Tentative Agreement Reached – Ratification Vote Now!

After a very hectic week, last night the TSSU general membership voted to send the tentative agreement that settles bargaining for TAs, TMs, SIs, GFs and ELC/ITP instructors to an online ratification vote. The vote will take place from March 27th (TODAY!) to March 30th. Members will receive a voting token sometime today, and if you do not by midday on Saturday, please check your mail filters, and then let the Trustees know at trustees@tssu.ca.

Details on Tentative Agreement

The Contract Committee has emailed a package, including both summary and all signing sheets. If you did not receive it please email tssu@tssu.ca. This agreement does not cover RAs, who will commence bargaining sometime in the near future.
These improvements were secured during our regular bargaining sessions over ~13 months, but also, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over an extraordinary accelerated bargaining process in late March 2020. Through the hard work of the Contract Committee, we were able to secure a tentative agreement on March 25, 2020, that includes all of the listed improvements. If not noted in the summary in the package, the language in the Collective Agreement likely features minimal changes or will remain the same as it currently is written. This is a tentative agreement and still requires ratification by the TSSU general membership and the SFU Board of Governors.
Despite the employer’s repeated attempts to take away rights such as sessional seniority from our Collective Agreement, we have maintained all of our rights and built upon them. We also achieved several processes through which we can negotiate with SFU after the ratification of the agreement and before we bargain our next agreement. This means we can achieve more improvements once the dust settles from this crisis, but we will need to be organized and prepared to pressure the SFU Administration to achieve those gains
We have set up three more drop-in sessions via bluejeans for you to ask more questions before you vote:
Thank you for standing with us through bargaining for the last 12 months. Through our collective power, we have continued to move our union forward, and through working together we will build the contract we need!


In Solidarity,
The TSSU Contract Committee

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.


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 #16: Bargaining takes off, but hits a roadblock

This week saw the most promising and effective bargaining session this round. Both sides started the day keen to get an agreement concerning the Graduate Facilitators. TSSU tabled a proposal in response to the Employer, and the first ninety minutes were spent in productive discussion and exchange of questions, particularly around the area of qualifications for the different GF teams.

The Employer took much of the day to caucus and to try to draft their own response, but here the cracks began to show: their lack of familiarity with the work and working conditions of the Graduate Facilitators introduced roadblocks. On several occasions, concerns and issues TSSU presented were met with denials and dismissals. For example, when TSSU mentioned that Graduate Facilitators need to design workshops and sometimes work on evenings or weekends, these points were flatly denied, and we were asked several times to provide the specific example of where an individual GF was obligated to have such an experience. 

Ultimately, the Union and the Administration moved much closer to agreement on the language for the GFs, and we did receive a revised position.

This morning, on December 12th, we were to move to discussing the University’s response on our proposals for Teaching Assistants. We proposed solutions on April 3rd that addressed our member’s critical issues around overwork, ever increasing class sizes, and the growth of mixed online and in-person teaching models. We still have not heard a full response. However, this bargaining session was abruptly cancelled by the Employer following unforeseen circumstances, so your Contract Committee retired to AQ for a workday.

Bargaining will resume in January.

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 #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 #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 #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!