Updates #18, #19, and #20: It’s time to mobilize! Anti-Harassment meets impasse

In February, the TSSU Contract Committee met with SFU Administration for three days of negotiations. The main focus of these bargaining sessions was the general articles which apply to all employees. Although we have reached agreement on a number of these articles, we have reached impasse or are close to impasse on a few of them. Further, on February 19th we received a counter-proposal from the Employer on our most recent position on Teaching Assistants and Tutor Markers. Once again, the Employer has failed to adequately address the concerns of our members critical issues around overwork, ever increasing class sizes, and the growth of mixed online and in-person teaching models. 

February’s update, in bullets: 

  1. Anti-Harassment meets impasse
  2. Our Academic Freedom proposal, for TAs, TMs, and GFs, is rejected by SFU Administration
  3. ELC/ITP management apologizes to instructors – but rejects employment equity
  4. TSSU and SFU Administration form a Professional Development working group
  5. Grievance Procedure Changes: SFU Administration wants employees to attend informal problem solves 
  6. SFU Administration presents their counter-proposal to Teaching Assistants, and continues to ignore power imbalances and workload issues

1. Anti-Harassment

The remaining disagreement on our Article 9, No Discrimination and No Harassment, is over a single phrase: “where circumstances warrant.” This phrase has been used to keep victims of harassment in workplace relationships with the person harassing them because it effectively allows SFU Administration to decide when a claim of harassment is important enough. It is not up to a department manager or chair to decide such matters on the spot, and TSSU wants this phrase gone from our contract. Those who experience harassment deserve safety in their workplace, and separation from those harassing them; this is not complicated, as occasional transfers and substitutions for work are a regular part of University operations. 

The change to this proposal would allow those being harassed to be separated from the harasser while their complaint is being investigated. This is a basic health and safety protection that will improve SFU, and SFU Administration has refused it: they want to decide when and where such action is appropriate. In their defense of this position, SFU Administration cited that a university wide dialogue around harassment is taking place, and that language around harassment doesn’t need to be included in each collective agreement.  

In response, TSSU’s Anti-Harassment Committee met on March 4th – with Contract, Member Mobilization, Solidarity and Social Justice, and Occupational Health and Safety in attendance – to discuss next steps. Watch for us to push back against this oppressive position; help us protect each other! 

It’s time to mobilize! Since we have reached impasse on Anti-Harassment, we are in the process of beginning a campaign to push SFU to meet our demands. To get involved, contact: tssu@tssu.ca or attend a weekly Membership Mobilization Committee meeting where we will be working on producing campaign materials and door knocking on this issue, contact: mmc_commissioner@tssu.ca

2. Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is critical for our members as it ensures “the freedom to examine, question, teach and learn, and it involves the right to investigate, speculate and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University, Association and society at large.” [1]

TSSU has proposed Academic Freedom language for our members – it has been directly copied from the current SFU policy for faculty – who argue that all community members have academic freedom already but will offer more security for our members if the language is in the Collective Agreement. SFU Administration explained their opposition to this proposal: according to SFU Administration, they see the need to include the language for ELC/ITP Instructors and Sessional Instructors since they are “academic staff,” but for TAs/TMs and GFs their academic freedom is fettered by their course supervisors. They also discouraged TSSU from “cherry picking rights and freedoms” from established SFU policy. They’ve insisted that we don’t need language in the contract because we have the right already – which seems a strange reason to reject a proposal, since SFU policy is controlled by the Board of Governors and can be changed without union consent. TAs, TMs, and GFs are a critical part of the academic teaching team at SFU and they deserve to be respected by including Academic Freedom rights into the Collective Agreement. 

[1] https://www.sfufa.ca/agreements-and-policies/quick-answers/collective-bargaining/ 

3. ELC/ITP – Email – Retraction

TSSU’s contract committee has proposed that all ELC/ITP instructors receive benefits, regardless of temporary or continuing status. Currently, temporary instructors are denied basic benefits such as paid sick days, despite the fact that half of the instructors are “temporary” and many have worked at SFU for *3 or more years*. To make the inequity more obvious, SFU Administrators and clerical staff in the department all *have these benefits*. This is not equity in the workplace and must be fixed. TSSU wants to end the two-tier system where pay and benefits are based on an arbitrary classification system and ensure  ELC/ITP instructors receive benefits comparable to the rest of the workers in the program. 

SFU Administration has said they plan to provide job security for instructors, but their proposals do not reflect this – instead, they ask temporary workers to commit to a year-long schedule without any improvement in their conditions of work. As the ELC/ITP instructors on our committee have said repeatedly, SFU Administration’s proposal expects a commitment from precarious workers and gives nothing in return; it should be providing support for teachers.

This situation got thorny at the end of January, when SFU Administration contacted ELC/ITP instructors and asked them to provide scheduling information for the next year, rather than a single semester (as is current practice). SFU Administration did not fulfill their obligation to consult the union. This email was not only distributed to continuing instructors, but also those labelled “temporary,” those same employees that SFU Administration refuses to provide health and leave benefits, or pay increases over years of service, or job security. Considering that SFU Administration has not altered their position on ELC/ITP in months — this is deeply inflammatory to negotiations — with the potential to mislead members, who might think a deal was in process or had been reached. In negotiations on February 13th, SFU Administration promised to retract this email which they followed through on and expressed a desire to collaborate and develop a scheduling process with TSSU; we commit to ensure this process is based on respect for instructors’ lives, both in and outside work.

4. Professional Development Working Group Formed

Because of the complexity of creating a paid training, orientation, and ongoing professional development program, and securing university funding for such an initiative, SFU Administration proposed that TSSU join them in a working group to explore the potential for our proposals to work within existing SFU initiatives. TSSU has not seen such “working groups” help change our workplace – past participation has yielded no significant results. However, in the interest of potentially moving negotiations forward, we have decided to participate in this “working group.” 

Get in touch with us if you are interested in joining this working group! Contact: contract@tssu.ca for further information!

5. Grievance Procedure Changes

SFU Administration has proposed changes to the Grievance Procedure; changes that the TSSU will never agree to. SFU Administration is arguing that employees must be present at informal problem solving meetings (and the Union may also attend); limiting the union’s capacity to solve informal problems on behalf of their members. The vast majority of the grievances that TSSU receives are solved at this stage, without the employee present. In most cases, the employee asks the union to try and solve the issue on their behalf – they don’t want to be part of the process at this stage due to complicated relationships between their supervisors and academic departments. Often the Member Advocate or one of the Chief Stewards will speak to the department chair or department manager and will resolve the issue. 

SFU Administration is arguing that our Collective Agreement is “too complex” for professors and department managers to understand, and wants to stop them from solving problems with the union. In practice, it has been the department who is best suited to solve many problems compared to Deans or Human Resources, because they have local knowledge, and can find better solutions. 

Such a change will have a detrimental effect on our members. The result will be a reduction in the number of informal problem solves by suppressing members from coming forward with grievances. This change will impede TSSU’s ability to solve problems, reinforce the power imbalance between employees and course supervisors, and will give more power to Deans and Human Resources.

6. TAs: SFU Administration continues to ignore power imbalances and workload issues

The Contract Committee voiced our concerns at the bargaining table on a number of issues with SFU Administrations most recent counter-proposal on TAs. SFU Administration continues to deny that a power imbalance exists between TAs and their employers, or graduate students and their academic departments.

SFU Administration has provided an unacceptable counter-proposal to TSSU’s proposal to include language around Head TAs – TAs who provide mentoring and/assistance to other TAs for a course. SFU Administration proposes to expand the definition to allow Head TAs to be assigned across a ‘group of related courses’ and to have their pay calculated on an hourly basis, rather than as a salary. Having a Head TA assigned to a group of related courses raises a number of concerns (e.g., What counts as a related course? Could these courses be taught by different Supervisors? Would there be additional preparation time?). These workload concerns are compounded by refusing to assign base units to Head TA duties, as all other TAs, but hours. A key demand of our members is to protect and improve the base unit (BU) system, which links salary to classroom time or number of students, both of which can be objectively measured. In a University system plagued by power imbalances, the BU system helps to protect against overwork. At the table, SFU Administration argued that departments require “flexibility” in assigning duties to Head TAs – they want to “avoid a fixed assignment of base units.”

Access to work is a key issue we are trying to protect in this round of bargaining for Tutor Markers (TM). Since 2019, SFU began transitioning distance education credit courses from the Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) to faculties. SFU has been using this transition as an excuse to violate the collective agreement, and has been assigning TAs — in some cases without preparation time — to distance education credit courses. Distance education credit courses are taught by TMs and compensated based on the number of registered students, regardless of who administers the course, and this is a right to work and compensation that TMs have had since the very first TSSU collective agreement signed in 1980. TSSU’s proposal on TAs seeks to address these changes by creating a unified compensation system which deals with distance education, in person, and blended courses each as a different style of teaching support staff work but deserving of the same underlying compensation. As students and number of hours of classroom contact increase, pay and associated workload both increase. 

Further, SFU Administration has refused to include language in the collective agreement on blended courses, and has instead proposed a Letter of Agreement (LOA) that essentially pays TAs in blended courses less than TAs in classroom based courses and TMs in online course by again turning to an hourly pay model. Mixing modes of delivery tends to lead to more work, and it is ridiculous that the University would propose to pay these workers less. Increasingly, distance education courses are being offered with in-person components. The LOA proposed by SFU Administration includes the creation of a joint Transition Workload Review Committee which would monitor compensation and workloads for blended courses. Teaching Assistants could file requests for the committee to review their workload (but only after they have gone through the current workload review process outlined in the collective agreement, a process that is clearly broken). The joint committee has no real authority since it can only make recommendations to Departments and it has no resources to provide additional compensation to Teaching Assistants.   

Upcoming Bargaining Dates
Please join us in bargaining! 

  • Thursday, March 26th from 9:30am-12:30pm, SFU Surrey (room TBD)
  • Tuesday, March 31st from 2pm-5pm, SFU Burnaby (room TBD)
  • Wednesday, April 1st from 1pm-5pm, SFU Burnaby (room TBD) 

If you have questions about bargaining, email your committee: contract@tssu.ca

Update #17: News from Negotiations

The News is Bad, the News is Good: 

TSSU’s Contract Committee reporting! In this post you’ll find a bullet-point breakdown of the good and bad news from our most recent bargaining session, then a summary of the day, and detailed info on TSSU proposals. First, though, help spread the word: we’ve secured MSP for International Students! Thanks to our members’ tireless efforts and faculty and community support, we’ve pushed SFU Administration back to fulfilling their promises. Thanks to everyone who helped to protect our health!

Here’s a quick summary of the subset of issues we discussed on January 27, and what TSSU is asking on these issues:

  1. Codify *Academic Freedom* for all TSSU members; 
  2. Guarantee *four (4) days paid time off* around thesis defense and time off for degree-qualifying exams;
  3. Build a stable workplace for Graduate Facilitators and protect their autonomy;
  4. Share the *data* about our work and our members that SFU Administration collects;
  5. Provide space at *all* SFU campuses for us to share with other Unions and employee groups;
  6. Post all jobs on a regular schedule, and include an estimated workload so we can plan our lives and a system for notifying our members when work is available;
  7. Create a separation student evaluations and hiring decisions, and only use student evaluation as a feedback for teachers to use to improve our teaching;

After 9 months of negotiations, SFU Administration has finally offered serious responses on these key issues, but the news isn’t all good.  On Monday, 27 January 2020, we received counter-proposals. SFU Administration’s responses would, if accepted:

  1. Codify Academic Freedom for Sessionals and ELC/ITP instructors;
  2. Guarantee *two (2) days* off work for thesis defense and time off for qualifying exams, if authorized by department chairs; and
  3. Provide some of the data about our work, and “endeavor” to provide us offices.

This isn’t all we want, but it’s movement toward agreement on these issues. However, the good moves were tempered by other offers, ones which are not so nice:

  1. Exclude TAs, GFs, and TMs from Academic Freedom protections;
  2. Make GF work in the Student Learning Commons more precarious;
  3. Reduce the priority of GFs who take time off for their studies;
  4. Continue posting jobs without workload estimates;
  5. Do not notify out-of-work GFs when there are new jobs;
  6. Keep the timesheet model for some GF Pay, rather than a salary model (like all other teaching positions at the University); 
  7. No regular date for Sessional Instructor postings;
  8. Use student evaluations to gauge employee performance (but not alone).

Other updates: SFU Administration has yet to withdraw their proposal to gut Sessional Instructor job security, and we have yet to discuss pay and benefits.

Brief Summary of the Day:

The day began with the Union presenting the fourth position for the article on Graduate Facilitators. While there has been some progress on attaining rights for Graduate Facilitators, SFU Administration is still insisting that GFs are to be paid hourly with timesheets rather than through a salary system (as all other teaching staff at SFU are paid). SFU Administration agreed to consider our proposal and reply, so part of their committee spent the rest of the day in caucus to work on a response. 

Next, we presented a revised position on Teaching Assistants and Tutor Markers, which proposes a merger of the two job categories while moving closer to SFU Administration’s position on a few issues. The Union is waiting for a detailed response from SFU Administration; they were planning to offer a counter-proposal Monday, but have delayed it until they consider our revised offer. If you’re a TA or TM, you’ll want to watch the next session.

Details

The bad news comes first, in four parts:

1) SFU Administration doesn’t want TAs, GFs, or TMs to have Academic Freedom protection in our Collective Agreement, and they’re doing it by defining “academic staff” as Sessional Instructors and ELC/ITP instructors *only*. In effect, this would put a large portion of our membership in a more precarious position in their classrooms because it doesn’t provide protection through the Collective Agreement. We need to stand together and oppose this attempt to divide our union: all TSSU members deserve to have Academic Freedom — the basis for members of the University community to examine, question, and criticize society and the University — protected in the Collective Agreement. Interpreting “academic staff” to exclude hundreds of teachers from this protection shows SFU Administration’s attitude toward teaching and teachers: we’re a class below academics.

2) There’s an offer on the table for Graduate Facilitators, and while it lines up with member goals in some ways, SFU Administration’s proposal leaves GFs without job security and would pay them by request via timesheets, rather than a regular salary (something other teachers at SFU don’t have to do). Their proposal ties keeping your job to evaluation of your performance as a GF, but doesn’t define exactly what criteria can be used to measure your performance. We’ve seen how these systems can be abused to target specific workers. The icing on this particular cake is that if a GF takes time off work for their studies, there’s no guarantee they’ll have a job when they return. 

3) Administration rejected our proposals for a common posting date and more notice for Sessional Instructor jobs. Negotiations continue.

4) SFU Administration continues to maintain the current situation with regards to student evaluations. This is despite quoting the findings of a recent arbitration decision in Ontario that specifically outlines the problems with practices which are similar to practices at SFU.

But there’s good news, too. In Academic Decisions (Article 12), TSSU’s proposal for four (4) days off around thesis defense and time off before a “degree-qualifying exam” would be a new right for student-workers in our CA. SFU Administration countered with two (2) days for thesis defense and each day off for qualifying exams, but only if the Chair approves. We hope this will help members align their work and studies, and their counter-proposal is a show of progress towards a new collective agreement. They have, however, included a “no cost” clause, which means other TAs will probably end up substituting on these days. The other piece of good news comes from SFU Administration’s attitude toward TSSU; they’ve offered to “endeavour” to keep TSSU on Burnaby, Vancouver, and Surrey campuses by providing office space, but no promises. And they’re not going to give us much notice before eviction. If we take this deal, we might need to organize a union moving party on short notice, so start saving boxes.

Our members’ demonstration of their resolve through the MSP campaign and RA organizing drive have begun to move Admin at the bargaining table. To help keep up the pressure and get the contract we need, come to a union meeting, get involved with the Membership Mobilization Committee, or have us visit your club, group, caucus, or department. We’re reachable via tssu@tssu.ca or in the office(s)!

In solidarity,

Contract Committee

Update #10 and #11: Levelling the power imbalance between employers and employees

Monday, September 16, 2019 & Thursday, September 19, 2019

This week’s negotiations focused on Teaching Assistants, more than 1,000 teachers who deliver laboratory, tutorial, workshop, and studio instruction at SFU every semester. TSSU had previously presented our proposals for TAs multiple times, including a detailed explanation May 14th, but this week SFU Administration brought their counter-offers to the union. In total, their proposals dramatically undermine the pay structure for Teaching Assistants at SFU, cut financial support for graduate students, and show little appreciation of the power imbalance that exists between TAs and their employers, or graduate students and their academic departments. SFU Administration also said no to TSSU’s proposals to address TA overwork, ensure a fair compensation system, and improve the transparency of the hiring process, among others. We ask members to attend our next General Meeting on Tuesday, Sept 24, 11:30-1:30 pm in the SFSS Forum Chambers (MBC 2901) on Burnaby Campus for further information, or to ask any questions they may have about bargaining.


The proposals brought forward by SFU Administration on Monday:

  1. Cut TA pay for appointments with fewer than 13 weeks of teaching— after pushback from TSSU on September 16, on September 19 this proposal was withdrawn;
  2. Decrease graduate student priority for TA work by 20%;
  3. Allow appointment cancellation 3 weeks into the semester, with negligible compensation;
  4. Assign TAs additional work to mentor other TAs without increasing compensation.
  5. For Sessionals, Administration also proposed allowing courses to be cancelled up until the end of week 3 with minimal compensation. 

The negotiating team of Human Resources continues to lack an understanding of the everyday working conditions of teachers in TSSU. Monday, for example, the SFU Administration insisted that a TA substituting for a lecture required no time to prepare and that TAs have the responsibility to be vocal when asked to perform an excessive workload. When pressed by TSSU to explain the reasoning for such sweeping changes to TA pay, SFU Administration claimed that, in some cases, they did not “intend” to decrease compensation, while in other sections of the contract they suggested that decreases in compensation would be offset by gains in other areas. Our membership has been clear that a “net-zero”  bargaining environment is unacceptable and that we need real improvements in our working conditions. 

TSSU has proposed to improve TA work by:

  1. Ensuring that increased class sizes come with more hours of work and pay;
  2. Mandating the University to provide training and support;
  3. Increasing the available hours for laboratory and other appointments where overwork is a systemic issue;
  4. Compensating for overwork without requiring TAs to appeal to their departments;
  5. Creating a right to time free from work around thesis defences; 
  6.  Reserving time in contracts to attend lectures and respond to student email;
  7.  Excluding exam creation from TA duties;
  8.  Compensating TAs who prepare and deliver lectures;
  9.  Regulating departmental priority systems that determine access to TA work; 
  10. Allowing TAs to turn down substitution duties within a course; and
  11. Ensuring appointments to hybrid, flex and blended classrooms are paid on a comparable basis to other appointments with student contact.

Hundreds of members had input on our proposals through a detailed consultation and approval process, culminating in a unanimous vote at a general meeting in February 2019. We believe that strong membership involvement in bargaining will give us the best chance to reach a fair collective agreement. SFU Administration has yet to propose solutions to, or often even to acknowledge the existence of, the problems facing TAs, but our membership is committed to achieving real improvements in our working conditions, as we did through collective bargaining in 2012 and 2015.

Update #8: Graduate Facilitators gain temporary healthcare and tuition deferment for fall semester; “flexibility” causes tension in ELC/ITP negotiations

July 26, 2019 – Harbour Centre

Less than two months after joining TSSU, the Student Learning Commons Graduate Facilitators have access to temporary healthcare and tuition deferment for the fall semester! TSSU’s contract committee also presented contract language for our newest members, and discussed SFU Administration’s proposal for the English Language and Culture and Interpretation and Translation Programs (ELC/ITP). SFU Administration has not yet explained the contradictory financial reports they provided for the ELC/ITP programs, but negotiations are set to continue on August 22nd in Saywell Hall 10051 (Burnaby campus). 

Graduate Facilitators: now with tuition deferment and extended healthcare 

At the outset of the session, SFU Administration agreed to provide Graduate Facilitators with tuition deferment – like other student members of TSSU – and access to group health benefits. While healthcare costs will not be paid by SFU Administration, this temporary agreement provides short-term access to extended medical coverage for members who need it. This agreement was made without prejudice – meaning that it cannot be referred to in other legal matters – and at no cost to the University, after sustained pressure from TSSU members. 

TSSU also tabled our first proposals for graduate facilitators; our proposal maintains the salary system that pays most (but not all) facilitators, removes the timesheet system that facilitators in the Back on Track program have rightfully criticized, and provides benefits in line with other TSSU members. In this session, SFU Administration’s bargaining team was pared down to its members from Human Resources and ELC/ITP; the Head of the Student Learning Commons was unable to attend to hear our first proposals for the Graduate Facilitators.

TSSU welcomes workers who seek the protections and equalization of power which collective bargaining brings, in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Student Learning Commons Graduate Facilitators joined the union in June, 2019 only the second certification since December 3, 2004, when, in the middle of a contentious round of bargaining, the teachers in ELC/ITP voted to join the union. 

ELC/ITP and the problem of “flexibility” 

SFU Administration characterized the precarity and job insecurity of temporary and part-time instructors in ELC/ITP as “flexibility that both sides have been enjoying.” Members in attendance were unimpressed to hear SFU Administration argue that the lack of job security in ELC/ITP was a result of instructors “wanting” too much “flexibility.” SFU Administration stated in bargaining that they aim to limit this “flexibility” with “rigidity”: their proposal would require ELC/ITP instructors to commit to a set number of hours of work, while amending the classification system so “continuing” teachers would be reclassified as “temporary” if their hours of work decrease – and thus lose access to benefits. 

ELC/ITP members in attendance immediately understood the negative implications of the proposal, wondering why teachers should commit to an institution that will not provide basic stability or benefits to their teachers. The advantage of having members in the room with direct experience was immediately apparent, as Sessionals in attendance were also critical of the proposal in light of their own experiences with precarious work at SFU.

TSSU members are encouraged to attend and participate in bargaining; as an independent, feminist, non-hierarchical, and directly democratic union, our power depends on our members’ involvement. For more information on bargaining, visit a TSSU office near you – proposals are available for members! We’re in Burnaby at AQ 5129, Vancouver near the ELC/ITP program at UM134, and in Surrey across the hall from the library. Email contract@tssu.ca to set a time that works for you, or have us come speak to your department, caucus, lab, or club about negotiations!

Update #7 SFU Administration explains delay in negotiations:

On June 27, 2019, over thirty members of TSSU joined the Contract Committee at SFU Surrey for negotiations with SFU Administration. Responding to TSSU’s observation that negotiations have been going three months with little progress, SFU Administration argued that our proposals require extensive research and consultation. Citing their workload as cause for delay, SFU Administration continues to stall negotiations. 

SFU Administration’s lack of action delays improvements in our working conditions and our students’ learning conditions. TSSU has now presented our proposals twice; Administration has been made aware of our members’ needs, and we have proposed ways to solve the problems our new contract must address:

  • TAs are working without pay because contracts contain too little time for preparation and training: in our last membership survey, 48% of TAs reported that they worked over their hours without compensation;
  • Sessional Instructors are “always temporary,” are not compensated for numerous aspects of their work, including new course development and directed studies supervision, and new instructors receive little to no mentorship or training;
  • More than half of the instructors in the ELC/ITP programs are “temporary,” despite years of service at SFU; they receive no sick leave nor other benefits, nor step increases in pay.

SFU Administration has promised to make counter-proposals that address our members’ issues, but has yet to deliver. We also await responses to several questions, including some involving discrepancies in budgetary data provided by SFU Administration to the Union. Two bargaining dates remain before Fall classes start: July 26 at Harbour Centre in Vancouver, and August 22 in Burnaby. 

When asked about past freezes, including the last round of bargaining in which SFU Administration blocked improved benefits for ELC/ITP instructors, Administration admitted that they had the money, but that their hands were tied by the Provincial Government Mandate. We know, though, that similar workers at UBC have received substantive improvements in the past, under the same mandate. After years of freezes, the new Provincial Government Mandate allows for “conditional and modest funding that can be used to drive tangible service improvements.” 

During June, TSSU also took part in the Provincial Government Budget Process,  to try to deal with the employer’s current allocation of resources, outlining how we need the government to mandate changes in three areas: precarity, housing, and tuition. The high costs of precarious work and housing, from working sick to declining mental health, are borne by workers, students and the public healthcare budget, and the government has the power to ameliorate the situation by mandating increases in continuing positions over temporary ones, allotting more student housing, and freezing tuition.

This was the sixth negotiating session, after the previous two sessions were cancelled by SFU Administration. We are bargaining downtown at the Vancouver Harbour Centre Campus on July 26th; the agenda includes proposals for the English Language and Culture, and Interpretation and Translation program instructors, and fresh proposals integrating rights and working conditions of our newest members, facilitators in the Student Learning Commons, into the Collective Agreement.

 To attend all or part of the day, email tssu@tssu.ca or call the office at (778) 782 4735.

Update #4: 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 contract@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.