We met with the SFU Administration today for the first session of negotiations for the first Collective Agreement for Research Assistants and Grant Employees (RAs). Our Contract Committee delivered a comprehensive eleven page proposal written from the direction of extensive consultation sessions and surveys with RAs at SFU. Our proposal presented today focuses on the priority themes of:
- maintaining a broad definition;
- providing transparency;
- protecting against key inequities;
- building a fair wage and benefit system; and
- extending existing TSSU Collective Agreement rights and benefits to RAs.
We are glad that we are finally at the bargaining table after SFU Administration’s 10 month delay. Under the Voluntary Recognition Agreement signed between TSSU and SFU in November 2019, a hard date for commencing bargaining was set for May 2020.
SFU, a multi-million dollar “world-leading” research institution, owes a debt of respect, a debt of gratitude, and a debt of dollars, to the thousands of RAs that continue to make research possible here.
In addition to unilaterally delaying bargaining, SFU Administration has failed to live up to its responsibilities under the Voluntary Recognition Agreement. SFU Administration’s actions have been denounced by the TSSU General Membership, Simon Fraser Student Society, the Graduate Student Society, and the Vancouver and District Labour Council.
SFU, in November 2019, under the leadership of the VP Academic at the time, Jon Driver, agreed in writing to voluntarily recognize the TSSU as the bargaining agent for RAs. Unfortunately, since that date, and prior to bargaining, SFU Administration has consistently attempted to walk back the definition of who is included as an RA—arguing that work-study and scholarship RAs should be barred from representation by the TSSU, even though they are explicitly included in the appendix of the Voluntary Recognition Agreement.
The Administration presented its proposal, a sparse two page document which lacked detail. The bulk of the proposal centered on a narrow definition of research work, a definition that our committee felt could easily be interpreted to exclude arts and social sciences research. Their proposal concluded with a list of existing rights from the current SFU/TSSU Collective Agreement that would also apply to RAs, and a declaration that the laws of British Columbia also apply to RAs.
We can only suggest that the brevity, lack of specificity, and presence of errors in the SFU Administration’s proposal highlights, in their words, their challenge with the “complexity” of the issue at hand. We expressed our disappointment at the Administrator’s lack of ability to prepare even a modestly comprehensive proposal after, at their own recognition, more than 3 years of the Research Personnel Initiative and 15 months since signing of the Voluntary Recognition Agreement.
Despite this ongoing pattern of delays, avoidance and a lackluster proposal on the part of the Administration, we are extremely pleased to finally be at the bargaining table. In January 2021, the TSSU began a campaign entitled SFU: Pay for RA Healthcare Now! One of the campaign’s core demands was for the SFU Administration to stop its delays and bargain with us. Our members and our allies who stood in solidarity made this happen so now we can continue to work towards ensuring SFU meets our other demands:
- Recognize all RAs as workers, including those whose work overlaps with their studies
- Provide healthcare and dental benefits for all RAs, including group MSP enrollment for the International Student Health Fee
- Reimburse the International Student Health Fee for all RAs, backdated to September 1, 2020, to provide immediate relief
Our members know all too well, delaying negotiations is a practice that only a well-paid employer can afford. Already in precarious employment situations with SFU, and often juggling multiple roles, we have had to continue working as RAs since our Voluntary Recognition and throughout the pandemic without basic protections, without access to reliable hours of work, without an established minimum wage, without health benefits, and without recourse or representation in case things go wrong.
The cost of living and tuition continues to increase, and yet the University has refused so far to recognize the labour of RAs that keep our University functioning. RAs at SFU unionized because we recognized our unfair treatment, and we know our value even if the University refuses to acknowledge it.
With SFU Administration’s strategy to delay negotiations now thwarted, our Contract Committee will continue to push for frequent Collective Bargaining sessions so we can complete Collective Bargaining as soon as possible and establish that all RAs at SFU deserve to be recognized as employees and have their work valued. Our goal is to complete Bargaining by the end of the Summer term and in time for a return to campus in September. The more quickly we can sign off on a Contract the more quickly we can deliver real tangible protections and benefits to hard working RAs.
Our proposal is comprehensive, and addresses all necessary elements of this “complex” situation. With our proposal in its hands, the SFU Administration has no reason to delay further if indeed their intentions are to recognize and respect RAs here at SFU.
Our power does not rest with our Contract Committee, though, but in the collective strength of our membership. SFU is only possible because of the work our thousands of members do on a daily basis.
More than ever it is imperative that RAs, and all TSSU members, continue to push the University to respect our Voluntary Recognition Agreement and bargain in good faith.
Our arguments at the Bargaining table are important, but these alone will not get us a fair Contract for RAs. For that, we need all of you.
How to get involved:
- Sign and Share our petition! You can share our social media posts (Facebook, Twitter)
- Share your RA Stories (either anonymously here or send them to email@example.com)
- Get involved in our campaign! Join our Membership Mobilization Committee (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more info)
- Share this bargaining update with your caucus & discuss the details with your department stewards. Does your department have questions? We’d be more than happy to come answer them. Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to see the details of TSSU’s proposal? No worries! Email email@example.com