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We are writing to you today with some disappointing news about Unit 1 bargaining. While it is true that we have made progress on several important issues for our members, the University’s representatives at the table (hereafter ‘the Employer’) has signaled to us that they believe they have come as far as they can on matters of wages, working conditions, job security, and outsourcing. Despite our Bargaining Team’s insistence that we would like to keep talking, the Employer informed us at our last meeting that they would not be able to meet with us for another two and a half weeks.
Your Union cannot accept the Employer’s position on these important issues, nor can we accept the tacit trivialization of these negotiations that their refusal to meet until the end of the month represents. So we find ourselves at a crossroads.
It is worth recounting, in brief, how we got to this point. Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu) will recall that we reached out to them in January of this year with a survey asking what their bargaining priorities were. The results of that survey indicated that Unit 1 members wanted, among other things, better and more reliable funding through employment, increased benefits, and mental health supports. These priorities all fall under the umbrella of job security, fair pay, and access to good working conditions.
Your elected Bargaining Team then began meeting with the Employer in July. We were shocked to discover among the Employer’s initial proposals language that compromised the employment guarantee offered to incoming graduate students as well as proposed changes to the dental plan that were sure to result in increased costs to members or even the total erosion of the plan itself. Over the last few months, your Bargaining Team has successfully convinced the Employer to withdraw or modify these proposals. The graduate employment guarantee will be maintained and your dental plan is safe. On top of that, we have negotiated access to mental health supports under the Employee and Family Assistance Program for all Unit 1 members, an especially important victory in light of the recent cuts to on-campus services for graduate students.
All of this is good news for graduate and undergraduate TAs and RAs in lieu. But our work is not done.
There are still proposals on the table that either compromise or fail to address your job security, access to fair wages, and good working conditions. For example, the Employer has not offered a satisfactory reply to our proposal to protect TAs from being forced to divide their per-term contract hours between 3 or more courses, nor have they tabled a workable solution to the problem of how to support the increasing number of PhD students who lose access to funding through employment in their 5th and 6th years of study. We are also seeing the work of our unit devalued by outsourcing on campus, while the wage gap between undergraduate and graduate TAs continues to grow, putting our undergraduate members in a more vulnerable position while ignoring the principle of equal pay for equal work.
We believe that we can hold to our priorities and get a fair deal for TAs and RAs in lieu, but we need your help to do it. There is a time in the bargaining process where words at the table will not suffice. The Employer needs to see action.
This is why we are taking a Strike Vote, beginning on November 1st.
A strong strike vote will empower the bargaining team with a clear mandate and will help to kick-start these negotiations. It is important to note, though, that a successful mandate from a strike vote does not mean that we are automatically going on strike. Rather, it gives the Bargaining Team the ability to call a strike later on in the process as a matter of last resort. While this is the last vote that will be taken before the end of negotiations, we will – as always – continue to consult with membership to help us decide what next steps to take.
There will be an opportunity for membership to bring questions and voice concerns about the vote at our upcoming General Membership Meeting, tomorrow, October 25, 2016 in BSB B136, beginning at 4:00PM.
The vote itself will begin at the end of the Special General Membership Meeting on November 1st at 6:00PM at Westdale United Church (99 N Oval). Doors will be open at 5:30PM. This meeting will also be another chance to for us to hear from you. Voting will commence for 90 minutes following this meeting and will continue from 10:00AM – 5:00PM in the lobbies of Mills Library and Thode Library on November 2nd and 3rd. If you are currently employed as a TA or RA (in lieu), you will need Photo ID to cast a ballot. If you do not have an appointment until January or May, you will need proof of employment (an offer letter or equivalent).
The participation of our membership has been and continues to be crucial to the bargaining process. Do not hesitate to reach out to our President (Sarah Wahab), our Vice President (Graham Baker) or a member of our staff if you have any questions or concerns leading up to the GMM and the SGMM.
You can also visit our bargaining website at bettermac.ca, where you can find an FAQ regarding the strike vote, as well as a more detailed bargaining bulletin.
In solidarity for a #bettermac,
Your CUPE 3906 Bargaining Team and Executive Committee