This week nearly 1000 TSSU members, faculty, staff, and community allies shut down the Vancouver and Surrey campuses. The Employer again reacted to our impressive show of solidarity by sending misleading messages to our members and the SFU community. We will respond in more detail to some of their statements in the coming week. What follows is a summary of where we are in bargaining now.
In short, some minor items have been agreed, but the Employer is still demanding substantial cuts, and remains staunchly unwilling to address fundamental issues.
TSSU spoke to the Board of Governors meeting on Thursday in Surrey to highlight how dysfunctional SFU’s bargaining team had made the negotiation process with their constantly shifting excuses. As the TSSU speaker said, “The months that were wasted making these excuses was time that was wasted, and was time that could have been used on figuring out proposals so that we could put money into the pockets of our members so they do not have to starve while teaching”. Most of the Board listened intently, except for the VP People, Equity and Inclusion, Yabome Gilpin-Jackson who was on her phone and laptop ignoring our delegation as they spoke about our members being unable to pay food and rent. Afterwards, President Joy Johnson snuck out a back door of SFU Surrey, again unwilling to face the picket line that she crossed. The core issue as highlighted by TSSU’s delegation was “why does it take months to filter out the lies and excuses.”
- Minor changes to the Employment File and Discipline language to bring the articles into line with normal labour relations practice
- Minor updates to the workload review process and workload language for TAs
- Housekeeping (non-substantive) updates to the ELC/ITP Probation Period and Qualification Language
All of these agreements were signed off in May during the “expedited bargaining” process with the pressure of a deadline imposed on the Employer’s bargaining team.
Substantial progress has been made in two areas:
- An updated Article for Graduate Facilitators (GFs) who work in the Student Learning Commons and Media and Maker Commons, which is almost entirely agreed.
- Improvements in the Extended Health and Dental package, where the Employer has agreed to most of TSSU’s proposals, except for a few improvements to practitioner coverage.
Cuts still demanded by SFU
- Elimination of group plan for the International Student Health Fee and replacement with a more problematic reimbursement program
- Elimination of the ability for Sessional Instructors to work both as part-time Limited Term Faculty and Sessional Instructors simultaneously.
- Elimination of pay for ELC/ITP Instructors to attend meetings and professional development, forcing them to do that scheduled work for free
- Replacement of the per base unit scholarship portion of TA pay with a flat amount that would mean grad student TAs working more than 5 BUs would see dramatic cuts in pay: for example, a pay cut of 13% for a PhD TA working 10 BUs in a semester.
- Ensuring payment for increased class sizes for TAs and SIs, and appropriately compensating TAs for online, remote, hybrid and blended courses to preserve essential pieces of the Tutor-Marker Article, which is being eliminated.
- SFU Response: No, and to address these problems TSSU members must agree to pay for them from proposed wage increases.
- A pathway for long-term Sessional Instructors to Continuing Faculty positions that respects the Faculty Collective Agreement and process for hiring.
- SFU Response: No
- A guaranteed minimum funding of $32,000 as part of the GRADCOLA campaign for members in both Master’s and PhD programs.
- SFU Response: No. SFU claims that scholarships are an academic matter and outside of the scope of bargaining. This is despite their introducing a proposal on scholarship pay tied to academic achievement.
- Ensuring wage increases for grad student workers are not stolen back by reducing RA pay to retain funding offers
- SFU Response: No, saying that no policy exists that makes this happen and that individual faculty are just deciding to reduce pay
- Eliminating Equivalencies that pay TAs and Sessional Instructors less for the same work
- SFU Response: No to any change, but they proposed the same working group that was agreed in 2020 which has resulted in no progress over 3 years.
- A pension plan for ELC/ITP and Sessional Instructors
- SFU Response: No, with no reason offered. They offered a matching RRSP plan (up to 5%) that is paid for by cutting wage increases.
- Create a full teaching year for ELC/ITP Instructors, who currently teach in the classroom up to 48 weeks per year, without any ensured paid break for vacation beyond the scant one week intervals between terms, curriculum development, pro-D, meetings, or other accountable work for the departments.
- SFU Response: No, offered some planning of a year of work, but without building in vacation, the work needed to keep the program running, or any commitment to provide work in the case of enrolment decline, instead proposing that that necessary additional work no longer be paid work.
The PSEC Mandate
The SFU bargaining team continues to claim falsely that it has done all it can under the Public Sector Employers Council (PSEC) mandate. The PSEC mandate does not require cuts, yet SFU administration continues to demand them. SFU is not impeded from agreeing to compensation models for new types of work. In addition to the General Wage Increases (GWIs), five mechanisms can provide additional improvements within the mandate, but SFU has not agreed that any of them exist: wage comparability adjustments, lower wage redress adjustments, labour market adjustments, classification system changes, and grievance resolutions.
PSEC is illegitimate; it is a clear impediment to free and fair collective bargaining. Even if we accept the PSEC framework, there is much more SFU can do. They simply lack the will. For more see our fact check on PSEC, please see here.
Returning to Bargaining
Ultimately a deal will have to be reached through bargaining. SFU has only offered to bargain in spurts of 2 days per week, and without talking to TSSU have booked rooms through to the end of the semester. TSSU has reiterated time and time again that scheduling bargaining dates is not bargaining itself, and will not get us to a deal. Productive movement in bargaining that addresses the needs of our membership and the work that we are currently doing remains the only thing that will. That bargaining continues to be absent, and the only impediment remains the SFU administration’s bargaining team.
Progress will only be made through sustained bargaining within which SFU’s bargaining team has a mandate to bargain, and comes prepared with provable rationale for their statements at the table, and proposals grounded in that rationale with which to bargain. TSSU members have seen the spokesperson instead come time and time again to the table prepared to delay by repeating the same questions (for example, asking what TSSU means when we say “semesters”, the difference between a consultation and office hour, and about what a base unit is and how it is determined), and saying they cannot respond without consulting with others, despite their 15+ person bargaining team from all areas of the SFU community.
Real bargaining requires decision makers at the table or available during bargaining to make decisions and draft proposals and counter proposals in real time and on the fly. What we have now can only be characterized as intransigence, obfuscation, and willful delay.
Regardless, TSSU has agreed to meet SFU for another bargaining session no later than Wednesday, October 4th. Despite the bargaining dates being set, SFU has messaged in their recent bargaining update (dated October 2nd 2023), that TSSU has not agreed to return to the bargaining table. This is either a lie or another sign of the disconnect between SFU’s bargaining team and its administration. Regardless of SFU’s unwillingness to bargain meaningfully, we will reach a deal at the bargaining table thanks to the collective power of our membership. This collective power was on full display through the numerous days of picketing and will continue to be exercised until we get a fair deal.