Toronto proposal for Refoundation of CGEU


  1. Introduction: History and Future of CGEU

This year marks a historic moment in the North American graduate labour movement; it is the 50th anniversary of recognition of the first graduate worker union in North America, the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CGEU has been in existence for nearly three decades; the first CGEU Conference was held in 1992, amidst a new wave of grad worker unionization in the 1990s. Since 1992, CGEU has held annual conferences almost every summer, providing a vital and unique space for grad workers to connect with and learn from fellow academic workers across the continent. Considering that the grad unions are divided across multiple national/international unions (i.e. CUPE, PSAC, AFT, UAW), CGEU is the only space that unites us as a particular group of workers that faces particular challenges, including frequent denial of our worker status itself by hostile employers and the state.

Throughout its existence, CGEU by all accounts has remained an extremely lean organization. There is no actual CGEU institution except for organization of the annual conferences, whose responsibility is passed to different local grad unions every year. From time to time, there has been an informal network of volunteers, who has helped out with various other tasks with CGEU, such as the website, the listserv and the social media; but these have always been subject to fluctuating capacity of various volunteers, and maintained rather haphazardly. In 2014, CGEU adopted the first constitution, but it largely affirmed the existing practices.

         The lean and fluid (dis)organization of CGEU can be said to have certain advantages; it minimizes complexity while the annual conference has continued to flourish over multiple decades. But its disadvantages are great; CGEU lacks capacity to do anything much beyond the annual conferences. Indeed, we do not even have reliable data on how many grad unions there are in North America right now. The problem is structural, and cannot be simply attributed to the lack of voluntary will among active CGEU members and delegates. All grad unions face problems of eliciting commitment, as we are all burdened with teaching/research work as well as our own dissertation work (and sometimes additional off-campus work to make ends meet); CGEU faces a further challenge, since many CGEU delegates have a leading role in their own local union, further restricting the time they can commit to CGEU work. The problem of institutional continuity, which all grad unions face due to high turnover, is also exacerbated at the CGEU level; the majority of CGEU delegates attend once or twice, rather than being involved in it for several years (as is usually the case for local unions). These structural conditions mean that having a well-established organization, including that of paid officers/staff to take care of the necessary coordinating work, can increase our organizing capacity tremendously, and provides a way for interested CGEU delegates to easily plug in to the work after attending the conference.

At the 2005 CGEU conference, one delegate commented “I think we’re going to see more and more coordination at a national (sic) level among grad employee unions… we need to work out the mechanics, but this group is clearly heading in that direction.” While the grad labour movement has further grown since 2005, this delegate’s optimistic prediction about the CGEU’s own future has not turned out to become reality. But it needs not be so. The grad labour movement contains more than sufficient capacity and resources to build and advance further as a more unified and integrated movement, if we are willing to harness these resources together. Now is the time to take this bold step forward.

  1. Tasks for CGEU

What are examples of the necessary and exciting organizing work we can do together as CGEU? Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. a) External Communications

-website: While the CGEU website does currently exist (, it is rarely updated and a lot of information on it – including the list of grad unions – is very out of date. Developing a high-quality, up-to-date website as the hub of information about our working conditions, our demands and our struggles is crucial to serve as  a resource for our own unions, as well as to advocate for our cause to the broader public. 

-social media: CGEU’s facebook page used to share articles on various grad union news on a regular basis, but hasn’t been for the past year or two. CGEU has no twitter or other social media presence. CGEU social media has the potential to  make it possible to reliably keep updated on the latest news from all across our movement, which it is currently very difficult to do, as well as to effectively highlight our working conditions, demands and struggles to the broader audience. Well-maintained CGEU social media accounts with an engaged audience can serve as a useful resource for all our member unions to amplify the messages of each union; imagine having access to a ready continental-scale megaphone, when your union has a big day of action or a strike, presents a new demand, or wins a great new contract!

         -point of contact: Establishing CGEU’s public presence also enables the public – the media, researchers, fellow workers from other unions, etc. – to reach out to CGEU, when they have an interest in the grad labour movement. Currently, there is no way for anyone to contact CGEU; occasionally people leave a message on the facebook page, but the lack of clear contact information have likely deterred many from doing so; there has often been coverage of the grad labour movement that doesn’t refer to CGEU, since we are unreachable. But this can change!

  1. b) Internal Communications

The CGEU listserv currently exists but is rarely used, if ever. The website still refers to it, so we still get new folks joining the listserv on a regular basis; but considering high turnover, it is most likely that the list includes many people who have been out of the movement for many years, while many of the currently active unionists are likely not on the listserv. A well-maintained and up-to-date listserv can serve as an essential tool to be in touch with each other, seek advice and/or support for various actions, and potentially developed a coordinated campaign. It would also help tremendously with annual conference organizing by providing an efficient way to reach out to all the grad unions, which has to be done manually at the moment. Functioning channels of internal communication are also necessary for CGEU to make decisions during the year.

  1. c) Coordinated Campaigns

         The established CGEU structure can also be the basis to organize a coordinated day of action to advance our movement and/or certain issues and demands. It can involve actions to happen on the same day/week on multiple campuses across Canada and the US, and it can also be regionally-coordinated and involve a joint action at a particular location in person. There are some examples of coordinated actions in recent years among the private-sector unions in the US East Coast. But an attempt to organize it on a broader scale has not yet succeeded. In 2016, CGEU passed the constitutional amendment establishing the Grad Workers’ Day (March 4th) encouraging cross-union coordinated actions, but no actions have taken place on that day due to the lack of organizing capacity.

  1. d) Resource Development and Sharing

What are the examples of great contract provisions demanded or won by some grad unions? Is there an “industry standard” for decent work that we can advocate together, to demand that all employers should meet? Do you have strategic lessons for negotiations, grievances, or base-building mobilizations from your recent campaigns? What to do if your campus doesn’t have a grad union and wants to start organizing one? These themes are often discussed at the conference sessions, but compiling and systematizing these resources and make it available for all of us can greatly help our organizing. (A few years ago, there was an attempt to start compiling history of all the grad union strikes; we can revive it!) CGEU can work on compiling them possibly expand more into advocacy work to fight for better working conditions for academic labour at the sectoral level, which groups like the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) engage in.

  1. e) Global connections

         The best of the labour movement has always been rooted in international solidarity, and academic labour is one of the sectors with a high degree of international mobility and exchange. Grad workers all over the world fight for better wages, working conditions and dignity, but there is no channel of communication among us at the moment. The North American CGEU is well-placed to connect with similar grad worker movement from other parts of the world, towards creating a global movement of grad workers.

  1. f) Facilitating Organization of Annual Conferences

         The Annual Conference is one thing that CGEU has consistently done it well – a fruit of tremendous work that the local organizers have put into it every year. Nevertheless, the lack of a permanent CGEU structure has put more work and strain on the annual conference organizers than necessary. While the conference-organizing knowledge and expertise has been passed down from previous organizers each year on an informal basis, the organizers have often had to reinvent the wheel for various tasks every year, such as creation of the bank account and compiling of the contact list.

Another area for improvement is financial assistance for attendees. While many established unions can afford to send delegates from their own resources, there are many who can’t, due to the employers’ non-recognition, the hostile state (“Right to Work”) etc. The demand for financial assistance has often exceeded the available funds (currently raised through voluntary donations from delegates), and it is plausible that there are many grad union activists who have not signed up at all since they cannot afford to attend. Establishing a larger, more permanent Financial Assistance Fund can empower many fellow workers to attend our main annual event and expand our movement.

Furthermore, the current system of conference organizing contains a great risk in case of failure of a conference, which can be caused by lack of commitment or change in organizing capacity of those appointed to be conference hosts. Thankfully, dedicated organizers have so far stepped up every year; but the conference was almost cancelled in 2013 and 2017 due to the low number of registered attendees, and there is no established mechanism to ensure continuity of CGEU if the conference is cancelled one year. The CGEU structure can help conference organizers, ensure its continuity and step in if a crisis occurs.

III. Proposal

         We present below an idea of the CGEU’s new structure which can enable us to engage in all the organizing tasks above. Any questions, concerns, constructive criticisms and suggestions for change are welcome.

  1. a)     CGEU Membership System with Dues

We shall establish a clear system for grad unions to officially become CGEU member unions, conditional on payment of the annual membership dues. Currently, while the CGEU Constitution adopted in 2014 stipulates “membership” system, it has not functioned in practice and very few unions (if any) have officially signed up as members. It is also the case that CGEU “membership” does not incur any financial commitment, but CGEU needs sufficient financial resources to engage in these important organizing tasks, which can only be reliably secured through dues from membership unions. (See section c) for details of the dues system and expenditure.)

All grad unions in North America should be strongly encouraged to become CGEU members, and membership should come with the official decision-making rights for CGEU, both at the annual conferences and through a listserv year-round; the member unions shall send representatives to the Membership Council, the highest decision-making body in-between the annual conferences. (Currently, there is no way whatsoever for CGEU to take any decisions outside of the annual conferences.) CGEU membership should also entail free registration of a certain number of their delegates at the annual conferences. At the same time, the lack of membership should not necessarily prevent grad unions from connecting to CGEU in various ways, including participation in the listserv, coordinated actions, and annual conferences, since it is in the interest of the entire movement to promote broad participation. The differences between member and non-member unions pertain to voting rights on binding decisions.

  1. b)    Coordinating Committee

We shall establish the coordinating committee to be responsible for general operation of CGEU, as stipulated above, throughout the year. It should include 9 people (the number can be changed) to be elected for one-year term at the Annual Conferences, with some provisions to ensure geographic, linguistic and other forms of equitable representation. The coordinating committee should have a regular monthly call, in addition to additional conference calls whenever necessary; they may possibly meet in person during the year, weighing the necessity and cost. The coordinating committee shall also be responsible for proposing a budget and hiring and supervising paid organizers, if applicable. The coordinating committee is subject to the authority of the Annual Conference and the Membership Council, and shall send a regular report of its activities to the Membership Council, as well as an Annual Report for the Annual Conferences. The coordinating committee should also establish various working groups (such as Communications, Action Coordination, Research, etc.), in which interested grad unionists can join and help organize.

  1. c)     Staffing and Expenditure (NOTE: the monetary amount referred to in this section is CAD, unless otherwise specified. Divide it by around 1.3 for USD.)

The amount of financial resources we will have depends on how many unions sign up to become dues-paying members, so we cannot propose a definite budget here; the incoming Coordinating Committee should draft a detailed budget, reflecting the membership situation. While the following figures are rather speculative at this point, but an annual budget of $70-80,000 could include; salary and benefits for one part-time (20 hours a week) staff ($40-45,000), conference assistance fund ($10,000), travel expenses for coordinated actions and committee meetings ($10,000), website development and miscellaneous ($5,000), with some surplus for financial stability.

The Coordinating Committee and the Membership Council should figure out details of paid staff. One possibility is to rotate the staff position among the Committee members, as a “paid time off” for a semester or a year, so that they can focus on the CGEU work; it follows how many grad unions’ leadership operate. There is also a possibility of hiring an “external staff”, depending on the needs, resources and discussions in the future. There are multiple possibilities for the amount of dues, and it should be based on discussions at the convention. Here are some possibilities to start the discussion;

  1. Logistics and Location

The implementation of the above plan will likely require various logistical tasks, likely including incorporation as a non-profit. The details of the necessary logistics should be figured out by the incoming Coordinating Committee, and it is not expected that CGEU will need a permanent office space; but to the extent that this plan requires a “base” (for incorporation, bank account, etc.), the Coordinating Committee will consider Toronto, Ontario, due to a network of committed activists in the city as well as its central location.

RESOLUTION: Taking note of the Statement for the Toronto Proposal,

BE IT RESOLVED THAT CGEU provisionally adopts the following constitutional amendment, to be ratified by majority at the CGEU special meeting in Toronto, Ontario in April 2020;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the incoming Coordinating Committee shall be elected at the 2019 CGEU Annual Congress in accordance with Article III of the provisionally-adopted constitutional amendment;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the incoming Coordinating Committee shall investigate logistical and legal conditions necessary to implement the constitutional amendments, including guidelines for sound financial practices, and publicize a report and recommendation thereof  by February 29, 2020, including proposals for any further necessary amendments to the provisionally-adopted constitutional amendments;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the CGEU special meeting in April 2020 in Toronto shall discuss and vote on ratifying the constitutional amendments, after the Coordinating Committee submits to it the above-mentioned report and recommendation; 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT members of unions, meeting the criteria of Article II Section 1 of the existing CGEU Constitution, shall be able to participate in the decision-making and voting process at the CGEU special meeting as voting delegates, except that there may be no more than two voting delegates from the same union 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Coordinating Committee shall decide and publicize the date and time of the special meeting by January 15, 2020, and determine the operating rules for the meeting in accordance with the existing CGEU constitution; 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT no dues shall be levied on any Member Unions until and unless the CGEU special meeting formally ratifies the constitutional amendments in the above-stipulated process. 

Part 3 Proposed Constitutional Amendment

To Amend Article II as Follows:

Article II. Membership

Section 2.2: To replace “the Hosting Union requesting membership” with “the Coordinating Committee requesting membership, and pay the applicable annual dues as stipulated in Appendix A.”

Sections 2.3, 2.4, 2.5: Delete and replace the entirety of those sections with the following sections:

“2.3: The Coordinating Committee shall confirm an applicant union’s membership status at the meeting following its application and dues payment. Upon confirmation, the membership status of the union shall be announced through the main CGEU listserv and other communications channels.

2.4: The Coordinating Committee shall not deny any North American graduate union a CGEU membership, unless they fail to meet the criteria set forth in Article II.1, II.2.1 or II.2.2.

2.5: Member Unions must pay their annual dues for the upcoming academic year by August 31st every year. In case of dues non-payment, Member Unions may retain status as Member in good standing for six months while their dues are in arrears. In case of an exceptional hardship due to change in material circumstances, Member Unions may appeal to the Coordinating Committee for a fee reduction or waiver, which shall be granted according to their discretion.

2.6: Any organization that does not meet the membership criteria, including unions that represent other categories of academic workers and graduate unions located outside North America, may apply for an observer status with the CGEU. The observer status shall not incur any dues.

2.7: The lack of CGEU membership shall not prevent any graduate union and/or workers from participating in CGEU conferences as well as CGEU’s communication networks.”

To replace the Articles III and IV in entirety with the following:

“Article III. Coordinating Committee

  1. The Coordinating Committee shall be the regular decision-making body of CGEU between the Annual Congresses, subject to the authority of the Membership Council. The Coordinating Committee is responsible for necessary administrative tasks of CGEU and implementing decisions of the Annual Congress and the Membership Council. They include but are not limited to; maintenance of external communications (the website and social media), internal communications, assistance with coordinated multi-union campaigns (if applicable), and assistance with organizing of the Annual Congress.
  2.     Annual Congress shall elect nine (9) members of the Coordinating Committee, with the term of one year starting immediately, running until the final day of the Conference in the following year. At least 2 members shall be based in a Canadian union and 2 members in a U.S. union, and no more than 2 members from the same local union shall be elected. At least one member shall be fluent in French. Anyone who is a graduate or undergraduate union member, or has been one within the past half year, is eligible to be elected to the committee, but if one is not present at the Annual Congress, in order to run for a position on the Committee, they must submit their candidacy and candidacy statement in advance to the conference organizers. If more than 9 candidates run for a position on the committee, committee members shall be elected by Single Transferable Vote (STV).
  3. The Coordinating Committee shall meet in person at least twice a year, once in August immediately after conclusion of the Annual Congress, and once between January to March. Extra in-person meeting can be called by a majority of the Coordinating Committee, if necessary.
  4. The Coordinating Committee shall hold a meeting at least once a month, to be conducted over the phone or other communication facilities as permit all persons participating in the meeting to communicate with each other simultaneously and instantaneously in months without an in-person meeting. The Coordinating Committee can also make decisions in a vote over email on time-sensitive issues, between the monthly meetings, provided that  the majority of the entire membership of the committee vote in favor. 
  5. Minutes of all monthly meetings, as well as the list of all decisions taken over email by the Coordinating Committee, must be released to the Membership Council and the Annual Congress.
  6. The Coordinating Committee may create a paid position or positions to administer its tasks. Such position(s) may be filled by a member of the Coordinating Committee itself, or a staff person to be hired, or a combination thereof. The Coordinating Committee shall be responsible for establishing staff policies and procedures, and for hiring, supervising, and discharging staff if necessary. No one shall be eligible to hold a paid position in CGEU for more than five (5) years cumulatively.
  7. In case a vacancy arises on the Coordinating Committee during its term, the Committee shall appoint a new member to fill the position, subject to approval of the Membership Council by majority vote.
  8. No one shall be eligible to serve on the Coordinating Committee for more than five (5) years cumulatively.


Article IV: Membership Council

  1. Membership Council is the highest decision-making body of CGEU between the Annual Congress.
  2. All Member Unions in good standing are entitled to designate up to two (2) delegates to the Membership Council. The Membership Council consists of all the delegates nominated by the member unions, as well as all members of the Coordinating Committee, who serve as ex officio delegates. The term for the Membership Council delegates shall run from September 1st to August 31st of the following year. Member Unions must send the names and contact information of their delegates to the Coordinating Committee by August 31st each year. If a vacancy occurs during the term, a Member Union can designate another delegate.
  3. The Membership Council is empowered to take any decision for CGEU, including overruling any decision of the Coordinating Committee, through e-mail between the Annual Congress. Any delegate on the Membership Council may propose a motion on the listserv and open it for discussion and voting, and a motion shall pass by majority vote. The voting period must last for at least seven days, and the quorum shall be the majority of all delegates. In case a vote does not meet quorum after seven days, it must remain open until the quorum is met.
  4. In situations of a malfeasant, anti-union or otherwise harmful conduct by a member of the Coordinating Committee and/or the Membership Council, they may be sanctioned and/or expelled from the body, by a decision of the two-thirds of the Membership Council delegates.

Article V. Finances

  1.     The Coordinating Committee shall prepare an annual budget, for the period from September 1st to August 31st of the following year, and present it to the Annual Congress for review, amendment and approval by the Congress.
  2.     The Coordinating Committee shall be responsible for overseeing all financial matters of CGEU, and be responsible for day-to-day financial operations and all applicable legal compliance measures for the organization. The Coordinating Committee may appoint a particular officer or officers to be primarily responsible for financial operations of CGEU.
  3.     Any expenditure, that is not stipulated in the budget and costs more than $2,000 CAD, must be approved by a majority vote on the Membership Council.”

To Amend the current Article V, Meetings and Decision-Making, as follows:

-TITLE: to “Article VI, Annual Congress”

-To add the following phrase in italic in the middle of the Section 4: “… to the Annual Congress. Each Member Union may send up to five delegates without registration fee. Members of non-member unions shall also be eligible to attend Annual Congress as non-voting delegates. Only members in good standing…”

-To eliminate Sections 6 and 7.

To Amend Article VI as follows:

Article VII. Graduate Workers’ Day

To replace Section 3 in its entirety with the following:

“3. The Coordinating Committee shall encourage member and non-member unions to organize actions on the Graduate Workers’ Day and facilitate coordination. The Coordinating Committee shall seek broad participation in organizing of the Graduate Workers Day.”