Update #4 & #5: Back to Back

On May 14 and 15th TSSU gave a more detailed overview of our proposals for TAs and ELC/ITP, which are summarized below. Our bargaining team was buoyed by over a dozen members, including nearly half of the instructors in the ELC program. We believe SFU Administration was taken aback by the member support as well as the data we provided, both of which demonstrated the need for our proposals. Sessional Instructor proposals remain to be discussed in depth, and TSSU members are encouraged to attend bargaining on June 6 on Burnaby campus to hear that discussion; email tssu@tssu.ca for details.

On ELC/ITP instructor issues, TSSU began by asking questions posed by instructors: How are the negative effects of years spent as “temporary” instructors without security “costed” by SFU Administration? How does the lack of vacation, sick leave, and other rights denied to many ELC/ITP instructors figure into SFU’s budgetary priorities? TSSU then outlined our solutions: make all current instructors continuing, to allow them to earn eligibility for benefits; create a teaching year divided into 40 weeks in the classroom, 8 weeks of non-classroom work (“duty weeks”), and 4 weeks of vacation. To keep SFU Administration from increasing workloads, we also proposed a cap on class size.

When we turned to SFU Administration’s proposals we asked how their changes accomplished what they said they would accomplish; for example, TSSU asked how making appointments conditional upon enrolment could guarantee work for teachers or provide job security; how increasing required workload for no extra pay was guaranteeing salary, and how separate seniority lists provided either security for teachers or harmony and a better workplace. We asked what a longer probationary period for temporary or part time teachers would solve. None of our questions received direct answers, and on its face the contract language SFU Administration has provided only reduces current rights.

SFU Administration claimed there was a shortage of money; TSSU found their own 2017-18 community report, which proclaims increased revenue flowing into SFU’s budget from ELC/ITP. The numbers show revenue has increased substantially over the last 5 years, but more of the expenses are going to an undefined “others” category, in addition to the “overhead allocation” and administrative costs of the program. TSSU made it clear that the rights and benefits others enjoy at SFU, including other TSSU members, such as basic sick leave (which temporary teachers at ELC/ITP do not enjoy), must be provided in the new contract. We also demonstrated that all of our proposals provide a better way to solve the problems that SFU Administration has identified in the department, than their own.

For TAs and TMs, TSSU started by outlining our key bargaining goals: protecting against overwork, ensuring a fair compensation system, improving work for graduate students, and preparing for blended classrooms by merging TAs and TMs into one job category. Achieving these goals requires different parts of the Collective Agreement to work together, and TSSU outlined that interconnection to SFU Administration through some key proposals including:

  • creating a confidential overwork fund so TAs can be paid for overwork without risking their standing in their department;
  • changing the pay formula to increase compensation conditions with heavy workloads, including: lab courses, writing intensive courses, large class sizes, and blended classrooms;
  • eliminating “equivalencies” that pay TAs in some departments less than others for the same work;
  • implementing basic Employment Standards to protect people currently required to work eight hours straight without a break; and
  • ensuring time off from work around thesis defenses and qualifying exams.

We backed up these proposals with analysis of data we receive from SFU Administration, our members’ survey responses, and anonymized time use guidelines (TUGs). For example, despite a 1990 promise to decrease tutorial sizes from 17 to 15, the average tutorial size remains at 17; this promise accompanied a reduction in paid hours at the time, which has contributed to overwork. In our survey, 48% of TAs reported they had overworked and had not sought the compensation they were owed. TUGs show over 60% of TAs are not allocated time to attend TA/TM day or other pro-D training despite having this right, and some lab TAs are being allocated as little as 36 minutes / week to prepare.  

Later, SFU asked clarifying questions about TSSU’s proposals around TAs, which TSSU provided, or will provide at future sessions. We still await a full response from SFU Administration on our proposals, which are necessary to meet the triple purpose of TA work as labour necessary to the University, teaching experience for graduate students, and financial support for graduate study.