Centre for Accessibility student exam invigilators unionize

Student exam invigilators at UBC’s Centre for Accessibility have successfully unionized after a three-week campaign.

In an announcement posted to its website on November 8, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) BC said the student workers will join CUPE 2278 — the union that currently represents teaching assistants (TAs), tutors, markers and instructors in the English Language Institute at UBC.

Exam invigilators are a group of predominantly graduate students who administer exams for students who require accommodations through the Centre for Accessibility, according to the announcement. 

The successful unionization drive of exam invigilators comes as CUPE 2278 and a group of undergraduate and graduate students are leading a campaign to unionize all student academic workers on campus following years of concern with pay inequity, bullying from supervisors and unclear work expectations.

“Being part of CUPE, having their work professionalized, better regulated, and fairly compensated, is a huge step forward for this group of academic workers,” Phyllis Pearson, CUPE 2278 president and UBC philosophy PhD student, said in the announcement.

“Student employees deserve the same recognition and respect as the thousands of other qualified, dedicated and hard-working employees at our university,” she added.

This campaign to unionize around 85 exam invigilators was separate from this broader push to unionize all student academic workers, Reza Karimi, a Centre for Accessibility exam invigilator, said in a statement sent to The Ubyssey on Saturday, November 12. He added that the main concerns of the organizers centred around unfair wages and shift allocation.

In a separate statement sent to The Ubyssey Monday night, Liz Locke, a national organizer with CUPE, said 65 per cent of the exam invigilators signed onto union cards, meaning the union was automatically certified.

Under recent amendments to the BC Labour Relations Code, a group will be automatically certified as a union if 55 per cent of eligible employees sign a union card. Previously, a potential union needed 45 per cent of employees to sign union cards and then have a vote among all employees to decide whether or not to unionize. 

A vote can still take place if only 45 per cent sign on to the campaign under the amended code.

Kuan Foo, co-director of the Centre for Accessibility, and Mike Vizsoyli, executive director of employee and labour relations at UBC Human Resources, said in a written statement to The Ubyssey that UBC recognizes the rights of its employees to unionize. 

“The Centre for Accessibility’s commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities are appropriately accommodated and are able to access all aspects of university life will continue. We are ready to work with CUPE 2278, as we do with many other employee groups, and our exam invigilators to fulfill this objective,” the pair added.

Foo and Vizsoyli noted the invigilators’ union drive was initially organized by CUPE 2590 — the union the represents library, clerical and theatre workers at UBC — but the university believed the “community of interest for exam invigilators was with CUPE 2278, not CUPE 2590.” 

“UBC was able to resolve the matter with the assistance of the Labour Relations Board, and by mutual agreement with CUPE 2950 and CUPE 2278,” Foo and Vizsoyli wrote.

The CUPE BC announcement acknowledged the work to organize exam invigilators was a joint effort among several CUPE locals at UBC.

In a Twitter thread from November 9, CUPE 2278 celebrated the news.

“[Student exam invigilators] will now be able to bargain so that their vital work for this institution is respected. The organizers of this drive have shown great strength and determination, and are an inspiration to us all as the fight continues until every student worker has a union!,” one Tweet read.

This piece was updated at 12:07 p.m. on November 15 to add additional comments from CUPE representatives.