Public Service Alliance of Canada Local 610, represents Western University’s 2,500 teacher assistants and post doctoral associates. The union announced they will hold a strike vote as soon as March 19, potentially sending teaching assistants to the picket line. The TA union has been negotiating a new collective agreement since November. The agreement outlines the relationship between Western and graduate teaching assistants. The union wants to tackle many issues but is focusing on 5 key issues.
What are the GTAs bargaining for?
- Real wage increase: They want wage increase above inflation which is secured from any offset (clawback) from other sources of funding. A clawback is the when financial supports are decreased (income) and then when one of the components(tuition) increases. This resulted in almost half of TAs having net annual income less than $11,000.
- Appointment: Extended employment guarantees (5 years from PhDs instead of 4 and 2 years and one term for Masters). They also want to be able to give input into TA assignments. Almost half of their members reported that they do not have a say on selecting the course they are TAing for. In addition, many students are declined TAships if they hold an external scholarship. Shannon Potter, President of PSAC Local 610 says this leaves students in a difficult position.
- Tuition Rebate: In the last 3 years, tuition fees increased 6.5% while TAs earnings only increased by 1% yearly from 2015 -2017. The majority of TAs reported that an increase in tuition and fees decreased their total income. This issue affects international students the most, they pay 2.3 times more fees than domestic students.
- Benefits: An increase in their extended health plan, financial assistance and UHIP subsidy. The majority of TAs income is well below poverty line and they depend on benefit programs. Many TAs rely on this health plan and financial assistance to cover their medical and emergency expenses. They have seen an increasing number of members who apply for their food bank.
- Overtime work payment: They want an efficient policy to protect TAs from overtime work and a system that makes sure when TAs do work overtime, they have received time and a half. Based on a survey President Shannon Potter conducted, more than 50% of TAs agreed that they have worked over their hours. Out of the TAs surveyed, more than 70% said “unreasonable workload” as the main reason for overtime work and 63% said it was an unreal estimate of preparation time. The majority of TAs who have worked overtime decided not to approach their departments. Potter says this is because they do not want to be unjustly blamed for “poor” performance, or because they do not think they can get the overtime payment. Those who have approached their course departments were 98% not successful in getting overtime pay according to Potter.
With bargaining deadlocked between TAs and the University, PSAC Local 610 plans to hold a strike mandate vote between March 19 and 22. A majority vote in favour of strike authorizes them to initiate a strike. However, it does not mean TAs will strike; rather, it indicates the members are ready to do so if necessary.
“Ideally a strike is not our ultimate objective. Nonetheless, we do want everyone to understand what it is we are fighting for,” said Shannon Potter, president of PSAC Local 610.
Local 610 has stated bargaining is deadlocked over monetary issues. Western has stopped paying the Union Health Care Plan and Financial Assistant Fund. Shannon Potter believes this is unacceptable treatment.
“They are fulfilling their duties as per the expired collective agreement. It is totally unfair to withhold funds that theses TAs so desperately need and serves only to further harm to already vulnerable workers”.
Potter has said almost all outstanding non-monetary issues have been resolved. Western’s TAs have never had a strike before. If they do, the union has strike pay where members will receive $53 a day for 5 days a week. The union will release more information about the strike mandate vote over the next week.