Update #6: Learning Commons Facilitators to Vote whether to Join TSSU + Half-day Bargaining on Sessional Instructors

Facilitators in the Student Learning Commons have signed union cards, and will vote this Wednesday whether or not to join the TSSU! The Contract Committee looks forward to working as a united voice to advocate for better working conditions for all teaching support staff on SFU’s campuses. After this news reached SFU’s Chief Negotiators during bargaining on Thursday June 6, SFU Administration adjourned negotiations and the next scheduled day of bargaining, Thursday, June 13, 2019 was also cancelled. Bargaining resumes Tuesday, June 18, in West Mall Complex 2533 at 9am.

Before adjourning last Thursday, TSSU’s bargaining committee detailed our proposals for Sessional Instructors. Our proposals build on the successes of sessional seniority gained in the last round of bargaining in order to:

  1. Guarantee a mentorship system for student and post-doctoral fellows who are hired to sessional reserve positions, and reduce the workload by allowing team-teaching;
  2. Improve Sessionals’ working conditions by ensuring compensation for curriculum development, increases in class size, and professional development;
  3. Create one-year sessional positions and form a hiring pool of long-serving teachers that faculty can promote to Continuing Faculty Positions.

These proposals, if accepted, will end the cycle of precarious academic labour that keeps teachers locked out of benefits, security, and the academic life of the university. At the same time, hiring the long-serving teachers who already work here will ameliorate SFU’s struggles with faculty recruitment. By providing a way to earn a year-long appointment, sessionals will be able to plan their futures; departments will be able to assign non-teaching work, such as supervision or curriculum development, to sessionals as part of their paid duties.

Expanding faculty mentorship for sessional positions that are reserved for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will ensure that these positions are effective in training future teachers. Not only does this offer a meaningful opportunity to learn from an experienced teacher, but it improves the class for both students and instructors.

In our current proposal, at least ten (10) Continuing Faculty Positions will be created each year to be filled from a pool of sessionals who have each worked at SFU for six (6) years or more. Recognizing the importance of the university faculty reflecting the diversity of the university community, members in equity-seeking groups will be included in the pool after four (4) years of teaching. From this pool, faculty hiring committees can choose who to hire, a practice that reflects the norms of faculty hiring more broadly, while using university funding TSSU members fought for.

TSSU has now presented in detail each of our proposals to SFU’s Administration for TAs and TMs, ELC/ITP instructors, and Sessional Instructors. Our members constantly face precarious working conditions, and a part of this process has been highlighting the unnoticed costs of precarity to the university, students, and teachers themselves. We outlined our expectations on monetary proposals, such as wages and benefits. We have not begun negotiating those proposals in detail, and questions of university housing, compensation including class size limits, wages, medical benefits, and the childcare fund, are still outstanding. For any questions on the contract committee’s proposals, or to arrange a meeting in your department, email tssu@tssu.ca

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.

Update #3: 3 on 3

In today’s sunny negotiations, TSSU clarified our proposed changes to the contract’s general articles, including a new Staff and Member Development program and job posting. We also amended our TA and Sessional Instructor proposals to protect our contract from being undercut by changes to SFU’s Postdoctoral Fellows policy and secured agreement on three minor changes to our contract.

TSSU is proposing a comprehensive training article, which will guarantee that our members receive workplace orientation and opportunities for professional development. TSSU’s proposal would deliver paid training to all members, both when hired and throughout their time at SFU. TSSU members provide half of the in-person teaching at SFU, and building on existing training programs will improve the experience of students and the broader community.

One common theme for TSSU’s proposals is expanding best practices throughout the university; TSSU is asking that expected contact hours or base units be added to postings, so applicants have an idea of the amount of work they’re applying to do. We also request that applicants are notified if they don’t get a job. We secured a single posting date for all TA and TM jobs in the last round of bargaining, which simplified the timeline for people who work in multiple departments, and resulted in more jobs for graduate students. We think similar benefits could apply to sessional instructors, so now we’re asking for these jobs to be posted at the same time each semester.

Before the end of the day, TSSU secured agreement to three minor changes to our contract – changes which do not alter our rights, but do make them more clear. Next week, the committees meet on the 14th in Burnaby and the 15th in Vancouver (Harbour Centre) where TSSU will make our case for proposed changes for TA’s, Sessional Instructors, and ELC/ITP Instructors. We await a complete set of proposals from SFU Administration, but in the meantime we encourage members to share our updates, email with any questions, and attend bargaining to get the immersive, 3D, surround-sound experience of contract negotiations!

Update #2: Questions & Cuts

TSSU’s contract committee, members, and allies met with SFU Administration on April 11 in our second negotiation session for a new collective agreement. TSSU’s contract committee asked clarifying questions on SFU Administration’s proposals, which have the effect of: shrinking graduate student TA work and associated compensation by 20% through a modification to our priority system, increasing ELC/ITP instructors’ workloads without pay, and erasing sessional instructor job security and promotion language from our collective agreement.

TSSU’s Contract Committee responded: “We’re not just going to sit down and take significant cuts to each portion of our membership.” Reaffirming our intention to negotiate a collective agreement that improves our working conditions, we highlighted the needs of TSSU members: stability instead of precarity, and compensation that matches decades of steadily increasing workloads. SFU Administration spent most of the day sorting our proposals into those with costs and those without, before asking a few clarifying questions about our positions.

Over the next month, your contract committee will be publicizing our proposals more widely, including on the bargaining website, so bookmark this page or add it to your RSS feed. The next negotiation is scheduled for May 8th on Burnaby campus and TSSU expects to hear clarifying questions from SFU Administration on our proposals. To attend, email tssu@tssu.ca

We’ll also be at other events to chat with members about the bargaining process and get feedback on TSSU and SFU Administration’s proposals:

MARKING PARTY! TWO DAY MARK-A-THON
Wed & Thu, April 17 & 18
10am to 3pm
AQ 5009

MEET YOUR CONTRACT COMMITTEE SOCIAL
*Burnaby session!
After Day 1 of Mark-a-thon, Wed, April 17
4pm – 6pm
Club Ilia, Cornerstone, SFU Burnaby

*Surrey session!
Wed, April 24
5pm to 7pm
Central City Pub, Surrey

(Vancouver session to come in May)

TSSU DAY: Summer Welcome BBQ & SFU Labour Walking Tour
Friday, May 10
12:30pm to 3:30pm (walking tour starts at 1:30pm)
Location: TBD, SFU Burnaby (we will update as soon as we confirm)

We hope to see you at one or more of these events. We can’t win anything at the bargaining table unless all of us work together! To get involved, come to the events or general membership meetings, stay informed, and let other TSSU members know what’s happening. Full details on TSSU’s proposals are available for any member to review in the union office on Burnaby campus: AQ5129, or email tssu@tssu.ca if you’d like to meet with a contract committee member – we’ll come to you! You can also email TSSU anytime with questions, or invite the contract committee to department or caucus events (we will bring donuts & coffee! 😉 ).

Update #1: Bargaining begins

TSSU’s Bargaining Committee met with SFU Administration Wednesday in the first session of negotiations for our new Collective Agreement. We began the day by stating, “We are here in solidarity as workers in different groups, united by a common thread: we all toil in precarious jobs.” As each side outlined their goals for the new contract, TSSU delivered a comprehensive package of proposals that ensures:

  • Protection against overwork for Teaching Assistants
  • Job security for Sessional Instructors
  • Equity in benefits for language instructors in ELC/ITP
  • Paid professional development for all TSSU members

The spokesperson for the Administration offered “a modest set of proposals” that broadly outlined their plans. Administration’s goals include reducing TA base units for graduate students, removing job security for sessional instructors, and increasing ELC/ITP instructor workloads without additional pay. TSSU is waiting for clarification on the Administration’s other proposals, which we expect to receive before our next session on April 11th.


TSSU did secure Administration’s agreement in principle on two of our proposals: to replace the contract’s gendered pronouns (her/his) with gender-neutral pronouns, and to move the ELC/ITP articles from an appendix and into the main text of the contract. Both TSSU’s and the employer’s proposals are available in the TSSU office (AQ 5129) for any member to review, and members are welcome in bargaining sessions. Please email tssu@tssu.ca for more information.

Solidarity,

Your Contract Committee

Notice served; it’s time to bargain

Your Contract Committee has served notice to our employer that we want to commence bargaining as soon as possible. Bargaining is our opportunity to work together to improve our wage & benefits, reduce our class sizes, secure our employment, and much more. Success at the bargaining table will come by all of us getting involved, getting organized and expressing our shared power. Over the coming weeks more information will be added to this website. For now, here’s how you can help:

  • all members are welcome to attend bargaining sessions, as often as they would like: for more details, email chief_steward@tssu.ca
  • if you want to become a departmental steward, crucial liaisons during bargaining, or get involved in another committee, email tssu@tssu.ca
  • bookmark this website!

Solidarity,

Your Contract Committee