TSSU has been bargaining with SFU’s Administration since our contract expired at the start of May 2014. In ten bargaining sessions, they have tried to increase the precarity of our working conditions, slash our benefits, and degrade the learning conditions of SFU students. The following summary outlines the on-the-ground reality our members face, TSSU’s solutions to improve that reality, the Administration’s plan to make our reality worse, and finally, the bargaining process moving forward.
Sessional Instructors now teach one in four courses at SFU. The typical Sessional is an accomplished academic with a PhD and multiple years of teaching experience. They cobble together enough money to live by working at multiple institutions, sometimes commuting by bus as far as Vancouver to Chilliwack several times a week. Despite years of exemplary service, these instructors have to reapply for their own jobs every semester, and they end up unemployed without any notice or justification. The growing use of Sessional Instructors allows SFU to reduce their costs by 50%, as they receive limited pay and minimal benefits.
Instructors in English Language & Culture and Interpretation & Translation Programs (ELC/ITP) are teaching larger and larger classes with reduced benefits. Since 2005-6, the revenue at these programs has remained constant at around $2 million per year, while SFU has decreased instructional costs from $1.1 million in 2005-6 to $750,000 in 2013-14. This 35% reduction in compensation to teachers is a result of a 15% increase in median class size coupled with increased use of temporary instructors who receive no benefits or job security. While teachers have seen substantial cuts, the administration at ELC/ITP has seen substantial growth.
Teaching Assistant (TA) and Tutor Marker (TM) work is designed to be a part of the funding support and teaching mentorship for a graduate degree. Many grad students are being denied access to the TA & TM work they need to support themselves, and over 20% of those positions go outside the grad population. The advent of hybrid courses—mixing online, experiential, and classroom education—has meant the old formulas that ensured reasonable pay for TA & TM work need to be updated. Over the past 15 years, the increase in compensation for TA & TM appointments has been less than half of the increase in cost of living for these student workers.
The reality our members face in the classroom each day is unsustainable. The trend is clear: less pay, larger classrooms, and increasing precariousness. We need to reverse this trend if we want SFU to be a desirable place to work and learn.
We want long serving Sessional Instructors to have job security through a seniority model. After teaching for years, these instructors deserve to know they have work for the next semester. We also recognize that a limited portion of the sessional assignments are used for teaching experience for senior PhD students, so we have proposed to allow departments to choose to reserve a small portion of the Sessional appointments for grads.
For ELC/ITP, we want to close the loophole that allows the Administration to replace continuing instructors with temporary instructors who have no benefits. We want to see ELC/ITP instructors receive the same benefits package as the administrative support staff who they work with every day. We also believe that, like their counter-parts at UBC, they deserve to be treated more like Faculty members.
The worlds of TAs and TMs are clearly merging, so we have proposed to get ahead of this trend by merging the two job descriptions, which would ensure teachers get paid more as more students are added to their classes. To ensure grads get access to that work, we have proposed graduate students only need to indicate that they want to work so that they can be matched to TA jobs. This system is already in place at UBC and delivers work to graduate students.
TSSU wants to make SFU a more supportive place to teach. When our members’ working conditions improve, the learning conditions for undergrads improve with them. We believe our solutions will make SFU a stronger institution both for teachers and students.
The Employer’s Goals
SFU’s Administration has made it clear with their proposals that they want to “opt-out” of the parts of the Employment Standards Act and Health and Safety Laws that they don’t happen to like. They ignore the law, the rights of their workers, and the working conditions of those who provide the majority of teaching at SFU. Instead, they only seem concerned with reducing costs, and they don’t appear to care about the consequences on workers and the institution.
SFU’s specific bargaining goals are…
- stripping away Sessional Instructors’ minimal job security by eliminating any rights of return (ROFR and priority) that exist within our current collective agreement
- making ELC/ITP workers more precarious by making seniority harder to get and easier to lose as well as making it harder to attain benefits and wage increases for length of service
- saving money on TA & TM workers by forcing grads into arduous Sessional work and replacing them with lower-paid undergraduate and external TAs & TMs
- removing all benefits for all TSSU members and converting them to pay in lieu of benefits
These goals reflect a pattern of increasing precarity, reducing costs, and ignoring the consequences for SFU as an institution of higher learning. The Administration’s approach is consistent with treating SFU like a corporation that has to minimize labour costs regardless of the consequences. This is a radical agenda designed to create serious conflict.
The Process Moving Forward
We will be back at the bargaining table in the Spring, and TSSU’s Contract Committee remains committed to negotiating a fair and equitable Collective Agreement. It’s been nearly a year since our contract expired, so it is critical that our members keep themselves informed. Our direct-democracy model requires members to participate in the process in order to achieve the gains we’ve outlined. To find out more:
- Inform yourself! Go to http://bargaining.tssu.ca
- Talk to your colleagues, including fellow grads students. sessionals, and tenured faculty.
- Watch your email for our votes and surveys. Give us your input!
- Join a committee! Attend a bargaining session! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.