TAs and RAs in-lieu are now one week into a strike after an agreement wasn’t reached in their negotiations with CUPE 3906

Since April 2022, CUPE Local 3906 has been negotiating on the behalf of McMaster University teaching assistants and research assistants. However, in a historic vote in late October, 90 per cent of workers voted to strike if necessary. On Monday Nov. 21 at 7:00 a.m., after negotiations had stalled on Friday, picketing started at several entrances to McMaster University in attempts to disturb incoming traffic. 

In McMaster’s official announcement, they warned students to allow extra time to get to campus, as all parking entrances would be blocked by picketers and bus routes would be rerouted to off-campus drop-offs. In this email, McMaster also mentioned TAs can continue working, if they indicate this preference on a form. Professors were required to have a contingency plan, which may have altered the workload of TAs and RAs choosing not to strike.  

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The CUPE Local 3906, the union that represents teaching assistants and research assistants in-lieu, is fighting for key issues including greater financial security, better overall wellness and health care reimbursements, and improved working conditions that properly track number of hours worked. 

PhD candidate and elected CUPE 3906 health and safety officer, Anastasia Sol, explained why she supports the strike. She explained that the cost of living is rising and that many TAs and RAs in-lieu are lacking financial security. Sol is currently employed as a research assistant in-lieu, which is an option for graduate students who are not currently appointed to a teaching assistant position.  

“Every [cost] involved with living is higher than it once was and so this really has to do with issues of financial insecurity for teaching assistants and research assistants,” said Sol.  

She also explained that, although she was in support of the strike, she recognized the disruptive effect that it had on TAs and their students, especially approaching the end of the semester. 

“The strike is a last resort if we can’t [reach] a fair agreement, so striking isn’t beneficial for really anybody,” said Sol. 

Undergraduate TA Navya Sheth, who would usually spend 10 hours a week on her TA job, explained that she’s striking to ensure fair working conditions and higher wages for TAs that will follow her. 

“I think that ultimately, it’s not really about the people who are TAing right now. It’s less about the TAs that are working right now and more about making McMaster a good work environment going forward”, said Sheth. 

On the wage gap between undergraduate and graduate TAs, Sol said that equal work should see equal pay. Sheth spoke about how she did not realize before striking how large the pay gap was. 

“Before we went on strike I wasn’t aware of how big that gap was. I think that there are quite a few classes where undergraduate and graduate TAs are doing the same work,” said Sheth. 

In compensation for money lost during the strike, TAs and RAs in-lieu are being paid up to $300 by CUPE 3906 for 20 hours of picketing. TAs who are not able to picket for 20 hours can either request accommodations from CUPE3906 or they can choose not to picket and receive no strike pay.  

CUPE 3906 urged unit one workers to support the strike, as their rights would not be protected if they continued to work during the strike.  

Updates on the strike can be found at McMaster’s Labour Updates page, and updates on bargaining can be found at bettermac.ca and students will receive email updates for McMaster as the strike continues. 

This is an ongoing story. 

JESSICA YANG / MULTIMEDIA ASSISTANT

TAs and RAs have decided in a 90% positive vote that they’re ready to strike if McMaster University doesn’t meet their demands regarding fairer wages and benefits 

On Oct. 20 the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3906 announced that teaching and research assistants had voted in favour of striking if necessary. The union is in negotiations with McMaster University on raising wages and increasing benefits. CUPE3906’s President, Chris Fairweather, says the university’s offer was unacceptable for workers. 

The poll showed workers strongly supported the strike, with 90% of TAs voting to strike if necessary. While TAs and RAs are not striking as of yet, they are willing to do so if an agreement cannot be reached at the bargaining table. No dates have been set for a possible strike. 

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This decision comes from CUPE3906, who says the University is raising wages at less than the rate of inflation. CUPE3906 claimed in an Instagram post that if the university had continued to raise the wages to keep up with inflation, TAs would be paid $5/hr more than the current rates. 

The 2019-2022 Collective Agreement between McMaster University and CUPE3906 on behalf of Unit 1, McMaster’s 2500 teaching and research assistants, expired the first week of September before the contract could be renegotiated. The agreement stated that TAs may not strike for the duration of the agreement. 

Prior to the poll, CUPE3906 held two Q&A sessions as well as a special general membership meeting before the vote that took place between Oct. 17 and Oct. 19. CUPE3906 urged TAs to vote in favour of the strike in order to prevent falling further behind in job quality. 

CUPE3906 claims that many universities have allowed their employees’ salaries to fall behind the rate of inflation and that schools are making large enough profits to fairly compensate their workers. In McMaster University’s 2020-2021 Annual Financial Report, they claimed a $232 million excess of revenues over expenses, surpassing the original estimate of $43.4 million.

During ongoing negotiations, CUPE3906 is pushing for three key issues, the first being financial security and compensation. CUPE3906 is pushing for increased wages, minimum 65-hour contracts opposed to current 32-hour minimums, closing the wage gap between undergraduate and graduate students, and other employee services for example access to parking. 

Their second key issue is physical and mental health and wellness which asks for expansion of current health care reimbursements, additional UHIP coverage for international students, affordable dental coverage and expansion of the Gender Affirmation Fund. 

The final key issue CUPE3906 will be negotiating for is improved working conditions meaning regulating the number of students that can be assigned to a TA in a seminar or tutorial, further clarity on hours of work forms, transparency of working conditions and re-securing 5 hours of paid training in the new collective agreement. 

The bargaining team has been authorized by the positive vote to call for a strike if a fair agreement cannot be reached. TAs and RAs will be informed through their McMaster emails with updates on the bargaining. Updates can also be found on CUPE3906’s website at https://bettermac.ca/

Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Sarun Balaranjan and Henry Challen, Contributors

CW: Sexual violence

If you have spent any time on Mac Confessions, Youtube, or any other college-focused media, it is impossible to miss the prevailing issue surrounding consent and the way we conceptualize sexual relationships in a university setting. Whether it be a frat party, a first date, or a meal at one of McMaster University’s fine dining institutions, the question of consent remains a topic of the utmost concern. While student-to-student relationships are culturally accepted, faculty-student relationships are generally frowned upon. However, there remains a grey area when it comes to  relationships between teaching assistants and students. Ask anyone, and someone will know someone who has engaged in sexual acts with their TA. As both students and adults, we need to think more critically about how consent manifests within undergraduate-TA relationships.

We could recount examples of TAs making sexual advances on their students, but that is not the purpose of this article. Instigating a campus-wide persecution of TAs is not our goal, but rather to think critically about consent and potentially change the current practices surrounding TA-student relationships. Currently, students are theoretically allowed to engage in sexual relationships with their TAs, so long as the department head is notified, a conflict of interest is declared and all marking of that students work is transferred. However, it is pertinent to note that the conflict of interest policy has not been updated since 2001. There have been immense differences in how we conceptualize consent between 2001 and 2020 and it is atrocious that the policies have not been updated since then.

Left unchecked, the current power structures produce a wide range of results for students. While many TAs are respectful of their students and their roles as educators, this is not always the case. When relationships do occur, they often place the students in the awkward position of interacting with their TAs in two very different contexts. Even if a student wants to partake in sexual relations with their TA, it is difficult to extract this sexual relationship from the power structures of their academic lives. 

When relationships do occur, they often place the students in the awkward position of interacting with their TAs in two very different contexts. Even if a student wants to partake in sexual relations with their TA, it is difficult to extract this sexual relationship from the power structures of their academic lives.

This calls for a serious revision of the policies in place surrounding the training and orientation  of McMaster’s teaching assistants. It is asinine that Welcome Week representatives are trained for hours regarding sexual sensitivity orientation for merely ten days of interaction with students while TAs are not held to the same standards. It is clear that TAs are placed in a position of more power than a Welcome Week rep and spend significantly larger quantities of time interacting socially with students. At the bare minimum, TAs should be subject to the same training as Welcome Week reps. There is an appalling lack of accountability being placed on TAs by university administration and the faculty that hires them.

As we as a culture think more critically about consent, it is necessary that we apply this understanding to all relationships, especially those with potential power imbalances. It is ludicrous to think that this is an issue that can be dealt with at the discretion of the TA, who simply has to sign off on some forms. This is not only insufficient, but also contributes to creating a dangerous precedent for consent within the McMaster community.

We are not calling for a ban on consensual relationships between adults. However, to create a culture of consent on campus, a deeper awareness of the nuance surrounding consent should be incorporated into the TA employment contract. In addition, there should be a more robust training process to ensure that TAs are aware of the responsibilities that come alongside their position of authority.

 

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