Updated September 1, 2023
As part of the TSSU strike, all TAs and Sessional Instructors are expected to conduct at least one 10-minute teach-in in first your tutorial, lecture, studio, or lab between September 5-15. This includes talking about our working conditions, explaining how bargaining for a contract has been going, striking, the importance of respecting picket lines, and more.
This guide is a general overview of things you can talk about with students and is meant to give you ideas for the teach-in. We recommend personalizing and customizing the template as much as possible as they pertain to you and your department.
1.1 What is TSSU?
TSSU is a labour union. [Does anyone know what a labour union is?]
A labour union is an association of workers that comes together to advocate for their rights and improve working conditions like wages and workload. Labour unions are a vehicle for democracy in the workplace: they give workers a voice and some control over the conditions of their employment.They are one of the oldest and most effective forms of labour organizing: the first modern labour unions formed in the 1700s and became widespread with the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The basic principle is that, individually, workers can be taken advantage of when they negotiate with their employer one on one, but when they join together like in labour unions, they have the ability to put pressure on their employer for better working conditions. Labour unions fought for things like the right to a weekend, maternity leave, and a minimum wage.
1.2 Who is TSSU?
TSSU is the Teaching Support Staff Union. We are teaching and research workers, we lead your tutorials and labs, teach your lectures, and support you both inside and outside of the classroom. We are your first and main point of contact when it comes to coursework, and we do our best to provide you with the best learning experience. However, the reality of our working conditions: namely a high workload for a small amount of pay, is making this increasingly difficult.
1.3 What does TSSU do?
TSSU advocates for non-faculty teaching and research workers. We ensure the rights, benefits, and protections enshrined in a contract between SFU and TSSU, called a Collective Agreement, are protected. One of the most important things that TSSU does is bargain this contract with the Employer in a process called collective bargaining. Through collective bargaining, TSSU is able to fight for better wages, benefits, and protections for its members—the workers who do the majority of teaching at SFU.
1.4 What is a strike?
When an Employer will not propose a contract that would meet the needs of workers, workers have a legal right to strike. [What is a strike?] A strike is a legally protected, collective action that workers take in order to pressure their employer to meet their needs—like paying them enough so that they can afford rent and groceries. In Canada, all workers have the right to strike, per the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Workers who are in labour unions have additional rights to strike under the Labour Relations Code like protection from retaliation. The first general strike in Canada took place in Vancouver in 1918. Strikes often take the form of a picket line. [Does anybody know what that is?] Picket lines look like a protest, but they’re not just a protest. They are a legally protected refusal to work. Union members on a picket line are collectively refusing to do work to demonstrate how critical we are to the Employer’s functioning. On their own, individual workers have almost no power compared to a huge, wealthy employer like SFU, but when they join together, workers have more power collectively. Strikes and picket lines are a longstanding, historically proven method for workers to make the conditions of their employment better. Withdrawing our labour is workers’ greatest power; striking and picket lines is the form that most often takes.
2.0 Discussing Working Conditions and Concerns (personalize this if you can!)
2.1 Working conditions
- The number of tutorials, labs or lectures you hold and how much time you spend / will spend preparing; how many students you have; overwork you may experience, balancing between work and studies (if you are doing a degree).
- TAs and Sessional Instructors, on average, make about $17/hour after SFU takes tuition fees off the top. If you feel comfortable, share how much take-home pay you make after you pay tuition in a given semester (if you are doing a degree). If you have / will have trouble paying the bills on this wage, feel free to discuss.
- Your precarity, such as having to reapply for positions each term, and how it affects you.
2.2 Bargaining terms and conditions of employment
- What TSSU is fighting for:
- Higher wages that are tied to inflation and better benefits including increasing mental health coverage to $2500/year
- TAs: compensate all forms of student contact, link pay to class size, and resolve equivalencies: currently some labs / tutorials are paid half the rate of other labs / tutorials. TSSU has been working on eliminating these equivalencies for decades.
- SIs: improve compensation to address overwork caused by new modes of teaching and increasing class sizes; reduce the burden of constantly applying; create access to funded pro-D; protect the existing right to an earned Limited Term Lecturer (LTL) offer, & enroll instructors in the College Sector Pension Plan
- ELC/ITP/ITA Instructors: move to a full-year model where instructors teach 40 weeks, and the remainder is curriculum development, admin, vacation, etc.
- Concessions SFU Labour Relations wants TSSU to take:
- Eliminate group enrollment for International Student Health Fee coverage and replacing it with an individual reimbursement process
- SIs: Effectively Eliminate seniority; eliminate earned right to promotion to LTL
- TAs: eliminate the scholarship portion for TAs (reducing take home pay by increasing our tax burden), weaken priority and access to work
- ELC/ITP/ITA Instructors: remove additional pay for scheduled meetings & pro-d
2.3 What this has to do with our students:
- Our working conditions are your learning conditions. SIs and TAs that aren’t overworked, stressed and underpaid can focus more on being excellent educators.
- The university continues to funnel money upwards towards administration on the backs of both students and workers.
- University administration has called for a 2% tuition increase but we have not seen an increase in pay since May 2021
- The share of the budget that SFU spends on paying TSSU members has decreased from 5% to 4% over the last decade
- SFU had surpluses totalling $205 million since 2020. Where did this money go and why are they not using it address the cost of living crisis through higher wages or tuition reductions?
- “We want to teach and support you but it’s almost impossible to do so when we are overwhelmed by work and constantly stressed about our futures, especially as inflation rapidly increases. We are overwhelmed and stressed about our constant economic instability–and we know you are too. As the academia and the workforce become more competitive and as the lower mainland becomes increasingly expensive we need more support, not less. This applies to both undergraduate and graduate students. This is why we need to work and stand together. We are not going on strike because we don’t want to work, we’re going on strike because we cannot keep working in these conditions.”
3.0 Strike and what it entails
“When you’re a member of a union, you collectively bargain for a contract. Elected representatives from the union meet with the employer to discuss the needs and demands of union members with the goal of reaching a fairer and better contract.”
3.2 Going on strike
“Bargaining can break down in situations where the employer refuses to meet even the most basic of the Union’s demands. In our case, the university is demanding cutbacks on some of the rights and benefits we already have in exchange for wage increases that don’t even keep up with inflation. If no agreement can be reached through bargaining, unions have the right to hold a strike vote and go on strike. Our vote had 91% yes. Going on strike means we can collectively withhold our work to demonstrate its value. When a union is on strike, members participate in job actions, like this one, to raise awareness about workers’ needs and concerns.”
3.3 Picketing and university policy on the right to respect a picket line without retaliation “Another common strike action is forming a picket line. When a union pickets their workplace, they surround a building and refuse the work they would normally be doing inside. As an SFU community member, you have the right to support workers by not crossing their picket lines. You can join the picket line in support, which is needed to win this strike! Crossing a picket line undermines our collective power and dampens our ability to get a fair deal from the university. SFU Senate has passed motions going back decades which allow students to respect picket lines, making alternative arrangements with their professors or department to complete coursework”
“Specific strike actions and escalation of strike actions will be decided depending on the university’s willingness to bargain, and mitigating harm to students as much as possible while maximizing the effect on the administration is on the top of our minds as Union members.”
4.0 How to support
4.1 Student Support
Explain to your students that we need their support to get a contract. Let them know not to cross the picket line. Encourage them to connect their own experiences and struggles with SFU to those of TSSU members and yourself as their TA.
“We need your support to get through this. We all deserve better conditions in our education and our work and the only way we can get them is if we work together and don’t give in to pressure from the university. If you scan this QR code you can send a message of support to the university president and let her know that it’s time for the university to bargain in good faith and let them know about any struggles you have had as a student at this university.”
4.2 Resources for more information and how to support [ask students to take some tangible action to help TSSU members get to fair deal soon]
- Email email@example.com with any questions or concerns
- Visit support.tssu.ca to see our calendar of community events along with updates about bargaining and the strike more broadly
- Wear a “I <3 my TA” button and talk to your classmates and friends about the conditions your instructors are facing and how to support the strike!
- Scan this QR code to send an email to the University administration in support of your instructors
SFU senate has previously passed motions protecting the right of students to make alternative arrangements to complete coursework in the event they refuse to cross a picket line. Putting the responsibility to make arrangements on students, rather providing accommodation directly, is another terrible choice made by SFU’s administration — the same people TSSU bargains with. Other Universities have better systems to support students and SFU should too!
5.0 Canvas Posting
5.1 Message and Short Script
For those teaching online, the below intro can also be used as the placeholder on canvas. Personalizing your message outlining your own working conditions is encouraged.
The TSSU is on strike and members, including TAs and Sessional Instructors, are taking a range of strike actions. Our contract expired over a year ago and our working conditions continue to deteriorate.
We’re being expected to do more work, whether it be bigger classes or blended courses, while the portion of the budget going towards us has shrunk from 5% in 2012 to 4% in 2022. SFU continues to have huge budget surpluses and will not put that to use by supporting those who do the bulk of the front-line teaching and research at SFU.
Many of us are graduate students, we are fighting for better compensation and cost of living adjustments, better health benefits and pensions for instructors. Our end goal is a more just and fair university for everyone, students and workers alike.
As students, you may already be a TSSU member, or may become one in the future. Our working conditions are ultimately your learning conditions. As students, SFU senate has previously passed motions protecting your right to make alternative arrangements in the event you refuse to cross a picket line. You can find out how to support the strike at support.tssu.ca.
Feel free to also show your students the following video.
<iframe src="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jBXf-Cm0bmPOM5wHaHGeXONcL6qgPq-x/preview" width="640" height="480" allow="autoplay"></iframe>