing the same deficiencies and facing the same treatment, it’s a natural thing that we start talking to each other about what a more productive way forward is.”The coordination could, however, end up harming some efforts to decertify. The CFS’s national bylaws governing decertification allow for no more than two decertification votes in any three month period, meaning that if multiple petitions were to be successful, the resultant votes could be delayed for some time. Ingle hopes to have reached the 20 per cent threshold by September 13, to allow any resulting vote to be initiated this academic year.“All that we can do right now is follow the CFS bylaws as strictly as possible, submit our petitions, and then we’ll do whatever we have to do to get a referendum vote, legitimately and legally after that point,” Ingle says.