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 #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 #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