Concordia staffers launch petition against back-to-campus order

Female employees with children are being hit particularly hard by the new requirements, a union member says.

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A group of Concordia University employees wants their employer to drop a requirement forcing them to work on campus four days a week.

Almost 600 Concordia staffers have signed a petition calling for a “fair and flexible hybrid work model,” representatives of several Confédération des syndicats nationaux-affiliated unions said Thursday at an employee gathering in Montreal. A copy of the document was sent to Concordia president Graham Carr on Wednesday, according to Beata Urszula Tararuj, a graduate program co-ordinator who started the petition.

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Faculty deans at Concordia mandated staff to return to the office four days a week starting Aug. 14. The new rules break with a pandemic-era policy of allowing some staffers to work up to three days a week remotely and contradict Concordia’s commitment to employee well-being, union spokespeople say.

Concordia officials are “not listening to our voices,” Tararuj said in an interview. “They made the decision for us without giving us one word of explanation. For the past two years, we have been getting emails congratulating us on how efficient we were in switching to the online or hybrid mode. So this petition is to signal to them that there is a strong disconnection between the upper management and us, the staff.”

In an August 2022 report titled Future Concordia: Work, Workforce and Workplace, a working group recommended that the university adopt a flexible hybrid model for non-academic staff.

“We believe that the university must offer some form of hybrid work in order to remain competitive to current and future employees,” the authors wrote.

The document defined the flexible model as one in which most employees fulfil their duties by working partly on site and partly remotely. Operational realities, and not fixed benchmarks, should dictate how much work is performed on site, it said.

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Protest stickers were posted around the Concordia University Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex on Thursday Sept. 7, 2023 against the requirement for certain employees to return to campus four days a week.
Protest stickers were posted around Concordia University’s Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex on Thursday Sept. 7, 2023 against the requirement for certain employees to return to campus four days a week. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

Concordia’s hybrid work guidelines prioritize services to students who are on campus for courses while supporting such core activities as teaching, research and the student experience, according to Vannina Maestracci, a university spokesperson.

“As a university, we want to ensure that students, who are coming to campus, have a vibrant experience,” Maestracci said Thursday in an emailed response to questions. “To achieve this, the deans of Concordia’s faculties decided to request staff to be on campus at least four days a week. The decision was based on equity — equity between staff working remotely and those working on campus, equity between departments which if they are smaller might not have the same opportunity for remote work while ensuring the needed presence for students, and equity across all faculties — as well as ensuring that service to the community, particularly students, is not affected by remote work.”

Concordia’s about-face would appear to set it apart from several Quebec and international employers. Mouvement Desjardins chief executive Guy Cormier told the Montreal Gazette in a 2022 interview that teleworking was here to stay.

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U.S. employer plans allowed employees who are able to work remotely to spend 2.2 days per week on average at home in August, according to data compiled by WFH Research. The U.S.-based firm has been conducting monthly online surveys about remote work since May 2020.

“I hope that they will recognize that this is a very important topic for all of us,” Tararuj said. “The whole world is talking about hybrid.”

About 85 per cent of Concordia University Professional Employees Union (CUPEU) members were working remotely more than two days a week before the new mandate came into force, according to union representative Sigmund Lam, an information technology specialist.

Female employees with children are being hit particularly hard by the new requirements, added Concordia University Support Staff Union member Larissa Dutil.

“The majority of our union are women, who are often caretakers,” Dutil said in an interview. “It’s fair to say this is greatly affecting our members.”

Dissatisfaction among Concordia employees over the new requirement is such that about 10 per cent of CUPEU members — about 60 people — have quit in recent weeks, according to Lam.

“Since they started the return-to-office mandate, there’s been a steady stream of people leaving,” Lam said. “For work-life balance reasons, some people have decided they prefer either retiring or finding employment elsewhere. In the IT group, I know there are people who have their CVs ready.

“So I would say there are a lot of unhappy employees. They like their work, they like working here, but at a certain point they are going to look elsewhere.”

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