“They just don’t want us there, it’s unbelievable,” says OPSEU organizer
Security guards from La Cité College in Ottawa are being accused of intimidating and following organizers from Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which, if true, could violate Ontario’s Labour Relations Act.
Carole Auguste, a mobilizer with OPSEU, said that she has been repeatedly followed around the campus by La Cité’s security, while she has been visiting the college to speak with part-time faculty about joining the union.
“They surround me, they don’t leave me alone,” Auguste said. “They’re next to me all the time, so they don’t want me to talk to people.”
Ontario’s Labour Relations Act states that no employer or person acting on behalf of employers “shall participate in or interfere with the formation, selection or administration” of a union. The act states that employers are free to express views, “so long as the employer does not use coercion, intimidation, threats, promises or undue influences.”
Carl Brisson has previously taught as a part-time instructor at La Cité. He said he is now taking the semester off from teaching at the college to help with OPSEU’s organizing effort. Brisson said that people are scared of getting involved because of potential repercussions from the college.
“A lot of people said ‘Carl, I want to join but I can’t; the reason I can’t is I need this job for my family, I need this job for the money, and I don’t want the college to know,” he said.
Auguste said that security at La Cité know who she is, and that she has not had this kind of trouble at other colleges where she’s approaching part-time academic staff about joining the union.
“We get questioned when we go to other colleges but once we explain what we do, ‘they say, ‘okay, that’s fine we understand,’ ” Auguste said. “But at La Cité, even though we’ve explained, they just don’t want us there. It’s unbelievable.”
The Dialog obtained a video taken by Auguste on May 2, which shows two security guards engaging with her at La Cité. In the video, Auguste said she had “no idea why they asked her to stop.”
One of the security guards makes a phone call, while repeatedly waving his phone in front of and across of Auguste’s camera. At one point, Auguste holds on to the guard’s wrist momentarily stopping him from waving the phone.
The guard who made the call asks Auguste a total of six times where she’s going. When Auguste asks the guard why he is asking her that, the guard said, “because I work here.”
In an email about the incident, Auguste said a third security guard arrived on the scene. She said that after one of the guards “pretended to call 911” the three guards just waited with her without saying a word. Auguste wrote that she decided to leave the campus after taking a few pictures.
La Cité’s spokesperson Pascale Montminy said that the college has no comments regarding this incident.
According to Bill Reid, the Student Association of George Brown College’s legal counsel, it’s significant that the security guards purported not to know who Auguste was.
Reid said that security guards have a right to ask someone’s name and why they’re on campus — and have good reason to if they don’t appear to be part of the college community. He added that security can ask someone to leave the premises, but not unreasonably detain the person.
“This situation might appear to constitute intimidation or interference under the Labour Relations Act if the guards know, or ought to know, what the individual’s business on campus is, but it appears that they purported not to know that.”
If there is an allegation that the Labour Relations Act has been violated, Ontario’s Labour Relations Board may make an order for employers to stop interfering with certification attempts and potentially impose a fine.
OPSEU is attempting to unionize part-time faculty at Ontario’s 24 colleges. In March of this year, OPSEU filed an application to represent part-time professors but it was dismissed in April when the board found that the union did meet the required threshold of signed union cards.
The union also began an effort to unionize part-time academic staff in 2008, but the application was dismissed by the board in 2013.