Open Letter to Carleton University & Representatives

CC: Interim President, Alastair Summerlee; VP Finance, Michel Piche; Assistant VP–Human Resources, Rob Thomas

To Carleton University and its representatives,

We in the Student Alliance for Mental Health must vehemently express our surprise and disappointment in the University’s nonchalant attitude during this labour dispute with CUPE 2424, and we implore the University to reevaluate their position.

To begin, we at SAMH want to express our full support of CUPE 2424 members’ right to strike, their right to inform the public of their efforts, and their right to demand formalised protections against non-consensual changes to their pension plan.

We understand that inconveniences are to be expected during a strike, and it is our view that many of these inconveniences are inevitable for the sake of protecting the worker rights of CUPE 2424. We also believe it is the University’s responsibility to take the initiative of, and to foot the cost of, hiring necessary safety supports for students in the event of a labour dispute. This includes but is not limited to an accessible shuttle service that runs to and from the campus entrance regularly, to assist students with mobility needs or who are travelling with children.

In SAMH, our priority is to ensure the voices of students are heard when the university faculty and staff take action that affects students’ wellbeing. We especially believe that the University should not use students as a public bargaining tool in situations where students have no opportunity to speak for themselves; students deserve agency over their experiences, and deserve to be actively consulted if their experiences are relevant to a decision or dispute.

As such, we must express our disappointment in the message that Interim President Alastair Summerlee and other university representatives continue to repeat, expressing that the strike has caused only minimal disruption to student life and wellbeing. This is simply untrue, in large part because the counselling services available on campus have been and continue to run at a drastically reduced capacity.

Most counselling appointments are being cancelled since most of the counsellors for Health & Counselling, as well as the lead counsellors for From Intent to Action (FITA), are CUPE 2424 union members and are on strike. Within one week, hundreds of appointments have had to be cancelled, and students are unable to rebook their appointments since we do not know when the counsellors will come back to work. This is a devastating loss. Mental health services are a critical service for students, and the loss of these appointments means that numerous students will now have to wait over two months between appointments. The average wait time between appointments is three to four weeks during regular service.

We acknowledge that the University has implemented walk-in counselling appointments between 1:00PM* and 4PM in Health & Counselling for the duration of the strike, and that FITA can sometimes offer students a one-off appointment with an alternate counsellor. However, this far from remedies the adverse effects of the strike. These one-off appointments are short, the students have no relationship with the counsellors they see, and there is no guarantee of getting an appointment since the service is first-come, first-served.

It is telling of the University’s priorities that they consider this exceptional lapse in a critical campus service to be “a minimal disruption”. It particularly disheartens us given the University’s recent commitment to implementing more accessible and inclusive mental health services on campus, through the Mental Health Framework 2.0 launch in September 2016. The dissonance between that commitment and the University’s current attitude shows a myopic understanding of what is necessary to a healthy and supportive campus environment. You cannot begin to value student wellness if you do not first value the wellbeing of those who provide and facilitate mental health services on campus, and this includes providing them with security in their employment and financial future.

SAMH supports CUPE 2424 and their goal of formalising a negotiation procedure that provides them with protection in their employment and financial future. We believe the University needs to better value our counsellors and other CUPE 2424 staff, and needs to find a way to provide what is needed to make Carleton University a healthy place to work. For this reason, we urge Assistant VP of Human Resources, Rob Thomas; VP Finance, Michel Piche; and Interim President, Summerlee to meet the needs of CUPE 2424 workers and end the labour dispute.

In solidarity,

Jasmine Moreau, President of SAMH


*The original publication of this letter incorrectly stated that the walk-in counselling hours began at 12:30PM. The letter has been edited to reflect the correct hours of operation.