Updates #14 and #15: Welcome to SFU: where teachers are “consultants,” and students are “customers”

November 13

In negotiations November 13, the Contract Committee presented a proposal package to SFU Administration. This group of proposals illustrates to SFU Administration that we are willing to negotiate and happy to update our workplace. For example, we proposed, and have now agreed, that Administration can deliver members’ Union check-off forms in electronic form, which will decrease the University’s reliance on paper and save administrative time and money.  

The Contract Committee’s proposal package shifts our position toward agreement in an attempt to gain momentum at the negotiating table and to focus SFU Administration’s attention on the mandate delivered to us by TSSU members back in February. While we may adjust our position, we will never negotiate cuts to our rights or our security of employment. We heard our members loud and clear: you need us to decrease uncertainty,  assure the basic right to paid sick leave, create equitable and consistent pay systems, and make sure work does not negatively affect our studies and / or our health. 

At the session, SFU Administration presented a second counter-proposal to TSSU’s proposed Graduate Facilitators (GFs) article that continues to present GF work as piecework compensated on an hourly basis, while refusing to recognize this work as teaching. GFs joined TSSU in order to see their conditions codified and improved, and the committee will not agree to cuts in these workers’ first negotiated agreement. The session was cut short for contract committee members and other organizers from the Research Is Work Campaign to meet with SFU Administration to negotiate voluntary recognition for Research Assistants, read more about that here.

November 27

On November 27, SFU Administration presented counter-proposals on Graduate Facilitators, Job Postings, and Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET). 

Our proposal on Graduate Facilitators seeks to ensure that the only hiring qualifications for a position are those necessary to conduct the work. This basic proposal would not infringe Administration’s hiring process, but would recognize that a teacher’s competence is not represented by their GPA. 

At this session, SFU Administration revised their November 13 counter-proposal on Graduate Facilitators: one of the key changes was to connect the definition of “excellent” with SFU’s grading system, further raising the qualifications from their previous proposals from August 22 and November 13 from “a GPA of 3.5 or above” and “demonstrated strong academic performance,” to “excellent academic performance,” which, by their new definition, would be a 3.67 GPA or above. If we agreed to SFU Administration’s proposal, it would ensure that qualified graduate students would be denied access to this work.

Also at this session, SFU Administration’s spokesperson presented a summary of a 2018 Arbitration decision regarding student assessments. During this presentation, they referred to students as their “clients” or “customers.” Reading from SFU’s Teaching Assessment Working Group’s final report, SFU Administration recognized that:

  • SETs have value because they capture the student experience
  • SETs are easy to administer
  • Numerous factors – including personal characteristics, response rates, and course characteristics  – skew the results  
  • Averages of SET scores establish nothing relevant or useful about teaching effectiveness, and should not be  compared across course formats, levels, topics, or disciplines
  • If SETs must be presented, they should be presented as a frequency distribution with response  rates and as a source of information about the student experience, and not as a measure of teaching effectiveness
  • Deans, Chairs and TPCs should be educated in the inherent and systematic biases in SETs  
  • The best way to assess teaching is through the use of a teaching dossier and in‐class peer assessment  

Despite affirming these conclusions, which were based on the conclusion of expert academic witnesses in a major arbitration case, SFU Administration still insists that student assessment is a valid measure of teaching and should be part of employment evaluation for TSSU members. The contract committee is puzzled by this dissonance, but we will continue to press for a fair evaluation system in future negotiations. Our proposal recognizes students’ ability to evaluate the student experience and encourages teachers to consider the feedback provided by students to enhance their teaching. However, we refuse to implement a flawed evaluation system that has students rating teaching ability, especially since research has shown that SET results allow students’ social prejudices to impact the hiring and promotion process, often with demonstrably sexist and racist results. For more information, reach out to tssu@tssu.ca and set up a time to meet with someone from the contract committee! If you would like one or more of us to speak with your department, lab, or caucus, please get in touch! We’re happy to answer questions about bargaining.

Upcoming Bargaining Dates

On December 5th, SFU Administration has offered to demonstrate how their proposals for ELC/ITP will affect annual scheduling and the assignment of teaching work.

Our next formal negotiation sessions are scheduled for December 10th and 12th from 9 am-5 pm at SFU Burnaby in room SWH 10051. Though our proposals are still far apart, SFU Administration stated that they want to reach an agreement for Graduate Facilitators on the 10th. The parties agreed that negotiations on the 12th should begin with a focus on Teaching Assistants. The contract committee requests any available members to attend on December 10th and 12th. Let’s show the Administration what it means to be a union!

Update #12 and #13 : Seven months and counting

After seven months of negotiations and six months without a contract, bargaining progresses at a snail’s pace. In our meetings, SFU Administration shows a strong attachment to the bargaining positions they took back in April, but no willingness to address TSSU members’ needs as expressed through our proposed contract language and reiterated at the table. With our memories of the last bargaining round and the ensuing strike, we hoped the Administration would hold to their commitment to bargaining differently this round. Nevertheless, their tactics are consistent with those used bargaining previous contracts, when negotiations dragged on for more than a year. Not only have they so far refused to address the needs our members mandated us to meet, where they have offered improvements, they have done so in an attempt to divide our membership. They have tied deep cuts to Sessional Instructors’ rights to unspecified improvements for TAs, for example. Our committee has consistently rejected such divisive notions.

On 24 October, SFU Administration tabled a three-item package proposal. This “package” entirely removed Sessional Instructors’ access to rights to promotion (Article XIV.F.3) without offering a replacement, effectively returning long serving Sessionals to an endless cycle of four-month contracts. Our members made it clear before negotiations that this was an unacceptable situation, and we refuse to concede hard won promotion language without a suitable replacement. The other two items included paying Sessionals for Directed Studies courses, and compensation for Sessionals “invited” to participate in departmental governance, but neither gave sessionals any right to access this work. In practical terms, those proposals, if agreed to, would remove access to this work.

On 29 October, negotiating for language instructors in ELC/ITP, SFU Administration offered three proposals. One would define and possibly limit the work-year to 40 paid weeks for continuing instructors, most who currently work 48 weeks to make ends meet—TSSU argues for a 52-week year, reasoning that three months without access to pay is untenable.  Another sets out a scheduling procedure for the departments’ instructors, which asks both continuing and temporary instructors to commit in advance to a full year’s paid and unpaid months, that also proposes that “temporary” employees unable to provide such a plan would not be assigned hours. The Contract Committee stressed the contradiction in classifying instructors as temporary while simultaneously asking them to plan for a year of work in the department. The Employer has also proposed that “Special Assignments” that include curriculum development and substitution, which currently are part of scheduled workload, would be posted as separate as yet undefined positions.

While SFU Administration keep reiterating their desire to rely less on a precarious workforce, their proposals do nothing to limit the precarity or improve the working situations of Sessional or Temporary ELC/ITP instructors in any way.

Update #9: Negotiations for Graduate Facilitators continue; hopeful response from Admin on “No Harassment” proposal

Today’s bargaining session illustrated the benefits of involving informed decision-makers in negotiations. SFU Administration delivered a counter-proposal for Graduate Facilitators (GFs), TSSU’s newest members. While the contract committee is happy that SFU Administration is negotiating, unfortunately their proposal does not address the concerns that led Graduate Facilitators to unionize. Admin’s proposal:

  • requires facilitators to apply for their jobs each semester
  • maintains the hourly time-sheet system, leaving facilitators without predictable pay
  • expects untestable qualifications, some unnecessary to conduct the work
  • reduces the time a GF may remain in their position after graduation
  • refuses to recognize this work as teaching

With the Head of the Student Learning Commons and the Associate Dean of Libraries present for negotiations, TSSU explained the necessity of recognizing the crucial teaching work that facilitators deliver to SFU students. Administration responded with promises to reconsider their proposals in several areas, while TSSU also amended our GFs proposal in several areas, moving towards agreement.

SFU Administration responded positively to TSSU’s “No Harassment” proposal, which will increase Admin’s responsibility to protect members targeted by harassment, but Administration has yet to give definite agreement. We also signed an agreement to update union access to bulletin boards now that jobs are posted online, so more TSSU posters are coming to a board near you, soon!

These conversations will continue in September, as we have tentatively scheduled two bargaining dates for the 16th and 19th. Members are invited to attend; email tssu@tssu.ca to let us know you’re coming!

Update #6: Negotiations “Postponed” – Time to Mobilize!

June 18th’s bargaining session has been postponed by SFU Administration. Since bargaining was adjourned at noon on June 6th, two bargaining sessions in a row have been cancelled by SFU Administration with less than 72 hours notice. TSSU has already presented our proposals in detail, and we await responses and questions from SFU Administration; in the meantime, we need you to help us motivate Administration to bargain! Here are four things you can do to help over the next 10 days:

  1. June 18 mobilization day: Burnaby Campus AQ 5135 from 10am-5pm; on Surrey Campus in SUR 351 10am-4pm. If you can spare 30 minutes, drop by and talk about what’s going on and help inform other members!
  2. Power Building School: Thursday June 20, we have a series of workshops at Vancouver Campus HC 1315 9:30-5:00pm; register here https://forms.gle/C9bVXP5FyePvpowz6
  3. June 27 Bargaining: Come see negotiations in person! We’re in Surrey (SUR 2740) from 9:30-4:30pm, followed by the Stewards Meeting at 4:30 (SUR 5140)
  4. Schedule a department meet and greet: find a time and place, we’ll bring coffee and snacks; ask us about anything related to bargaining! Ask your steward(s) to help arrange a time or email contract@tssu.ca

On June 27, we’ll be back at the bargaining table to demand action on members’ five key priorities for this bargaining round:

  • equity in pay benefits, and conditions for our members; including fixing broken pay statements.
  • better support for instruction including paid training & class size limits;
  • job security for long-term teachers including a path to continuing faculty positions;
  • better work for students including addressing TA/TM overwork, removing equivalencies, ensuring time off for thesis/dissertation defenses, and obeying the Employment Standards Act;
  • strengthening our union by streamlining the grievance procedure and more.

The contract committee will continue to assert our members’ demands in negotiations with SFU Administration, but it is only through collective power that we’ll be able to improve our working conditions. Attend bargaining, hear other members’ needs, share this update; every action to build solidarity increases our strength at the bargaining table.

Update #5: 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 contract@tssu.ca

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 contract@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:

Wed & Thu, April 17 & 18
10am to 3pm
AQ 5009

*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 contract@tssu.ca for more information.


Your Contract Committee