Today (March 19th) marks the one-year anniversary of our transition to online teaching in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. One year ago, when given just one weekend and two additional work days, our members undertook the Herculean effort to move their face-to-face course(s) into the online environment so that the important work of the university mission could continue. Looking back, what our members accomplished under such pressure was nothing short of breathtaking.
Since that time, we know that our members have suffered and struggled in so many ways. In addition to all the hardships that have come with online teaching—the intricacies of cuLearn, Zoom and computer screen fatigue, escalating email traffic, student demands for technical support, and on and on—we have also suffered enduring isolation and loneliness, fear, and doubt. We have watched holidays pass by uncelebrated, have been unable to be beside our loved ones as they struggled with illness, and perhaps even had to say farewells to loved ones from afar. The pain has been unparalleled in both its depth and breadth.
In times such as these, it is vital that we remember the first and most important of union principles: solidarity. We are all in different boats, no doubt, but we are in this storm together. We must continue to fight for one another.
In the past year, the Union has worked to improve our working conditions, both for the duration of the pandemic and for the after-time that can’t come soon enough. In spite of the galling limitations of the Ford government’s Bill 124, we achieved a new collective agreement in June 2020 that saw us make some significant gains, especially in the area of teaching evaluations. With respect to working conditions in the pandemic, we secured a moratorium on the use of teaching evaluation scores for evaluation purposes, increased the Professional Development Fund and modernized the application process so that it is fully online, got Carleton to issue signed T2200S forms to our members so that they could claim their home office space on their taxes, and negotiated payment for Brightspace training for our members.
Through it all, we wish we could say that Carleton University administration has consistently been a willing and sympathetic partner, but that has not been the case. Too often, important decisions have been made and announced without our consultation, or, as with the new teaching evaluation form, reduced to meaningless pro forma exercises to legitimize predetermined outcomes. Our demands for compensation for our members who have had to work more and harder than ever, have largely been ignored. When such demands were heard (e.g., the case of Brightspace training), we were greeted with a token offering that does not come close to recognizing the enormous labour that transitioning to a new learning management system will entail. The ugly truth is that no one in a senior leadership position at the university—not the President, Provost, nor Deans—has stepped forward to offer anything like genuine acknowledgement or thanks for all the hard work that Carleton’s Contract Instructors do; doing so would mean recognizing the legitimacy of CUPE 4600’s common-sense demands on behalf of our members.
We want you to know, however, that CUPE 4600 sees you. We know that the work of the university could not have gone forward without your dedication and hard work, in spite of Carleton’s at times shameful and dismissive treatment of you. We will continue to remind them of it, too. And when the next bargaining round comes around in Fall 2022, we are going to do everything we can to make sure the university takes concrete steps to acknowledge a truth that it has too long been avoiding—that the university works precisely and only because you do.
Codie Fortin Lalonde and Morgan Rooney