Improvements for TAs and TMs

Note: the positions described below are TSSU’s opening positions in bargaining from June 2014. We did not have a substantive response on these positions until Jon Driver joined the bargaining process in September 2015. Since that time, these positions have been adjusted as part of the normal bargaining process of moving towards settlement. Due to the fluid nature of bargaining not all of these moves may be reflected below. For the most up to date information email tssu@tssu.ca.

Teaching assistants perform a significant portion of the face-time teaching at SFU, especially in lower division and laboratory courses. Tutor markers perform nearly all of the student interaction in online and distance courses. Together, TAs and TMs provide a key component of the student experience at SFU. Without these teachers, the quality of education received by undergraduate students would be greatly diminished. TSSU recognizes the importance of TAs and TMs to SFU’s educational model and wants to ensure that SFU fairly recognizes this contribution by providing the resources that TAs and TMs need to do their jobs effectively.

Preparing for the future of Teaching

There has not been any alteration to the TM’s job description and method remunerated since the first Collective Agreement TSSU signed back in 1979. In 1979, distance courses were delivered on cassette tapes, with a binder of materials. TM’s marked the assignments they received in the mail, and were required to contact the student once by telephone, and to take telephone calls during their office hours.

Today, TMs and TAs do a different jobs compared to 1979, with far more frequent contact online via Canvas and email. As more in person courses contain online and interactive components, the previously clear line between Teaching Assistant and Tutor Markers is blurring. Rather than sit by and wait while the Collective Agreement (CA) becomes obsolete, TSSU has proposed to fully merge the two separate articles that currently reference TAs and TMs. This merger recognizes that there needs to be different mechanisms for compensation for primarily distance or fully in person courses.

Make TA and TM jobs meet the Employment Standards Act Minimums

TSSU has received numerous reports of TAs being forced to work for excessively long periods without breaks or being allowed to leave to rest. A typical example occurs in the Sciences, where TAs are expected to invigilate an exam from 8am-11:30am (including pre-arrival and collection of exams) and then go and mark those exams from 11:30am until they’re done, sometimes well after midnight. It is common for these TAs to be denied to right to breaks for meals, or other basic rights that are enshrined in the Employment Standards Act. TSSU has proposed for situations of scheduled work in excess of 5 hours, TAs be guaranteed a meal break, and in no case should a TA be required to work more than 7 hours per day. These marking situations are not just a basic welfare issue; they are also a health and safety issue. In the Fall 2013 semester, a TSSU member suffered a permanent spinal cord injury due to a prolonged marking session and now suffers from permanent disability.

TSSU has also proposed that TAs and TMs receive the employment standards act minimums for statutory holiday pay.

Ensure access to work for graduate students

In the last round of bargaining TSSU and the Employer agreed to significant changes in TA priority with the goal of improving access to TAships for graduate students. This was done in the spirit of the Collective Agreement which states that TA positions are meant to provide graduate students with funding while also allowing them to gain teaching experience. Despite this change, the portion of TAships going to graduate students has actually decreased in the last 2 years.

TSSU believes that additional changes are necessary to meet the mutually agreed goal of providing funding and experience for graduate students. The changes we propose are to create a pool system for graduate student applicants within a department. This means graduate students in the department would only need to indicate their desire to TA in the upcoming semester and then the department would fit the TAs into the available positions to ensure all of their graduate students received their desired base units of TAing. In addition, if departments wish to hire outside of the group of currently enrolled (graduate or undergraduate) students and recently completed graduate students, they would require authorization from the union. This same system is in place at UBC and is an essential component that ensures UBC graduate students receive sufficient TA work.

Remove unfair equivalencies

Several departments have old equivalencies which reduce the amount of base units paid for the same work. These equivalencies mean teaching 6 hours of tutorials in an “equivalent” department pays only 75% of what it would in another department. These equivalencies violate the principle of equal pay for equal work and frequently result in significant overwork for our members. TSSU believes all of these unfair equivalencies should be removed.

Update the categories of TAs

As part of the realignment of the priority system, the TSSU has proposed a tweak to the categories of TAs. Graduate TAs 1 and 2 (Master’s and PhD) would stay the same, but the 3rd category of TAs would include both undergraduate students and recently finished graduate students.The 4th category, external TAs, would only be hired with the authorization of the union. A small number of current external TAs who teach regularly would be grandmothered into the 3rd category.

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