November 8, 2019
As many members of the McMaster community know, CUPE Local 3906 (Unit 1) and the
University jointly requested a ‘no-board’ report following a day of conciliation that failed to break an
impasse and provide the meaningful gains that Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu)
deserve. More information about this can be found at www.bettermac.ca.
One of the key priorities identified by members in our bargaining survey was access to paid TA
training. The importance of said training was reinforced when Unit 1 members returned a historic and
record-breaking strike vote of 87% after McMaster University failed to agree to the Union’s proposals
on this item. Let us be clear: in highlighting the lack of paid TA training, the Union is referring to
university-wide training that would help TAs to become more effective at their jobs. Specifically, the
Union proposed five paid hours for pedagogical training and an additional three paid hours for anti-oppression training.
The employer addressed this issue – which we had already tabled as a priority– on June 24th,
in their eighth set of proposals to the Union. Specifically, they proposed using the following language
in a letter of understanding: “The parties agree to establish a joint committee for the purposes of
exploring the feasibility of establishing an Institution-wide or Faculty specific training program(s) for
new employees.” This would certainly suggest that there is not university-wide (or even faculty specific)
training for new employees.
On November 5th, when the employer provided the union with a “comprehensive proposal,”
they made no mention of university-wide paid TA training on pedagogy or anti-oppression.
For these reasons, you can imagine the Union’s surprise when we read the employer’s
statement on requesting a ‘no-board’ report. In it, they assert that “McMaster also funds benefits
programs and paid training for Teaching Assistants.” To be clear, the University is now claiming that
they fund paid training for Teaching Assistants. Our question is this: “Oh, really?”
We are left wondering which paid training they provide to TAs – be it pedagogical, anti-oppression,
or both. If we are to take the University’s statement at face value, it is unclear why they
would have refused our above mentioned proposals, let alone why they themselves proposed
“establish[ing] a joint committee for the purposes of exploring the feasibility of establishing an
Institution-wide or Faculty specific training program(s) for new employees.” So we ask again, to which
paid TA training are they referring?
Perhaps they are referring to health and safety training. The Occupational Health and Safety
Act mandates this type of training, so citing it when we have clearly been bargaining over anti-oppression and pedagogical training is disingenuous to say the least. Perhaps they are referring to
training mandated by the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which the employer is required to
offer to employees. We know that the Faculty of Engineering launched a pilot project to provide training to its graduate TAs. If this is what they were referring to, it is unclear why they would not want
to include such an important provision in their proposals, especially in response to our proposals for
paid university-wide TA training.
There is existing language in the Collective Agreement mandating that “the Employer will
provide an orientation… to all newly hired Unit 1 employees in order to provide them with information
about the general operation of the University and resources available to employees that may be of
assistance in the performance of their duties. Employee orientation may include information about
such things as instructional courses and professional development resources that are available to
employees.” This language might tell TAs and RAs in lieu about what is available, but it does not
provide pedagogical or anti-oppression training. Neither party is looking to amend this language, so
surely this is not something worth highlighting. At the department level, some departments carve out
minimal paid training for TAs, but this simply comes out of their allocation of hours, thus leaving less
time for marking and student contact. To us it seems that providing additional paid hours for training
is the least the employer could do, considering that most of our members take home less than $5,ooo
in wages per year once we account for the cost of full-time tuition – the payment of which is a
condition of their employment.
We would urge all TAs to call or e-mail their Department Chairs, the University’s Vice-Provost
and Dean of Graduate Studies (who also happens to be Chair of their bargaining team), as well as the
Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students to inquire about the paid training opportunities we are
supposedly afforded. Some helpful contact information can be found below. We would love to hear the
responses to these inquiries!
• Doug Welch, Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies: 1-905-525-9140 x 24205 or
• Sean Van Koughnett, Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students: 1-905-525-9140 x 27455
We have always been clear about the fact that TAs and RAs in lieu both demand and deserve
paid pedagogical and anti-oppression training. We also know that our students deserve TAs who have
been trained in ways commensurate with the University’s emphasis on excellence in teaching.
McMaster’s recent statement is either embarrassingly uninformed or deliberately misleading, and we
hold that the only correct course of action would be for them to immediately offer a retraction and
President of CUPE 3906