CUPE 2278 Work Learn unionization drive kicks into high gear as union cards near expiration

CUPE 2278, a UBC chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, organizers have ramped up their efforts to unionize Work Learn students, launching a social media campaign and hosting in-person events.

The union launched a drive to unionize Work Learn student workers in September 2023. Organizers are ramping up efforts to reach as many Work Learns as possible before the end of the term, as union cards expire after six months.

This drive only applies to those in the job categories of researcher, research assistant, academic assistant and project assistant positions

Per the BC Labour Relations Code, a vote to unionize occurs when the union drive hits a threshold of signatures from 45 per cent of the workforce. At 55 per cent, workers can be automatically certified as part of a union without a vote.

Work Learns would follow UBC graduate academic assistants, TA’s, English language instructors and exam invigilators in joining CUPE 2278 to negotiate with UBC for a contract.

There are approximately 1,000 eligible Work Learns on campus, and according to national CUPE organizer Elizabeth Locke, they’re close to reaching the threshold for a representation vote.

“A lot of workers have expressed they don't really understand who they can speak to — who assigns them hours, who assigns them vacation,” said Locke. “That’s what a contract will provide people with — a clear written document about what those [employment] conditions are.”

According to CUPE 2278 president Sam Connolly, who is a master’s student in medical physics at UBC, the Work Learn campaign began immediately after graduate research assistants (GRA) voted for unionization in May.

“The GRA drive was the largest in BC history,” said Locke.

UBC is disputing the status of graduate research assistants as workers, arguing before the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) that research is an academic pursuit funded by scholarships and awards rather than wages, making it ineligible for unionization. CUPE organizers expect the LRB's decision to arrive later this month.

The Work Learn drive is smaller, but focused on reaching those not included in past drives.

“The campaign focused on the people that reached out to Organize UBC and CUPE 2278 who believed themselves to be part of last year’s [GRA] drive or people who saw themselves also as researchers on campus,” said Adrian Mattias Bell, an master's student in creative writing and organizer with the Work Learn drive.

Since research Work Learns are paid through Workday like other UBC employees, organizers argue that their roles are work.

“So much of the teaching and research on campus is done by student workers,” said Connolly. “We are highly trained, highly educated individuals, and we deserve workplace protection, we deserve fair wages, and we deserve the rights of a union.”