TAs will continue to strike until new agreement reached

Kate O'Melia
December 1, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.  

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. 

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